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  • Neil White

Huntercombe



James Bond told Goldfinger he was a member, tennis star Tim Henman is the current scratch champion and it bankrupt its famous owner and designer, Willie Park Junior.

 

Huntercombe holds a unique place in golf and is one of the friendliest clubs I have encountered.

 

It has a feel of stepping back into the 1950s when Bond author and nine-handicapper Ian Fleming wrote his books in the library of the old clubhouse.




Its design has been altered over the years but it remains a two-ball course and members with trousers tucked into socks with dogs at their sides are a common sight.

 

Former Open champion, Willie Park Junior bought Huntercombe Manor in 1900 after his success at designing Sunningdale’s Old course.

 

It was intended to be his retirement project but cost him so much that he was forced to take on other work to pay his debts.



 

Nevertheless, he created a remarkable course on a base of chalk and flint with incredible mounds and chasms where people had dug for the stone. They are as omnipresent as bunkers at other venues.

 

A club made by Park is on display at Huntercombe’s quaint clubhouse where my compadre and I snaffled a delicious pre-round bacon butty.

 

This is also where it becomes obvious by the number of times his name appears on honours boards that quadruple Wimbledon semi-finalist Henman is also a golfing star.




During a particularly wet winter, we were told that Huntercombe would still be in great shape.

 

And so it proved – some of the roads leading to the club were barely passable because of lying water but we only saw one small puddle during our 18 holes.

 

The members pride themselves on their pace of play (Fleming allegedly used to go around in two hours) and the friendly advice in the pro shop was to keep to three hours.




There was no pressure – the course is relatively short and there are no treks between holes.

 

That said, it has plenty of bite – and we were told that becomes even more evident in the summer when its multi-tiered greens become its major defence.

 

One would think that a par-three opener should ease a player into a round but I prefer to open my shoulders at the beginning of the round.




Thus, I found Huntercombe’s first hole rather intimidating, slightly pushing my tee shot towards walkers who suddenly emerged from a bush as it was in mid-air.

 

Fortunately, they darted back to safety but I was left with a nasty little pitch into a green which swirls around a hogsback. Suffice it to say, I was chasing my score from then onwards.

 

The best view on the course is from the par-four second hole which trails down towards the Wittenhamp Clumps, picturesque, wooded chalk hills.




The putting surfaces at Huntercombe are devilish and the theme continues on the third – an uphill par-four with a sloping fairway which bends around trees on the right and even more trouble on the left.

 

After some arboreal issues, I saw a pleasing pitch wander from its target because of a gradient I could spot from 80 yards.

 

The fourth is even more mind-blowing. My compadre’s ball disappeared after his excellent chip into the short par-four’s green but it transpired there was a steep ledge before the target and his ball was only 15 feet from the pin.




This is classic Willie Park – the first and seventh at my beloved Silloth have similar hallmarks.

 

The grass pots/chasms/bunkers abound on the sixth hole, the first of the generous par-fives which should be reachable in two for the big hitters.

 

But they are their most exaggerated on the seventh – a 200-yard-plus par-three defended by dune-size hillocks on the left and sand bunkers on the right




This is a heck of a hole and I was satisfied with a four. My balloon was well and truly pricked when my pal/opponent nailed a par.

 

The going was already tough enough but then comes the stroke-index one eighth with trees and mounds on the right from the tee before an ascent into a two-tiered green which screams three-putt.

 

The short tenth seems like a straightforward respite but its bite is the putting surface which slopes from front to back with some subtle side angles thrown in.



 

Indeed, many of Huntercombe’s holes lull the player into complacency because the targets seem comfortably reachable in regulation but are the equivalent of reaching into a tank of piranhas when one reaches the greens.

 

Such is the case on the 11th, a mere 335 yards from the white tee, but with another ledge down to a green which has more swirls than an ice cream cone.

 

Most hilarious moment of the day was on the par-four 13th on which I had hit a pleasing drive.




However, my second shot with a fairway wood was drilled low and smashed so hard into the bank of a grass pot that the ball disappeared.

 

My pal and I scored the vegetation for nearly three minutes before he discovered it – buried two inches below the surface. A blob followed.

 

I feel compelled to report that Huntercombe is not as quiet as I had assumed. There is a busy road alongside the 14th and 16th tee and the noise of traffic there is a tad disconcerting.


Fortunately, it doesn’t carry to the rest of the course where the contrast is provided by the red kites who show off by swooping around, seemingly posing for photographs.

 


The 14th is a lovely par-four with out-of-bounds down the right and bunkers on the left before a long approach.

 

My many moments of ignominy were offset with momentary glory on the 15th – another par-three surrounded by grass and sand bunkers – with a clip into the green and a lengthy putt for birdie.

 

I had hoped for a follow-up after two decent shots on the par-five 16th only to fluff my chip into the deepest grass chasm on the course. I could have done with a set of ladders to reach my ball.


The 17th is my favourite – a par-four punctuated by more grass pots with a plateaued green above sand bunkers at its front and dramatic grass indents on the right. My compadre thrust a dagger to my heart with a sublime birdie.





Incidentally, we were told that the grass pots, often as big as bomb craters, were caused by people ferreting for flint in the distant past. Park simply grassed them over and incorporated them into his fabulous design.


His final hole is an aptly tough par-four with trees and a bunker on the right and gorse in grass pots in front of the green.

 

To polish the day off, I indulged in a crumpet and apricot jam – a combination which I couldn’t previously have imagined but worked perfectly.

 

Rather like Huntercombe.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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