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  • Neil White

Moor Park - High

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It was home to one of the world's most famous apricots, but sadly, my golf on Moor Park's handsome High Course was neither tasty nor jammy.

British royalty has connections to this 300-acre tract of land and the grandeur of the clubhouse gives the impression that aristocrats could still be in situ.

This Grade-1-listed mansion was built in the late 17th century for the Third Earl of Bedford and was taken over by the Lux and Lifebuoy soap magnate Lord Leverhulme in 1919.

He altered a grand estate of homes to include a golf and country club and Harry Colt was commissioned to design two courses which opened in 1923.

No surprise, therefore, that Colt's signature bunkering is evident on the High, the more critically acclaimed track.

I was fortunate to be hosted by a member on one of the warmest and sunniest days of 2024 so far and, consequently, the vistas benefited from glorious light.

Meanwhile, the course proved to be an attractive but stern test.

From the start, it was clear that a low score would only be possible with consistent quality tee shots. Alas, I wasn't synched into my new driver on this day and, consequently, struggled.

Regardless, there was much fun to be had and that became obvious on the tough opening uphill par-four which demands two tasty hits into a green defended by a cunningly placed bunker on the left.

Sand traps and links-like run-offs from the putting surfaces play a significant part at Moor Park. oh, and they like a lightning tree. I counted four - very evocative.

The second is another long par-four, bending sharply between bunkers down a fairway that falls markedly to the right. 

I made the mistake of trying to make up the ground I lost from the tee by going for it with my three-wood. Laying up should have been my strategy.

The opening holes continue to shine with a downhill par-three, surrounded by four bunkers with a false front and a dipping par-four down an avenue of trees.

My craving for a quirky par-four was sated on the fifth, a Colt hole if ever I saw one.

Drives must sail over a diagonal ditch, and then, as the fairway rises towards the target, there are three layers of traps developed from the original bunkering in recent years.

Avoiding sand and finding the green in regulation takes dexterity, which I didn't possess on our visit, but this is a truly memorable hole.

The 465-yard eighth is the best and most challenging hole on the course. It combines two ponds, a pretty halfway house backdrop, and a fairway that twists around the omnipresent trees.

We played with two very low handicappers, but even they faced their travails because drives down the right blot out approaches, and aggression on the left brings the water into play.

I attempted to play it as a par-five but my third shot struck a bag of the group in front as they immersed themselves in a sausage roll. I had to laugh.

To be fair, the pastry-based product is well worth the pause and the view from outside the hut is the best on the course.

The par-five ninth hole offers a big chance to score, especially for bigger hitters, if they can steer the ball from left to right away from the trees on either side of the fairway.

Chocolate box properties run alongside, reminding players of wealth past and present around Moor Park.

It is followed by a cracking run of holes beginning with a par-three with traps in front and on either side of a raised green.

The 11th is a super, curving, blind par-four that dips sharply before rising past three bunkers to a green framed by trees and bushes.

It is followed by one of the hardest par-threes I have encountered – 210 yards steeply uphill and stroke index four to a monster, tiered green with bushes and gorgeous purple rhododendrons to its rear. A three here would deserve a lap of honour.

The champagne moment of this round was on the 14th, a 440-yard par-four, stroke index two that was tamed by our host, who wrapped his drive around trees lurking on the left.

His ball flew over the ditch that runs horizontally in front of the fairway and he sank a long putt. It was a pleasure to watch.

The backdrop of the halfway hut's pond re-emerges at the side of the long par-four 15th, where trees intimate from the tee to the green.

Knees are knocking when hitting over the same stretch of water for the 16th, a lovely par-five which I thought might yield glory, only for me to find a grassed verge on the left of a narrow green entrance.

Comedy was to follow on the 17th, a lovely descending par-four on which my drive faded to the right. My compadre clearly thought his was wilder because he played my ball rather splendidly towards the green.

After realising his error, he chucked me a replacement ball, which I chunked towards the trees on the right of the target. I was then faced with clipping over a bunker and the two ducks perched on top of it. Obviously, I duffed into sand.

The par-three 18th looks like a benign finale, but do not be fooled. There are big swirls on the plateau, and the run-offs are steep. 

On the mansion's veranda, we mused on history, including Henry VIII, the organisation of a vital Second World War campaign, and the Moor Park apricot, cultivated by Capability Brown, the gardener to the famous.

We also agreed that the Moor Park team had worked hard to ensure the High course re-entered last year's top 100 courses list.

But boy, players will need their A-game to score well. I had my F-game and need to return to see if I can improve.

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