Golf is a funny game. Or they called it golf because all the other four letter words had been taken. Make your choice on how you feel. I know it’s a frustrating exercise at times.
I’m not going to bore you with my self-flagellation. At a logical level I understand that a bunch of rounds playing to 3 is, cosmically speaking, not poor golf. When you’re supposed to be scratch or 1 it drives you insane. A 3-putt here, some bad karma there and 6 out of 8 rounds 1 shot outside the buffer zone results.
Of course you also convince yourself that all the karma is bad. There is good luck in there too, but one simply can’t see it for the bloody hindering bad breaks and lip out putts and poor kicks and stupid pin positions and noisy groups on the next fairway and……….
The thing about it is the places I’ve been fortunate enough to go to over the first month or so of the competitive season. Burnham, Parkstone, St Enodoc all feature in my diary, as well as Saunton, East Devon, Churston, Dainton, Tavistock and Torquay within my home county.
Burnham is always a favourite. It was brutal the two days we were there (nothing new in that) but it is a fantastic track. More work going on, with a reshaping of the 6th green, which is looking fabulous. When I was there in October last year there was also a new 6th tee, which I was pleased wasn’t being used for the Wests. We didn’t know about it in October, and would never have found it but for some guys on the other course asking us what we were doing on the old tee; the group ahead had not been so fortunate. They had assumed the tee blocks were missing, stuck some tees into the deck and hit from there. Thank goodness it was a stableford!
Parkstone was a revelation. I hadn’t been there for 5 or 6 years. The tree management programme was just muted then. Seeing the transformation was remarkable. The heathland flavour of the course is properly apparent, vistas across the course have been opened up, even views away to Poole Harbour now.
The thing which really struck me was the changes in the bunkering. Superb work to change the number and siting of fairway bunkers has greatly enhanced the look and feel, but it was around the green complexes that things were really different. Looking at my old course planner I reckon more than 15 greenside bunkers have gone, and been replaced with run-off areas. They look better, are easier to maintain and also arguably tougher for the expert player to negotiate whilst taking away the fear of the bunker shot in the tyro. Brilliant. Can’t help feeling someone from there’s been to Dornoch recently.
Mind you it can kick your butt. Sat on the patio at the end of day 1 with partners Richard (who eventually won) and Les it was a bit quiet. Then Les, a wonderful, slightly curmudgeonly Scot intoned “I really want to break something”. In view of the disasters we’d both had I fully understood the sentiment.
St Enodoc is just one of those places. You know you’re in for something special as you drive up the entry lane from the estuary. Folded fairways, fast running greens, the hardest par 4 in the world (10, and because it’s really a par 5) and, of course, the famous church towards Daymer Bay and all the Betjeman connections. Padstow over the river, seen from the 9th and 16th tees. Heaven.
The third venue for a 36-hole event for me was Churston, on the western side of Torbay between Paignton and Brixham. Always enjoyed playing there, and this year was no exception. It is a cliff-top parkland layout protected by the sea breezes and the severity of its greens. You have to plan carefully, and position the ball well if you’re not to face some horrendous putting. I failed in this a couple of times, especially towards the end on the 2nd day; was never going to win as my pal Paul was too good, but I should have been runner-up but for said ham-fistedness.
Some fun one-dayers too. East Devon is just a gem of a heathland course on the cliff tops outside Budleigh Salterton. It was my first competitive round of the year after a very long winter and I was predictably appalling. However, the golf course is always great fun to play. Like Churston you have to position the ball well; there are some really severe greens especially in the early running. One of the finest courses in the south west for me.
Saunton West is, well, awesome now. It was always a fun, sporty track to play, but the works done in the winter of 2016 have made it a worthy sister to the famed East course. New tees and new bunkering make it a great challenge from the back tees, whilst the members who play it from the yellows will see virtually no change. With one exception. The 12th has been changed from a tedious, short pick-up par 5 into a proper strategic test. New bunkers threaten the tee shot on (from the back) a much lengthened hole, and the realigned ditch across the fairway asks serious questions with the wind against, or after a misplaced tee shot. A superb upgrade.
Dainton Park are celebrating their 25th anniversary. It looks a whole lot more mature than that. The plantings around the many existing mature trees have grown to the point where you now can’t always tell the old from the new. There’s good use of water in the early holes too. Several stretches of genuinely demanding golf and some fun par 3s. Plus, for me, one of the warmest welcomes I ever get at the many clubs I’m fortunate to go to. These troops really make me feel at home.
Tavistock is moorland, 1000 feet up on the fringes of the real Dartmoor you get wonderful views of the tors, of Buckland Church and away to the west to Cornwall and the sea. The golf is pretty good too, with a course that has had to change because a road runs through it. Some strong holes through the middle and a demanding finish; 16 has always been a favourite hole.
Which brings me finally to my haunt as secretary for the 2 years to January, Torquay. The welcome I had from the guys this week just gone was really touching. What impressed me was the work that has gone on. In the clubhouse a long-planned but not driven refurbishment has taken place to superb effect. On the course the changes we had planned alongside James Edwards of Edwards Design International are coming to fruition.
Necessitated by the number of golf balls leaving the 18th into the adjacent houses a re-routing has been effected. The old 8th hole has been split and turned into a short and potentially tough risk/reward par 4, with a wonderful looking par 3 to follow. I have to say that par 3 element looked good in November in freezing cold and windy conditions with no leaves on the trees. Now it looks wonderful. 18 has become a par 3 with some significant re-landscaping, and will be in play for the first time this coming week, whilst a new short-game academy area is under construction. The current 17th will become a practice ground and teaching facility. The club’s facilities are significantly enhanced by all this work, which is great for their reputation and standing going forward.
I’m looking forward to my weekend ahead as I head to the north-west to play at Hesketh and Formby with a bunch of other Golf Club managers. Bacchanalia, I suspect.