The Second Hundred Golf Courses of England 2016
We preview the challengers for the next Top 100 Golf Courses of England rankings and list the second hundred
Having recently published the latest 2016 edition of our Top 100 for England, we thought we’d look into our golfing crystal ball to see if we could predict which English courses might make it into the top hundred next time around.
We’ve focused this article on twenty-five challengers, but it’s feasible that any of the hundred courses listed at the end of this feature could make the next English Top 100 in 2018. It’s also viable that numerous other courses could also make the grade. If you think we’ve missed a layout from our current England Top 100 or from our Second Hundred (listed in full at the end of this story), please click the “Respond to this article” link at the top and bottom of the page and share your opinion.
Fifteen of the twenty-five challengers have appeared in previous editions of our England Top 100 and these are spread across seventeen counties from Northumberland to Kent. Berwick-upon-Tweed has been listed in four previous editions and this old-fashioned James Braid-designed links at Goswick may well be knocking on the door in 2018 again. In the same county, the Hunting course at Slaley Hall tends to divide opinion but there is no denying its tournament credentials with famous champions winning here, including Retief Goosen and Colin Montgomerie.
At the other end of the country, in Kent’s Garden of England, Wildernesse may not be a familiar name, but this tree-lined gem has hosted Open Championship Qualifying and continues to challenge golfers in the modern age. Chart Hills plummeted from grace due to a decline in conditioning but this could easily be remedied and I wouldn’t bet against it bouncing back into the top-flight. Knole Park is the antithesis of Chart Hills, it’s a quirky John Abercromby design from the Golden Age, described by a reviewer as; “a country park that has a golf course on it rather than primarily a golf course and for me that gave the flow of holes a slightly awkward feel.”
Bob Cupp’s West course at East Sussex National is the preferred course of many at this 36-hole facility, despite the European Open pedigree of its sibling, the East. The West is the more intimate and the prettier of the two courses where attractive views of the South Downs are freely included.
Rockliffe Hall in County Durham opened in 2009 and this multi-million pound course is one of Europe’s longest tracks, measuring a whopping 7,879 yards from the tips. Built with championship golf in mind, Rockliffe is a stern test, not only due to its length, but also due to its strategic and occasionally penal design.
Ilkley is the third oldest golf club in Yorkshire and has been listed in three previous editions of the English hundred. Refashioned by Harry Colt and Alister MacKenzie, Ilkley is where Monty learnt his trade and he still holds the course record of 64. Pannal has never appeared in the top list before, but it has been around since 1906 and the doyen of golf writers, Bernard Darwin, described Pannal as follows: “It stands high up on a breezy down, where there are some steep slopes and big valleys, and pretty clumps of gorse, and the wind, I should suspect, always blows keenly. At least it did so when I was there, and I can still feel myself walking against it with bowed head, and then being blown along by it as if I were a feather.”
Across the Pennines into Lancashire, St Annes Old Links may be a challenger for just one hole – perhaps the best one-shotter in Lancs. The 9th, with its long green which is hardly visible from the tee is a corker. According to reports, Bobby Jones took detailed measurements of this hole, called “Cannon”, when playing here before the 1926 Open.
The English Midlands has some wonderful golf courses and a few are underrated. Enville’s Highgate course in Staffordshire is a heathland cum woodland layout that hosted Open Championship Regional Qualifying from 2007 to 2011. In Nottinghamshire, Coxmoor is sited on an elevated heathland plateau, one of the highest points in the county. This popular club has staged Regional Qualifying for the Open Championship as well as the British Seniors Amateur Open Championship.
Two challengers from the county of Oxfordshire are chalk and cheese. The prolific golf course architect Rees Jones designed the course at the Oxfordshire Golf Club and it opened for play in 1993 after significant earth works. Host to the B&H International Open and the Ladies’ English Open, the Oxfordshire is far from classical, unlike Willie Park Junior’s Huntercombe, which sparked a revolution in inland golf design. Walter Travis said it’s “the best laid course that I have ever played over anywhere” and Harold Hilton agreed; “in links architecture his two great creations have been Sunningdale and Huntercombe and of the two I am distinctly inclined to look upon Huntercombe as the greater effort of the two”.
Surrey already has more than its fair share of courses in the English Top 100 but the course currently ranked 21st in Surrey has to be a challenger for the main list. It’s another Willie Park layout that Harry Colt redesigned in the 1920s. “A wonderful place is this new Wimbledon course," wrote Bernard Darwin in 1910, "for as soon as we are on it all signs of men, houses and omnibuses, and other symptoms of a busy suburb disappear as if by magic, and a prospect of glorious solitary woods stretches away into the distance in every direction.”
Hertfordshire is a lovely golfing county that doesn’t have the vast sandy terrain of Surrey, but has some of the finest parklands in England instead. One such swathe can be found at Brocket Hall in Welwyn Garden City where there are two courses on offer, with the best being the newer Donald Steel-designed Palmerston that has appeared four times in earlier English Top 100 editions. A few miles to the east of Welwyn lies Hanbury Manor near Hertford, a former English Open and Women’s European Open venue that was formerly a Top 100 regular. If you like golf as Nature intended, or if sand bunker play is not a strong part of your game, head further west to the Chiltern Hills where you’ll find Hertfordshire’s oldest golf club, Berkhamsted, which has been listed three times in previous Top 100 charts.
Many golfers think that the Buckinghamshire Golf Club should be inside the Top 100. This elegant John Jacobs design is set in more than 200 acres of mature parkland and it’s polished to perfection. Despite its relatively flat topography, it’s a firm favourite, having previously appeared three times in the Top 100.
Devon’s Bovey Castle has appeared in four former Top 100 editions and it’s my home course that’s set gorgeously within the Dartmoor National Park. I agree wholeheartedly with Bernard Darwin: “In short, this is the ideal course to have at the end of the garden. There never was one better suited to a cheerful foursome, for there is plenty of scope for strategy in deciding who is to drive against who, and at which of the river holes.” If only the first tee was at the end of my garden.
Ross-on-Wye heads our Gloucestershire Best In County rankings despite the club being physically located in Herefordshire. This is due to the club’s affiliation to the Gloucestershire Golf Union. Why? Who knows? Anyhow, the golf course is incredibly narrow with fairways carved through chutes of trees where driving accuracy is far more important than length. Holes run in every conceivable compass direction and it is impossible to tell where you are in this maze-like, mature forest.
Over in the east of England, Luffenham Heath has been listed in the Top 100 five times, which is a feat that can be claimed by only a handful of other clubs. More common land than heath land, many great designers including the famous partnership of Harry Colt and CH Alison have touched the course at Luffenham, with James Braid and C K Cotton making further alterations down the years.
Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas fashioned the course at King’s Lynn Golf Club in 1975 and it’s set in near ideal golfing country, well drained, heavily wooded and exceptionally pretty. If you’re not keen on doglegs and your driving is a little wayward, you’ll be quickly frustrated, but there’s no denying the course has charm.
The county of Suffolk rounds up our whistle stop tour of England’s Top 100 challengers where you’ll find James Braid’s Thorpeness, a course that’s underrated in my opinion. A recent bunker renovation programme was undertaken ahead of the 2012 English Seniors Championship, which Thorpeness co-hosted with Aldeburgh – some golfers reckon the ranking for Aldeburgh should be swapped with Thorpeness.
Finally we come to the Martello course at Felixstowe Ferry, originally designed by Tom Dunn in 1880 and later altered by Alister MacKenzie. The course was virtually obliterated when it became part of the war defences in 1939 and was almost washed away in the 1949 flooding. Miraculously, in 1950, the links rose like a phoenix and has remained a favourite ever since. Brian Ward (our Midlands and North of England Correspondent) played the Martello recently; “I very much enjoyed my first visit to Felixstowe Ferry… the certain historical charm makes me want to return as soon as possible.”
The full second hundred list is as follows with the challengers highlighted. Comments are welcome – click the “Respond to this article” link at the top and bottom of the page to voice your opinion.
14 January 2016 Respond to this article