Harleyford Golf Club Feature Review
Review by Golfshake Ambassador Andrew Picken
Harleyford Golf Club is an excellent facility located in Marlowe Bucks nestled beside the River Thames. It is easily accessible via the M25, M1 and the M40, although at no time do these major roads interfere with the rural tranquillity of this venue.
It is set within stunningly beautiful surroundings of the historic hunting estate known as the Harleyford Estate. It is easy to access within a substantial gated area. Security staff on arrival were welcoming and I was genuinely surprised at the extent and beauty of the surroundings as I drove towards the clubhouse and car park.
Throughout the estate are some exquisite wooden sculptures by the artist James Doran Webb.
The course is a par 72, 6,903 yards, beauty from the Championship Tees.
It was designed by the leading golf course architect Donald Steel. He bought his skill and acumen to bear delivering one of the best parkland venues in the county of Buckinghamshire. Despite the quality of its local competition, I was pleasantly surprised at the excellence of the layout and its welcome to the visiting golfer. The course is free draining, playable all year, with USGA specification greens with no winter tees or greens evident, representing excellent value.
The Golfshake Community also loves this place, which has achieved Highly Recommended status. 100% of our reviewers would return or recommend the venue to a friend. High praise indeed.
Within the site are some 50 lodges many of which privately owned that sit unobtrusively within the grounds.
It is a relatively new course having opened in 1996 but has still hosted many high-profile Tour events. It has also provided National Amateur Champions and European Tour professionals from its ranks.
Harleyford is the home course of Ryder Cup hero, Tyrrell Hatton, who has played at the here since the age of 11 as a junior. He holds five club championships, recording a competitive round of 60 shot during a EuroPro tournament.
Darren Ramowski CEO of Golfshake presenting Jack Slade General Manager of the club with his certification.
The world-renowned golf architect Donald Steel is an honorary member of the club and still maintains strong links with it. Through this review I have been blessed with the opportunity to speak with and learn from one of the greatest course designers of modern times.
His list of accomplishments is too long to detail here so I provide a link to his personal website for those seeking more information.
Donald's skills have meant that he is the only architect across golf history that have been involved in all the courses that are part of the Open rota.
I have to admit to a certain fear when talking to him given his status, but have found him to be open and friendly providing fascinating insights into his thinking around golf course design.
Questions With Donald Steel
Q. What was the particular challenge offered when designing Harleyford?
A: Where Harleyford was concerned, there was a responsibility to ensure the course blended as imperceptibly as possible with the beauty of its natural setting.
Q. Do you consider it to be a Downland or Parkland?
A: I guess is it is more parkland than downland, although holes 4 and 5, in particular, were farmland separated by hedges on very flinty soil. There were historical reasons for the planners stipulating that the land on holes 1, 2, 17, 18 had to remain untouched with no bunkers and no tree removal - hence the large tree posing questions on 17.
Q. I really liked the positioning of the bunkers in that all are visible and in play from the tee.
A : Bunkers are the one artificial element introduced on golf courses, although some water hazards/streams are artificial. Harleyford has remarkably few bunkers - less than 30 I believe, the majority of these greenside.
Q. What do you consider to be the strongest holes?
A: As to the strongest holes from a playing viewpoint, it would be better to ask the pro who plays them more than I do, but I would say 2, 4,7, 11, 15 and 18.
Q. What’s the best guidance or advice you have ever been given about golf course design?
A: As for guidance received, I'd say "be yourself".
You must make the most of what you are given within your budget but costs are far less on courses such as Harleyford than on machine manufactured courses in different climates. These overlook Scotland's example that, only by being affordable, can the game be truly popular.
One thing you cannot "buy" is the beauty of the setting, some of which grant golfers access to the most beautiful, and contrasting, places on Earth. As mentioned, it is undoubtedly one of the strengths of Harleyford.
Golf architects can have their own style, but it shouldn't be stereotyped. You cannot have St Andrews in St Kitts.
My emphasis is to try and make the most of every individual hole. If you have 18 strong individual holes, you will a strong 18. How many golfers do you hear when asked about a particular course say, "fine but a pity about the 15th?!"
As advised by Donald, we spoke to the club general manager Jack Slade asking for his expert opinions. He considers these to be the strongest holes.
3rd – "The first par 3 you come to. At 205 yards this hole can be challenging. It has the largest green on the whole course, but provides a great birdie chance providing you can hit the middle."
7th – "Stroke Index 1 and the most vertical hole on the course. This hole provides difficulty for high and low handicappers alike. Strategically placed at the turn of the course this hole can make or break a game."
18th – "Dog-leg right provides a real challenge. Although only SI 6, this hole plays much more like SI 2 with the OOB running parallel on the right hand side. A lovely finishing hole but can quickly change a very good card.”
The 1st is a gentle 331 yard, par 4 from the Championship tees. It doglegs left with trees framing the fairway left and right. The green is elevated with a clever triangular shape offering a range of hole positions.
I enjoyed the 3rd hole which is a 205 yard, par-3. There is a water feature (brook) in front of the tee box which doesn’t really impose itself visually. The green is some 39 yards long and thin so correct club choice is required. There are deep bunkers short and right of the green for any shot that is poorly struck. Over enthusiastic shots will be gathered by another brook that boundaries the rear of the green.
The 4th is a 379 yard par 4 that requires a tee shot favouring the left side of the fairway. This brings into play a couple of cleverly placed bunkers. The fairway follows the natural terrain and the bunker is protected by a series of swales and humps.
At 468 yards, the 7th is a very strong par 4. Rated as the course hardest hole it definitely requires accurate placement form the tee box. The hole doglegs left to right, but OOB patrols the left side of the fairway for two thirds of the hole so decent shot shaping is rewarded. Again the green is protected by swales and a very tight entrance that requires an elevated flighted approach.
The 11th is another formidable par 4 of 439 yards. The fairway slopes dramatically left to right requiring a very accurate tee ball placement. Again, no bunkers but ample protection provided by the natural terrain and the shaping around the green and its approaches. A large tree is situated at the elbow of the dog-leg and it immediately draws the players eye. All our group fell into the trap and were faced with difficult approaches to the green caused by being too far right. The green slopes back to front to add further to this hole and its challenges.
A pretty par 3, the 12th measures 176 yards from the tips. The elevated tee offers views towards a chalk faced quarry that frames the green. Water lurks behind and in front of the elevated green giving a visual treat when trying to select the correct club to play. Two evil looking pot bunkers await anything short. The green is lightening quick so try and remain beneath the hole.
The 15th is a tight par 4 measuring 381 yards. Trees frame the entire length of fairway. Positioned by the tee is an ornate folly building that draws attention when waiting to play. The green is tucked to the right of the fairway protected by trees short and right. It is shaped and humped offering a myriad of possible pin positions.
Finally, the 18th is another challenging par 4 measuring 450 yards. OOB runs the entire length of the right of the hole and the dog-leg left to right occurs early, requiring a shaped shot over a large tree with a draw to give a chance of a par. Single trees are used to protect the hole just off the fairway. The green is kidney shaped, sloping back to front in clear view of the patio and clubhouse. I imagine that many competitive cards have been ruined by this hole.
Harleyford is a great facility, with an excellent clubhouse and attentive staff. It has been scored extremely highly by the Golfshake Community and I have no hesitation in accepting their verdict. I intend to revisit soon as this is a course and club I found interesting, challenging and very welcoming.
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