- Neil White
“Make sure you take in the scent from the azaleas on the 16th tee!” The friendly members at Liphook are rightly proud of the quality of their course and that one comment about the Augusta-esque flowers summed up the attention to detail. Liphook has undergone some dramatic changes since the Covid lockdown but, as a first-time visitor, I can report that they are seamless. From the pristine paths, striped fairways, knotty heather, sticky sand traps and the pure greens, Liphook meets a consistently high bar.
It impresses from the first turn onto its premises – with the picturesque 17th at the side of the drive which leads to its impressive but not ostentatious clubhouse. On a balmy May evening, it was a glorious setting. After a putt on one of the two practice greens and a quick thwack in the net, my compadres and I moved off towards a first hole – a downhill par-three. This is one of many at Liphook where actual yardage and one’s eye seem out of sync. In this case, it plays a good deal shorter than the figure on my watch.
Surprise, surprise… I played too long but after a half-decent chip and a couple of taps, I was pleased to sidle off with a bogey, feeling confident that I would make it up elsewhere. What I didn’t realise was that this is not a course which yields three-pointers easily.
Certainly not on the second – a long par-four which is the first introduction to the heather which frames every hole from then on. The third is the first of the picture holes – a par-three to an elevated green, behind an intimidating bunker and with a run-off to the left. I was thankful of an overnight downpour which meant the putting surface unexpectedly grabbed my nine-iron clip.
If the opening holes, even including the bending long par-four fourth had been gentle to me, the teeth of Liphook bit on the fifth. This is a relatively short, par-five, stroke index-14 which, on the face of it, should have been a scoring opportunity. However, the sequence of heather-lined bunkers down the right-hand side lure errant second shots.
The kick in the tail is the trap awaiting front left of a green which is in a dip in the corner of the property. Suffice to say that by the time I picked up my ball, I felt like Lawrence of Arabia. This set the tone for time spent in sand which only a five-year-old with a bucket and spade would have enjoyed. The changes on the course are on the other side of the road which splits Liphook and we were told they were meant to coincide with the building of a tunnel which has now become cost-prohibitive. The first re-arranged hole is the par-five seventh which requires a tee-shot down a dip and then a big decision over whether to take on a heather-lined brook, denoting the Hampshire/West Sussex border, 130 yards in front of the green.
I opted for course management which would have been a sound plan had I not found the inevitable greenside sand with my approach. Doh! By this time, I was checking to see if my newly met, big-hitting compadres were related to Houdini, so often had they smashed balls into heather and then somehow extricated themselves which shots far more ambitious than I could possibly conjure. However, my glory moment was awaiting on the new 8th – a par-three where trees and sand await those who veer awry. I did not and sank a rather long putt for a two. The tenth is the prettiest of the new holes, combining the old 10th and 11th, demanding a drive between water on the left and a big bunker on the right.
The par-threes at Liphook are a joy and the 12th (previously the 7th) is arguably the pick of the bunch – a beautiful hole with a two-tier green which, in common with many, can confound. I hit a cracking shot which I thought would filter down to the flag only to find that the target was unexpectedly uphill from my landing spot. There are plenty of quirks at Liphook but the 14th takes the prize for being memorable, confusing and just damned difficult.
The green is not visible when embarking with an uphill drive over a hidden road (a car suddenly emerged, much to our biggest hitter’s consternation). Then there is the small matter of a green, low in the corner past heather and trees and tight to the course boundary on the right and a curious mound just before it on the left. The short 16th is another of Liphook’s eccentricities over a bank with purple stuff on the right and yawning sand trap on the left and neither visible from the tee.
The home hole is a par-five uphill towards the clubhouse and should be do-able. However, the sages in the clubhouse made us feel better about our failings by reporting how regularly players are chastened before shaking hands.
Anyone who scores well around Liphook will need an all-round game matched with deep concentration. Its beauty may make it appear benign and it may smell good but as John Otway once sang: “Beware of the flowers 'cause I'm sure they're gonna get you. Yeah!”