Chasing the elusive 100 in a single year…
I like to keep track of where I play my golf and managed to break through the 1,000 golf course barrier two years ago during a week-long trip to the south of Sweden at Halmstad Norra. Actually, one of my playing companions reckoned it would have been far more appropriate to have reached that particular milestone the next day when we played Båstad (Gamla) – which translates into English as “Old Bastad” – but that’s another story for another time…
The main thing is, having reached that number of courses, what do you do next? Well, the logical thing is to just carry on to see how far you can go, good health permitting, of course, so that’s what I decided to do, setting myself a target in 2018 of playing a hundred new courses within a calendar year. I normally play 75-80 new courses every year so it would take a concerted effort to reach 100.
I knew it wouldn’t be a case of tackling two a week for every week of the year because there are weather and other seasonal considerations to think of, as well as a whole host of other factors that would prevent an even spread across fifty-two weeks.
Instead, I imagined such a figure could be reached by grouping several courses together when visiting different geographical locations. It was important to get off to a good start so I decided to get a few under my belt during the winter months by playing places located not too far from my home in Cheshire.
The quest begins…
Anglesey in North Wales was my first outing of the year to take on three 9-hole tracks within fifteen miles of each other near the coast then I combined two Somerset courses to complete January, the Channel layout at Burnham and Berrow with Minehead & West Somerset.
In February I headed east to Lincolnshire to visit three courses but, unfortunately, I’ve just found out that one of them closed less than a fortnight ago. Sandilands, which was due to celebrate its 125th anniversary this year, had seen membership numbers fall to less than 180 and the loss of green fees from the closure of a nearby hotel was enough to place the club into liquidation, which is very sad.
I doubled my year to date total in March, beginning with another three courses in Wales. Borth & Ynyslas was redesigned by Harry Colt after World War II, Aberystwyth is a Harry Vardon design from 1911 and it’s thought that the little 9-hole layout at Machynlleth may have been laid out by James Braid but that remains only hearsay until documentary evidence proves otherwise.
The next five courses were played in
Devon and Cornwall, starting at the lovely clifftop track at
Ilfracombe, where you “see the sea from every tee”. Keith Baxter,
the Top 100 Golf Courses editor-in-chief, was with me as we eased our
way into Cornwall, and four cracking coastal courses at
Newquay, Bude & North Cornwall, Mullion and West Cornwall soon brought my total so far up to 16.
Quarter of the way there and lots still to do…
Into April, and I set eyes for the time on three courses in three different counties: S.V. Hotchkin’s layout at Links Golf Club, Newmarket in Suffolk; Saffron Walden in Essex, where Harry Vardon’s original 9-holer was doubled in size during the mid-1970s; and Redhill & Reigate in Surrey, which James Braid modified on three occasions between 1905 and 1922.
Towards the end of the month, I was invited on a short press trip to Belek in Turkey with the Azalea Group, a top golf marketing company, to sample the wonderful golf that’s on offer at Antalya Golf Club’s two 18-hole layouts from European Golf Design. I’d played the PGA Sultan course a few years ago so couldn’t include this on my hit list but its stablemate, the Antalya (Pasha), was definitely one that counted.
It’s a long way to go to play just a couple of courses so I made arrangements in advance to play Turkey’s #1 track, Carya, on the day I arrived and the two 9-hole loops that form the Queen course at Cornelia on the day I was leaving. It’s always a bit of a tight squeeze to fit in additional golfing action on these trips; still, when you’re a man on a mission, you have to do what you have to do!
In May, I started by playing three wee 9-holers within a 10-minute drive of one another in West Yorkshire then I finished the month playing twenty-seven holes at another couple of courses a bit further north in the same part of the county. In between these two trips, I was in the heartlands of Wales at three lovely little 9-hole tracks before heading down into Kent to North Foreland (Main) and the Northcliffe course at that club, plus Canterbury.
Incidentally, the reason for visiting Kent was in connection with one of several 2-day events that are organized every year by the Golf Society of Great Britain, where I’m the secretary. It’s always nice to be able to plan ahead and try to visit one or two courses in close proximity to where these competitions are taking place.
I also participated in another press trip to the south of France in May however, this was a bit of a disaster due to air traffic control problems, so I only played two rounds of golf at Royal Mougins during that fact-finding assignment. This course would be the first of several Robert von Hagge layouts that I would play in France this year.
On into June and this month got off to a flier with a fabulous trip to France alongside a couple of guys I’d been on similar overseas trips with last year and in 2016. I’d already played one of the courses at Chantilly and 27 holes at Morfontaine back in the summer of 2016 but it was an absolute delight to be able to tee it up at both venues once again. Morfontaine is one of the best experiences in golf that I’ve ever had and the course at Les Bordes was every bit as good as I’d expected.
The biggest surprise of the trip – and of the golfing year, in fact – was the 18-hole layout at Les Aisses, about half an hour’s drive west of Les Bordes, where Martin Hawtree has done a fabulous job over a number of years renovating the original course. We were very impressed by what we saw here, despite playing on a rather miserable, wet afternoon.
All told, there were eight new courses played during a very high-quality week-long trip to France that will last very long in the memory.
After returning from Paris, I was off on another press trip to Gdansk in northern Poland to visit Sierra, Sand Valley and Postolowo. It’s not a golf destination that springs readily to mind, I know. Still, the quality of the golf facilities was rather good and it was well worth having a look at what’s on offer to golfers visiting Central Europe.
On my arrival back in Blighty, it was straight to another GSGB event taking place in Wales, allowing me the opportunity to play at one of the society’s venues, Rolls of Monmouth, set in the grounds of the former estate of Charles Stewart Rolls of Rolls-Royce fame, then take in another family-run 9-hole course near Gloucester on the way home. The month ended with a short trip north into Cumbria to play at Kendal, bringing my year to date total up to 48.
Halfway through the year and almost right on schedule…
The second half of 2018 kicked off with thirty six holes at two different clubs in Lincolnshire whilst visiting the Hotchkin course at Woodhall Spa to see how Tom Doak’s bunker work was progressing prior to the final phase this winter. I fitted in twenty-seven holes at a couple of courses in Leicestershire before attending the AGM of the GSGB at the Belfry in North Warwickshire and the month ended with three rounds in Yorkshire, one of which was played on the Alister MacKenzie-designed course at Sitwell Park.
It was into August now and a big push towards my target was required. I played four games in four different counties – Bedfordshire, Warwickshire, Yorkshire and Lancashire – before taking the M6 north and over the border into Scotland. I’d needed to play Moray (Old) to preserve my record of having played all of the current GB&I Top 100 courses (this course was a new entry last year) so I built a small excursion around this goal, along with three mates who’ve been with me on trips like this for about fifteen years now.
On the drive up, we stopped off at Grantown-on-Spey then played Moray (New) the next morning, with Moray (Old) in the afternoon. Thirty-six holes followed the day after at Nairn Dunbar and Elgin plus a game at Pitlochry on the way home on day 4 of a whirlwind tour of the Scottish Highlands – just the sort of short break that was guaranteed to blow the cobwebs away for us!
There was still enough time until the end of the month to get four more courses in and I played at Worcester Golf & Country Club, Newark in Nottinghamshire and Farnham in Surrey on my way to and from another GSGB event at Camberley Heath in Surrey and Army in Hampshire.
The “big push” continued into September, with twenty-seven holes in Yorkshire then another 27-hole day at Royal Mid-Surrey in Richmond. Another GSGB outing to Wales gave me the chance to play another handful of courses in the Principality, starting at Cardiff and finishing at Southerndown, and the final society trip of the year to Yorkshire saw me adding another two white rose county courses to my list.
More than three quarters of the way to realizing the objective now…
October started with some unfinished business in The Netherlands that had to be taken care of. Having visited the country in the summer of 2017 – courtesy of Top 100 Golf Courses International Consultant David Davies – and wanting to return to tie up some loose ends, it was great to fly back to Amsterdam and play six different courses during a hectic 3-day trip.
A short family break to the Mediterranean enabled me to add Royal Malta to my total then I rounded off the month with games at Reading in Berkshire and the brand new JCB Golf & Country Club course in Staffordshire, which is a stunning new development by architect Robin Hiseman from European Golf Design.
In November, I was a good few hours on the road picking off courses in Gwynedd, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire to take my total up to 94, six short of the magical 100. I’d planned to scale the final section to the summit in some style, though, as I’d been invited to Phoenix, Arizona to spend a week golfing over there.
Staying outside Scottsdale at the Desert Mountain Club, I played four of their six courses, starting with the Chiricahua and finishing with the Geronimo, both of which are ranked inside the Top 15 for the state. The TPC Scottdale (Stadium) – where the PGA Tour’s Phoenix Open is held at the end of this month and they were already erecting grandstands – was the penultimate course before finishing off at Whisper Rock (Upper), the #4 track in the Grand Canyon State.
Without doubt, the courses at Desert Mountain and Whisper Rock were by far the best conditioned layouts I played all year but, with greens stimping at 12, they took clutch putting to entirely new levels.
So, with a month to spare, and after visiting nine different countries, the 100 was finally up – though there was still time last week to play one last game north of the border overlooking the Solway Firth at Powfoot on a lovely sunny afternoon.
During the year, I also managed to replay another twenty six courses where I’d been to before, including some really top tracks like West Lancashire, Silloth-on-Solway, Royal Cinque Ports, Moortown and Royal Birkdale, so it was quite a year to remember – if only I could say the same on another sporting front with my football team, Crewe Alexandra!
Still, that’s a grand total of 1227 courses played now. It’s unlikely that I’ll repeat this year’s pace in years to come so who knows how long it’ll take me to reach the 2,000 mark?
Happy Golfing in 2019!
Full list in detail:
1. Baron Hill
2. Storws Wen
4. Burnham & Berrow (Channel)
5. Minehead & West Somerset
6. Skegness Golf Centre
7. North Shore
9. Borth & Ynyslas
14. Bude & North Cornwall
16. West Cornwall
17. Links Newmarket
18. Saffron Walden
19. Redhill & Reigate
20. PGA Antalya (Pasha)
22. Cornelia (Queen)
27. St Idloes
28. St Giles
29. North Foreland (Main)
30. North Foreland (Northcliffe)
32. Royal Mougins
33. East Morton
35. Chantilly (Longères)
36. Les Bordes
37. Les Aisses (Les Aisses)
39. Courson (Black-Orange)
40. Saint Germain (Grand Parcours)
41. Racing Club La Boulie (Vallée)
42. Le Golf National (L’Albatros)
44. Sand Valley
46. Rolls of Monmouth
49. Belton Park (19-27)
50. Belton Park (1-18)
51. Sudbrook Moor
52. The Leicestershire
54. Sitwell Park
55. Barlborough Links
56. Bracken Ghyll
57. Aspley Guise & Woburn Sands
58. Bramcote Waters
59. West Bradford
60. Yarrow Valley
62. Moray (New)
63. Moray (Old)
64. Nairn Dunbar
73. Royal Mid-Surrey (J H Taylor)
74. Royal Mid-Surrey (Pam Barton)
76. Swansea Bay
78. St Athan
80. Longley Park
81. Bradford Moor
82. Heelsum (Sandr-Airborne)
85. The Dutch
86. Links Valley
87. Hoge Kleij
88. Royal Malta
90. JCB G&CC
92. Bangor St Deiniol
93. Radcliffe on Trent
95. Desert Mountain (Chiricahua)
96. Desert Mountain (Apache)
97. Desert Mountain (Outlaw)
98. Desert Mountain (Geronimo)
99. TPC Scottsdale (Stadium)
100. Whisper Rock (Upper)
Courses played previously:
- Antalya (PGA Sultan)
- West Lancashire
- Delamere Forest
- Whittington Heath
- Princes (Shore/Dunes)
- Princes (Himalayas)
- Royal Cinque Ports
- Stonebridge (Blythe/Somers)
- Northamptonshire County
- Chantilly (Vineuil)
- Morfontaine (Grand Parcours)
- Morfontaine (Valière)
- Carden Park (Cheshire)
- Carden Park (Nicklaus)
- North Wales
- The Belfry (PGA)
- Heaton Park
- Beau Desert
- Royal Birkdale
- Woodhall Spa (Hotchkin)
Brian Ward is the Midlands and North of England correspondent for Top 100 Golf Courses, playing off a single figure handicap. He’s been secretary of The Golf Society of Great Britain for ten years now and is a member of the International Golf Travel Writers Association.