“What have the Romans ever done for us?”.
As well as the aqueduct, sanitation, public baths etc, the crowd listening to John Cleese’s Reg in The Life Of Brian could have added the bumps and humps of Dunstable Downs Golf Club. There is even a green built on top of a hidden villa, boasting a magnificent view which today stretches over five counties. Dunstable Downs oozes history and Mrs W and I had the immense good fortune to be in the company of two of its greatest enthusiasts. So, while we had a fabulous game, we were told of its dramatic background and current ambition – to become best in Bedfordshire, one of the most acclaimed downland courses in Britain and ranked in England’s top 100 by 2025.
The team will not fail through lack of effort and enterprise. Recent work has included a major irrigation project which is already bearing fruit with some of the most consistent fairways we have played this year. This has been done in parallel with sand trap refurbishment through DURAbunker, a company which creates revetted bunkers using layers of Polypropylene and Styrene Butadiene Rubber tiles, pre-impregnated with sand.
The changes at Dunstable Downs have been instituted from the front door. Service levels in the pro’s shop and smart clubhouse are high before moving on to the course where the course manager, brought in from Woburn, has significantly upped the ante. The first hole is an example of his forward-thinking in developing this James Braid course.
A meadow to the right of the fairway is being encouraged, in collaboration with the Royal Society Of Protection of Birds, with an eye to reintroducing skylarks formerly well-known in the area. It is a descending par-five which will likely provide rewards for a tee shot avoiding the tangly stuff on the right and bushes on the left.
The third is a real tester at nearly 600 yards with trees encroaching from the right acting as a barrier to the sixth. I learned to my cost that strategy would have been better than bluster. The sixth is a demanding par-four called British Road, earning its name from an ancient highway which runs across it. Historians claim that settlements would have been present and have promised to investigate archaeological significance.
My favourite holes are the eighth and ninth – despite the former being my only no score in the round. This is a quirky, curving, long par-four with a steep ascent into the green. Twice I found to my cost that a short approach will result in the ball returning to one’s feet. The delightful short par-three ninth has echoes of Irish links with dunes and bunkers wrapped around a sunken putting surface.
The tenth is a lovely if deceiving hole with a blind tee shot best aimed down the left to open up a sloping green. Five Counties is the name given to the tough par-four 12th because of what can be seen across the gorgeous tee-side panorama while the 16th is the most pleasing of the remaining holes with a demanding opening shot past bushes, trees and sand before a long approach.
As our hosts explained, there have been many changes to the course since Braid’s day for myriad reasons. But his design combined with modern technological advances and impressive customer service standards provides the recipe for one of England’s up-and-coming courses.
What else did the Romans do for us? Oh, yes… education. The folk at Dunstable Downs are certainly making the most of their learning.