Ipswich (Purdis Heath)
How do you ensure that your fairways are akin to a carpet even when they appear to be nearly burnt to a crisp during one of the hottest summers in history?
By asking players to keep their trolleys in the light rough and walk to their balls. I have seen many patchy fairways this summer but Purdis Heath’s may not have been attractive to eyes which admire greenery but they were wonderfully consistent. This attention to detail was one of the reasons we were able to enjoy a fabulous round at one of the most welcoming venues we have played on the top 100 quest.
We felt good about Ipswich Golf Club from the moment I called to arrange an impromptu round with Mrs W to the moment when a jovial member asked if she had beaten me after completing the 18th. He had been part of an encouraging fourball who had cheered as they watched us roll in par putts on the eighth as they were teeing off on the 12th hole earlier in the round. It was typical of the day – every golfer we encountered was simply lovely, either wishing us a good round or, in one case, helping me to find my ball. Consequently, we both felt so relaxed that we scored surprisingly well on a course which has a reputation for being very tricky.
Judgment of fairway slopes and avoiding its many bunkers are the key to unlocking a course which has sharp teeth despite being shorter than many top-100 rated courses. The course set-up is intriguing with the first nine inside the outer ring of the back nine. Thus, as soon as the player feels they are understanding the prevailing wind, they change direction. The difficulties are clear from the opening hole – a short par-four with a fairway which banks sharply from left to right. It would not be the last time that our approaches were completely different to expected because our balls had caught a slope. The par-five second focuses on the tee shot needing to carry heather before a straight fairway dotted with the inevitable array of bunkers.
We were warned to ring the bell upon completing the fourth – the quirkiest and possibly most enjoyable on the course – because its flag cannot be seen until the golfer is virtually on top of it. It really is something to hit towards a post behind the green and then see the ball disappear from view. Perfect club selection is vital but near impossible to find the hidden green let alone create a birdie chance.
The fifth is a tough par-four from an elevated tee to another leaning fairway and a long approach to a green protected by sand on either side and bushes to the right. I can testify that a score here is hard-fought. None of the Ipswich par-threes is easy but the sixth is the most difficult – an uphill 184-yarder which plays more like 200+ - with a fiendish bank to the right of the target. Mrs W nailed a three. I did not.
I was very chuffed with my drive on the downhill, narrow 300-yard ninth, avoiding trees on either side and weaving between bunkers before resting about 30 yards in front of the green. The 12th is another quirky one. A partially blind opening shot falls into a valley before the fairway rises again past bunkers to a two-tiered putting surface.
Greens on the Heath course were mint with totally consistent pace and roll despite the summer drought. Nevertheless, subtle borrows could still cause problems. The approach on the 13th is arguably the most mind-bending on the course as the fairway narrows between a grassy chasm on the left and bushes on the right.
There are many lovely holes but the short 15th takes some beating – over a water feature dominated by reeds with bunkers all around the target and trees and gorse waiting for those who overhit. My only birdie of the day was on the 16th but it was of the feathery kind – a pheasant paraded on the green proudly, barely troubled by our feeble attempts for points.
James Braid famously wrote: “There should be a complete variety of holes… not just in length but in their character – the way in which they are bunkered... the kind of shot that is required…the kind of approach and so forth. Ipswich lives up to its designer’s philosophy in every aspect and much of it is encapsulated on the final hole – a par-four demanding a carry over heather before large traps on either side of the fairway. I had managed to avoid sand for most of the day but not here. Having deposited my drive in one, I avoided the huge cross-fairway bunker only to find trouble at the side of the green. Mrs W had no such issues, sank the winning putt and received approval from the folk on the clubhouse’s lovely terrace. The sun was going down on a glorious day and we had spent it on one of England’s finest courses. What else could we have wanted?