Golf trips: A weekend in... Hampshire
From London and the south-east, it is not difficult to make the case for a weekend in Hampshire, which involves a mere pootle down the A3.
From elsewhere it requires a little more determination – or at least sufficient research to realise that Southampton’s airport is both ideally situated to the north of the city and well serviced by flights from across the UK.
I managed to leave work at four o’clock one Thursday afternoon, drove to the airport, hopped on a flight, picked up my clubs without breaking stride at the other end and was enjoying a pint at the Deer’s Hut, within spitting distance of our accommodation at Old Thorns, at shortly after eight.
It was one of the more enjoyable drinks of the year, since each sip was sweetened by the smugness of knowing we had beaten the crowds and had a wealth of golf to enjoy.
The fun began at Hayling, just outside Portsmouth. After an unremarkable opening hole this is a very fine links indeed, and certainly the pick of the four we tackled over the weekend.
There is some exceptional duneland at the far end, which offers thrill-a-minute golf and the discovery of a new vista at every turn. Two of the short holes were my highlights – the 5th and 10th.
One is played to a narrow table-top green that leaves you with a Dornoch-esque second shot from short grass below the putting surface should you miss left or right.
The 10th is classic point-to-point stuff, simplicity itself, with tee and green sitting higher than the surrounding land and allowing the sea breeze to dictate the shot required.
Into the wind, the run for home is very demanding so do your scoring on the front nine. Hayling is a serious contender for a Top 100 berth for me in the British Isles.
That afternoon we were charmed and confounded in equal measure by Blackmoor. Perhaps we were weary after our morning exertions but pars proved elusive, even on holes of modest yardage.
Attractive and lined by fir trees and heather, Blackmoor is so well protected by its slopes and angles that it is very easy to get out of position. We were staying at Old Thorns, near Liphook, which has great facilities as well as its own course.
With significant changes in elevation, it offers a real contrast to the more traditional nature of Blackmoor. It’s ideally set up for the travelling golfer and is well used to catering for large groups. To the north of Southampton, Stoneham is a Willie Park Jr parkland that is rarely flat but intelligently designed.
The uphill holes are typically short par 4s, like the 5th, or sub-500-yard par 5s, like the 18th. On your way round, pause for a moment to appreciate how Park created a loop within a loop. It’s a distinctive and enjoyable place to play.
Hampshire really is a great golfing county. We could happily have stayed for a few more days to explore it even more fully.
Driving times: London is an hour away. Southampton airport is found to the north of the city.
Nearest airport: Southampton
What you didn’t know.. Plymouth is the birthplace of Sir Francis Drake, who was also a mayor of the city.
Must Eat/Drink.. Try the excellent Madhuban Tandoori in Liss if you stay around Liphook.
Must Do.. With its proud maritime heritage, Portsmouth is a fascinating and educational city to visit. Head up the Spinnaker Tower for the best views.
Must See.. Take yourself away to the South Downs National Park where the landscape transforms from ancient woodlands to white cliffs.