Goodwood Downs Review: The Day I Beat Ian Poulter
Will Trinkwon describes a memorable round at Goodwood Golf Club
“Hmm," I said. “Ah,” I said, as I crouched behind possibly the most important six-foot putt I have faced in my life. I'm putting for my lowest ever round on Goodwood Golf Club's mighty Downs Course. It is James Braid designed. 7,000+ yards off the tippy tips (which I’m playing from). And a truly formidable test of golf. Ian Poulter could only manage 6 over when he played it at a corporate event a few years ago (if memory serves me correctly). My six-foot putt is for a level-par 71. This is a putt to beat Ian Poulter.
The six-foot putt feels like six miles. This is - if you’ll excuse the pun – par for the course on the Downs. Built by the famous golfer and architect Braid in approximately 1914, the first thing to say about the Downs is that it is brutally difficult. It’s knackering to get around. Not only is it a monstrous yardage from the tips, but every tee is what even a slim-fit running champion would call a ‘generous stride’ from the previous hole. The greens are like baize funeral shrouds for so many expired elephants. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, every other hole is up a hill.
Still, as I prowl on the 18th green, the fact is that for 17 holes I have been unbowed, navigating Goodwood's challenges with frankly unusual panache, perhaps a touch of raw flair.
(The 1st Green)
The Downs begins with a long par 3 followed by a duo of snotty, knotty par 4s. Some courses are gracious enough to ease the player in with a few gentle pars - staid, largely hazardless pot-boilers that give even the most hopeless swingers optimism for the rest of the round. The monstrous Downs isn’t one of them. It hurls you screaming into the deep end. It orders you to sink into cavernous bunkers and slide into graveyards of coiling, inextricably thick foliage. And if – if - you survive these Herculean tests your reward is to perish on greens as slick as Mesut Ozil’s coif or a Nigel Farage speech.
On the credit side of the ledger – I can appreciate that it’s a very pretty course even from the nervy vantage point of my six-foot, Poulter-slaying putt. For golfers who love traditional downlands course panoramas, there is plenty to coo over on the Downs and a lot more besides. I’ve been around the Downs on what is surely approaching fifty separate occasions now and I still find myself knocked into a stupor by some of the views.
There is a Watership Down hillock and accompanying valley that you have to carry with your approach shot on the difficult second if you want to secure par (my limp hybrid made the distance, but only just). Then there is a picturesque view of slopes and sunshine that looks like something out of an 18th century landscape painting. This greets you from fairway on the seventh. Spotted cows nip the hills. You can see all the way to the Solent (and on the clearest days a lot further). I really could keep going on.
I picked up a few birdies around the turn. The 11th, a gorgeous par 5 down a hill and then up it again, yielded to my attack, as did the bunker-strewn par 3 12th. And as I reeled off another battalion of pars, I soon found myself standing on the 17th tee, on the threshold of my lowest ever round and giving an imaginary Ian Poulter who, in my fantasy, had just shanked OB to glide yet further away from par, a comprehensive beating.
(The 12th Hole)
Now, for those of you who haven’t played Goodwood (which if you’re reading this review probably accounts for most of you), I ought to set the scene: the 17th is tough. Water is the salient feature - two massive, sprawling ponds short and to the right of a small green that sits like a pinprick in the distance some 180 yards away. And there are also trees that hang in from both sides. So you need to hit your best shot of the day to avoid disaster.
With Ian Poulter growling in my ear, my swing was a nervy whirl, with the exact dimensions of an amateur flyfisher's cast. Was that the clatter of trees, the plip plip plip of my shot skimming across a pond? I was depressingly sure that it was. Yet somehow I found the green. I was shocked. Was Poulter’s nemesis Tiger Woods on the golf course too – had he fished my ball from the drink? Was there a benevolent creature that lurked in the pond, and had some inexplicable stake in me pipping Poulter’s score? A generous crow? Fate, perhaps.
And so to the 18th. A good, solid drive. A five-iron, pushed anxiously into the front right bunker. And a really pretty good bunker shot – under the circumstances – setting up that six-foot putt. The putt to beat Ian Poulter. The putt to shoot level par. I eyed the hole. My putter trembled. The ball took off on line. And… And…
Ian Poulter, eat your heart out.
The Downs Course at Goodwood Golf Club, Rated 8/10
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