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 Played by NCG 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 8
Wake up in: Amberley, Gloucestershire
Miles travelled: 190
Round 1: 800 Minchinhampton (Cherington), Gloucestershire
Round 2: 1100 Minchinhampton (Avening), Gloucestershire
Sleep: Home, Yorkshire
The one-mile journey from our stylish lodgings, the Amberley Inn, to the golf club takes just 40 minutes.
That’s because our sat nav helpfully takes us to Minchinhampton’s Old Course. Although this course, along with the Cherington and Avening, are all part of the same club, the Old is on a different site and has its own clubhouse.
The sat nav has no further ideas and there is no phone signal. It can’t be far away, we think, and so start driving up and down the many little roads that line the Old course, which looks great by the way.
It turns out that the clubhouse for the two courses we are playing is a good couple of miles away and after only three journeys through the middle of Minchinhampton village, we eventually find our way to where we should be.
Time is now against us but Chris, the long-serving head pro, grasps the situation with admirable speed and takes charge masterfully.
Minutes later we are on a buggy (sorry everyone) and following the routing of the Cherington until we are where we would have been had we arrived on time, namely at the front of the field.
This course is the newest of the three. It was designed by Martin Hawtree 20 years ago. It’s an easy-walking parkland of medium length – much different to anything else we have seen on the trip.
Once we’ve whizzed round, we move on to the Avening, which was the work of Martin’s father, Fred, and opened in 1975.
As the starter reminds us, this was about the worst time you could have built a golf course in Britain, with the infamous Summer of ’76 lying in wait.
The two courses occupy adjoining and sometimes intertwining land. The Avening is the more distinctive, and features a few nods to the common-land Old course with its grass bunkers and lumps and bumps.
We have a coffee with the director of golf, Simon, afterwards and he explains how this unique 54-hole club operates, with its two clubhouses.
To an extent, they are separate entities. The main clubhouse, it seems, offers a more relaxed, modern and informal atmosphere.
To judge by the bustling vibe of the place and the number of golfers on what is a weekday, it’s very much hitting the spot.
I’ve long been intrigued by Minchinhampton, and I’m glad I’ve had the chance to see for myself how it all works.
Now, though, the M5 is calling. The fun’s over. The trip of trips has come to an end.
1. I strongly dislike buggies. I do enough driving, thank you. I do not need to sit in a twee little Tonka toy bouncing around over lumps and bumps on to the lap of my driver. I do not want to make incorrect clubbing decisions because the buggy is in the wrong place, and I have never managed to find a ball while sitting in a buggy. They spoil the experience, you want to see the holes, feel it in your feet and, let’s face it, benefit from the moderate amount of exercise this game offers. That said, today, after seven consecutive days of 36 holes, a buggy was very welcome.
2. A good course is not the same as a hard course. A golf course can be moderate in difficulty, easy even. It can be moderate in style of hole, or conditioning but it can still be fit for purpose and in that sense it can still be ‘good’. Too many golf clubs try and become something they aren’t, pinching rough in, positioning new penal bunkers, lengthening holes, or god forbid adding water hazards. No. No. No. All golfers are rubbish, make courses easier not harder. Make them shorter not longer. Let us have a nice time, please.
What we learned from the Played by NCG South West Tour
1. There is is boot-load of good golf. Very little is pants. TI
2. You don’t need bunkers for a good golf course. My favourite hazard is the grass bunker. It rewards skill, anyone can fashion a recovery and you have to use lots of different clubs to escape. DM
3. You can just keep playing golf for eight days, it is possible. You just take a bit longer to get going. TI
4. Harry Colt was a clever man. It’s amazing how many great courses bear his name. DM
5. A golf companion is for life not just for christmas. If you are going to do this sort of trip, go in a small group and make sure you like the other person. TI
6. The last thing you want to see on a trip like this is a 7,000-yard course. A course has to be really good to warrant being anything approaching that length. I would much rather play an average course that is 6,000 yards than 7,000 yards. DM
7. We like all golf, but we really, really like links golf. Sorry, there, we said it. TI
8. And if we can’t play links golf, then please can we play heathland golf. DM
9. Golf courses are having to work very hard to stay afloat. TI
10. The busiest golf courses are the ones where the clubhouses feel more like a pub/hotel/restaurant. If your clubhouse doesn’t feel like that then you need an exceptional golf course. And I mean exceptional. Don’t fall between the two stools, golf clubs. DM
11. It has been a cold, dry spring, everyone is finding it hard to get the grass to grow, especially those that have done lots of winter work. Don’t panic. TI
12. Our standards are so high these days when it comes to course presentation. It’s a tough gig being a greenkeeper. DM
Best course: Royal North Devon
Best hotel: The B&B in Braunton
Best welcome: Keith at Thurlestone
Most fun: Bude & North Cornwall
Worst road: Anywhere in the south of Devon
Best pint: Otter Ale in the White Swan in Braunton
Best curry: The weird posh place in Cheltenham. But we’re still not recommending it on TripAdvisor like the waiter wanted us to. It’s not what we do
More from the Played by NCG South West Tour
Day 1: Cleeve Hill and Painswick
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