“I hope you have a lot of balls in your bag,” quipped the club member out walking his dog.
It took us just one hole to realise that he wasn’t joking but giving us a well-informed dire warning.
Ashridge’s rough is more severe than any I have experienced and will be the abiding memory of my two rounds there rather than the prettiness of its holes, its cunning slopes or its astute bunkering.
It was as if the course had been set up to defeat the golfer rather than allow them to have an enjoyable round. The long, dense grass was two-feet deep with no graduation – so any balls which slipped off the fairway would rarely be seen again.
Fair enough, if a shot is truly wild, it should be punished but this was too penal, in my opinion, because even if a tee shot landed on a fairway, inclines meant that it could easily run into disaster.
Ok, this sounds as if I had a bad round and I did. But I don’t like to be bullied and, after chastening morning society singles, I vowed with my partner to take revenge in the afternoon greensomes.
Our determination paid off with a win but, in all honesty, there were still several balls which were lost off the tee.
In the words of another playing partner: “The rough is like water but at least with that you don’t waste time looking for your ball and can take a drop.”
I had been looking forward very much to Ashridge after reports of how good it is and, apparently, in previous society visits, the rough has been nowhere near as thick.
However, I have to say that I was rather uneasy from the off because the starter had been keener to examine the colour of our socks before play and the shoes we were wearing in the clubhouse than give us a friendly welcome.
I contrasted this with the recent bonhomie at the likes of Stoke Park, Muirfield, Moray, Goswick, and, of course, Skibo Castle.
Anyway, without these distractions I could have concentrated on the best bits of Ashridge.
One of which was that a member of our society nailed a hole in one at the marvellously named Knob’s Crook – the par-three eighth.
This would have been impressive in any event but it must have been a truly cracking shot because my experience of hitting straight at the flag was to see my ball diverted to the left by the bank in front of the green.
This is typical of Ashridge. Often what seem to be good approaches are taken on unexpected routes by hidden undulations. But greens need a defence and I found them fun.
There are also some fiendishly steep run-offs which reminded me of our recent links golf experience in Scotland.
This is especially true of the 9th which is my favourite on the course. The second shot is the key, down to a green which runs dramatically right to left.
As I discovered in my first round, anything short, seeps down the hill. I was prouder of my second attempt which seemed to be straight at the target but it lolloped off past the hole and down the slope at the back of the green.
There is exciting variety to the length of holes at Ashridge – with five par-fives and five par-threes. The former giving plenty of opportunity to score if the ball can be kept straight while the latter are all tricky in their own ways with hollows, bunkers and narrow entrances.
Its fairways are in grand shape (I always like the split between dark and light green grass to create a central line), the tee boxes are smart and the greens true.
And I have to say that there were people in our group who scored pretty well (interestingly, the top two went out in the afternoon and, under advisement, neither used a driver for fear of the rough).
So, on reflection, I can see many merits but if I go again I will be hoping the long grass has been made into hay.