- Neil White
“It is brilliant that, no matter how busy it becomes, London maintains these wonderful green spaces.”
I dwelt on the words of my Aussie compadre as I was stuck for what seemed an eternity in either traffic jams or 20 miles-an-hour zones after departing the grandeur of Royal Wimbledon.
This, and neighbouring Wimbledon Common, make up a divine oasis in the bustling metropolis.
And the welcome at this prestigious club is one of the warmest I have received on my travels so far.
I won a fourball at Royal Wimbledon in the on-course foundation’s auction run by the remarkable Stacey Jeffries in aid of the wounded veterans’ National Golf Club Challenge.
I had struggled to find a suitable time but the PA to the Secretariat (I love this title) could not have been more accommodating and even came to meet me when I arrived.
Before we teed off, the genial secretary walked over with his dog to make sure that we were happy and wished us an enjoyable day.
In the meantime, we had breakfasted on the patio of Royal Wimbledon’s gorgeous clubhouse which has been attended by many a famous face (the royal family have been members) during its illustrious history.
It seemed only fitting, therefore, that we brought along one of our own celebrities in the shape of former England cricket team opener and current TV and radio pundit, Mark Butcher.
Unsurprisingly, he can hit a golf ball for miles and has the rather competitive edge of a real sportsperson. Goodness knows what he made of me having one of my worst games since I began the top 100 challenge.
Butch was our guide for the day, having played at Royal Wimbledon with former England captain, Bob Willis, whose house abutted the course.
He set the tone by smashing the ball down the first hole, a cracking dogleg opener which I attempted to play strategically via a second-shot lay-up.
RWGC has many long par-fours and my pal who hits the ball even further than his cricketer partner commented how many times he needed a fairway wood for his approaches.
The second and third holes pick up the theme – both 400-yard+ par-fours, dotted with bunkers.
Ah, the sand at Royal Wimbledon. My dismal round might have been slightly better had my ball not found the traps quite as magnetic. Even when I thought I had hit a decent shot I found a bunker and then had an uncanny habit of hitting out of them and over the green.
The bunkers are the course’s main protection although the subtly undulating putting surfaces also need concentration which is apparently greater than mine.
Royal Wimbledon is in fabulous condition. Its fairways were as good as any inland course I have played this year, its greens were in great shape and I loved the extended pathways along each hole.
Of its holes, I was most enamoured with the par-threes and its handful of quirky and challenging short par fours.
The fifth which is the first par-three is a beauty and typical of Harry Colt-designed course with the size and shape of the target mostly hidden behind deep bunkers.
The dogleg sixth is the first of the intriguing par-fours and dexterity of mind and shot is required.
Thereafter is a sign which says the course’s site is of national importance because it is that of an Iron Age fort.
Sadly, the irons in my bag were letting me down.
For example, on the doable par-five seventh where I found the inevitable sand and my wedge shot flew over the flag and far away.
By this stage, the Aussie’s back was aching from carrying me around and the proper sportsmen were on the cusp of giving us a walloping.
However, it was game back on after I showed a flicker of life at the long par-three eighth which demands a long carry and slight fade into a sloping green.
The prettiest par-three, in my opinion, is the picturesque 13th, perched up a slope between bunkers. Correct club selection is essential because finding the flag from the knotty rough either at the side of the sand or behind the hole would be very tricky.
The most obvious Colt hole is the 15th with his trademark horizontal sand traps in three parallel lines up to a raised green.
My game had belatedly returned by the last three holes which offered a rather lovely run-in.
The 16th is over a small stream with sand on either side of the fairway. My partner played it beautifully and, by this stage, we were threatening an unlikely comeback.
The 17th is another splendid, raised par-three. Finding the green needs precise club selection but that is only part of the job because the putting surface has fiendishly hidden borrows.
However, the green isn’t as tough as the last – a gorgeous short par-four which demands accuracy off the tee and a cute approach to avoid the swirls which can unexpectedly take the ball from the target.
By this stage, the professional sportsmen’s team were working out putts with plumb lines, such was their anxiety over a potential defeat.
However, they need not have fretted as they snatched a last-gasp victory which would surely have been as sweet as an Ashes win… Well, nearly.
A glorious day in May had been spent in cracking company on a course which is in superb nick.
In truth, it doesn’t have as many stand-out holes as one might expect of a top 100 track but it was certainly a tough challenge and one I would be very happy to repeat.