- Neil White
Updated: Jan 14
It just had to be hailing in Hayling.
I don't know if there are places called Sunshine, Rain or Snow, never mind golf courses, so I presume I will never again get the chance to match the weather with a venue.
Fortunately, the intervention of icy droplets on our round at one of England's unsung gems was temporary and, despite a bit more rain and strong wind throughout, we were able to enjoy a cracking day.
The quality of Hayling's drainage was clear before our eyes. Pools of water gathered on the paths but never on the course which was in incredible shape for January.
My dad had already told me about the joys of Hayling, regaling tales of camping as a scout on the Solent island - 70 years ago!
Thankfully, we weren't on the back of a coal wagon when we crossed the bridge from Portsmouth to arrive at the club on the coast.
Hayling's art deco-style clubhouse has echoes of Royal Birkdale and Castle Stuart but was only built in 2002.
We overlooked the links and players being buffeted by a hefty wind as we munched on our tasty breakfast rolls.
Thus, there was no surprise as we stood on the first tee for a 180-yard par-three against the stiffest breeze our host said he had encountered in his year as a member.
It set the tone that I had to take a driver for such a relatively short distance and landed only a foot off the back of the green.
Disappointingly, I recorded a bogey because I hadn't bargained for the pace of the putting surface. It was remarkably slick for mid-winter despite torrential rain over previous days and the speed was consistent across the course.
I was in love with Hayling from the start despite the rare loss of a ball in gorse to the left of a doable par-five second.
It has the links quirks which I love, beginning on the par-four third where there is an option of a 200-yard carry over rough or a bail-out down the left. Fortunately, this was a day when my driver was my friend and I was rewarded for going for it.
The action really ratchets up on the sixth - the stroke index one which I elected to play like a par-five because of the watery chasm in front of the green.
This tactic would have been perfect if I'd chosen the right club for my approach. Inevitably, I didn't. Glug, glug, glug.
"If you liked the starting holes, you will really love it from the seventh onwards," claimed our host.
It was a good call... the seventh, a devilish par-five, even has a Second World War pill box alongside to denote the start of our big adventure.
But, for me, fun with a capital F was on the eighth - a Lahinch-type par-four which demands a drive onto a slither of fairway and then a short blind approach over dunes to the green.
I trusted my Garmin's yardage, walloped a seven-iron and, much to my satisfaction, found the ball about three yards from the flag.
This was the catalyst for my best golf of the day, amid some wonderful holes, in diagonal rain and the aforementioned hail.
I love a good short par-four and the tenth which bends slightly around a large bunker, is one of the very best.
I am guessing it could be reachable if it weren't into a 40mph wind but my ball was blown way left before I managed to recover enough for par.
Unfortunately, the weather was at its very worst as we tackled the 12th so we couldn't enjoy the views across the Solent and the green was coated in hail.
Luckily, the worst had passed by the time we reached my favourite hole - the 13th.
This ascends over a steep bank and culminates with an approach to a sunken green next to the head greenkeeper's home which, on this day, looked like an Arctic refuge.
The 11th was out of commission for maintenance and was replaced by hole 14a - a rather special par-three over water and protected by bunkers on both sides..
The last two holes offer a stirring finish - the curving long par-four 17th lends sight of the clubhouse over a lake to the left and has sand traps lurking to catch out those who try to cut the corner.
Finally, there is big trouble in the shape of gorse bushes lining either side of the 18th. My compadre and I nailed long drives with the wind behind us and he completed our exhilarating round with a 30ft putt for birdie.
We were soaked to the skin by the time we finished but were warmed up by some excellent fare in the clubhouse (thumbs up to the chicken and leek pie!).
And I was left with the thought that if Hayling is as good as this in the middle of winter, we need to return in the summer.