Played by NCG: South West Tour, Day 1 – Cleeve Hill and Painswick

Courses and Travel

NCG played 16 courses in eight days across the south west as part of research for the upcoming England's Top 100 Courses 2018. The tour started in Gloucestershire...

The Played by NCG South West Tour saw editor Dan Murphy and publisher Tom Irwin take in 16 courses in eight days, covering Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. All the courses are on the shortlist for our Played by NCG England’s Top 100 Courses 2018 ranking feature.

It involved a degree of travelling. Quite a large degree actually.

There is often a good reason why a certain course had not been incorporated on to a previous, more sensible, trip. Namely that it is an outlier. Not so much geographically as much as not having a natural partner to pair it with.

On this tour, Kington, in Herefordshire, and Isle Of Purbeck, in Dorset, were both good examples.

It took them weeks to come up with the itinerary and even now, after they’ve escaped the vortex of the golf trip, they still scratch their heads looking at it. But it’s over now. They did it. Here’s their diary from the mammoth trip…

Played by NCG: South West Tour, Day 1

Wake up in: Leeds
Miles travelled: 170
Round 1: 12pm – Cleeve Hill, Cheltenham
Round 2: 5pm – Painswick, Gloucester
Sleep:  Marginally nearer Gloucester than Cheltenham

Cleeve Hill finds itself to the north-east of and, crucially, above Cheltenham. This is new territory for me, which is always exciting. We are joined by fellow panellist Sean Arble, who has been banging Cleeve’s drum for a while now.

After a pep talk from Cleeve’s director, Hugh, we are off. What a start to the trip – the thick end of 600 yards, into a 30mph wind, and one of those into-oblivion blind drives. I won’t lie – it took us the best part of an hour to get into it, but the longer the round went on, the more we began to appreciate Cleeve’s subtleties.

No one really knows who designed it, but it’s my guess that it’s been touched by someone who knew what they were doing. Most of the green sites are sensational. Like the Old Course, you can pretty much hit it where you like off the tee but you will pay the price, especially in the wind, if you are on the wrong side. There is rarely a flat spot at Cleeve and the ground is tremendously firm and lively.

It’s quite a hard course to categorise but it reminded me a little of Pennard in places. It’s golf on a massive scale, with huge Cotswold vistas, and even down to Cheltenham and its famous vistas when you are on the 13th green.

Next up was Painswick, which, like Cleeve Hill, finds itself towering over the Cotswolds. Unlike Cleeve Hill, though, Painswick, is cute and playful. It’s got seven par 3s for a start, as well as a host of outstanding short 4s. Let’s not dwell on the first, which is a simply shocking hole up an enormous hill.

Thereafter it’s outstandingly entertaining. You can make any number of birdies but there’s also scope to take lots of other, much higher, numbers. Highlights include the fifth, a blind 120-yard par 3 where you enter a grass fort, while the sixth is an all-timer – 220 yards over rumpled land to a distant raised green. Crucially, it can be played as short par 4 if you choose to lay up.

The greens are tiny so you have to be careful where you leave yourself, especially if attacking the short par 4s. Check out the handkerchief of the green at the 10th, a tiny par 3:

In total, it is well under 5,000 yards and should never be changed. It’s a one-off, it’s eccentric and we should all embrace it for what it is. Go and play it – you’ll love it.

Tom’s two-penneth

1. If you wanted your child to fall in love with golf, you could do much worse than let them loose at Painswick. Short 4s, blind 3s tumbling down hills, bouncing off banks, it is in grave danger of making the game, you know, fun. I wish it was my garden.

2. Wind. You never imagine wind do you. You hope for sunshine, and you fear rain, but you never contemplate wind in the weeks of anticipation before a golf holiday. And it is always windy.

More from the Played by NCG South West Tour

Day 2:Ross-on-Wye and Kington
Day 3:Bowood and Burnham & Berrow
Day 4:Saunton (West) and Saunton (East)
Day 5:Bude & North Cornwall and Royal North Devon
Day 6:Bovey Castle and Thurlestone
Day 7:East Devon and Isle of Purbeck
Day 8:Minchinhampton (Cherington) and Minchinhampton (Avening)

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