JCB Golf & Country Club - Course Review
In truth, the experience of playing the JCB Golf & Country Club starts long before you make the journey to Uttoxeter. The course has become much-fabled since opening in 2019, with an exclusive membership made up largely of suppliers and partners of the wider JCB brand. As such, visitor traffic is minimal, and the legend of this European Golf Designed course has grown.
From world-class practice facilities, to the iconic yellow buggies, the arrival at the golf club certainly lived up to expectation. Heading through the gatehouse towards a futuristic glass-fronted clubhouse, you get a flavour of what’s to come; with a rolling landscape stretching across the horizon. You’ll also pass the infamous par-3 17th on your way onto the property; surrounded by water and stretching back to more than 250 yards from the back tees, we’ll revisit this later …
Whilst the clubhouse itself is everything you’d expect from a newly built facility, including a Top Tracer range, SAM Putting Lab, and a first-class restaurant under its roof, it’s still an impressive construction. Greeted by the helpful Pro Shop team, and presented with an embossed towel bearing your name, the club certainly exceeds in making every visitor feel special.
The Front 9
To the course then, and it’s definitely worthwhile making the most of the practice facilities beforehand to get a decent warm up in as the golf course itself can be a brute; particularly if playing from the back tees. The first hole demands a carry over water of almost 220 yards from the furthest back markers - giving an early indication of what’s to come. Fear not though, Robin Hiseman and the team have provided plenty of options, meaning that the majority of the course - whilst difficult - is still playable by all.
The opener also gives a glimpse of things to come in terms of fairway bunkering and green shaping. The bunkers are plentiful, and large; dotted throughout the course, their often steep faces can make hitting greens in regulation exceedingly difficult for the club golfer. Instead, we’d recommend focussing on just getting it out! And then there’s the greens … The many, many tiers and slopes will keep you focused throughout, with any momentary lapse going punished. We visited in darkest winter and still found the greens to be some of the quickest we played all year, aided by some of the severest slopes you’ll find on any course within the UK.
The second gives you more of a feeling for the expansiveness of the property, as you emerge from the trees in your yellow buggy to an area which houses the 2nd, 3rd and 4th holes (despite looking like it could be a golf course in itself). The standout hole here is the par-5 3rd, doglegging left from the tee before playing to a green that falls off into the river that runs alongside the right hand-side of the fairway. A good drive will allow for a crack at the green, but with numerous humps and swales on the fairway, and a watery grave awaiting any slight push, it’s not a bad idea to lay one up to 100 yards and play in from there.
After the relatively straightforward (by JCB’s standards!) par-4 4th hole, another fantastic tests awaits at the long par-3 5th. First timers be aware, as Alders Brook runs across the back of the green, ready to claim anything over hit. Indeed, a play short right of this green and a pitch on wouldn’t be the worst idea for those possessing a handicap shot on this hole!
From there, we head into another area of the property and our second par-5. The uphill nature of the 6th makes it appear as though the hole goes on forever, but in truth, a good drive will see many be able to get a second shot up towards its bunker-surrounded green complex. The par-4 7th heads back in the other direction; down the hill and moving gently from left-to-right. Play these two in nine shots, and you’ll have certainly made up a shot or two on the competition.
And so we’re off into yet another piece of the property, heading back towards the clubhouse, beginning with the par-4 8th. A relatively narrow tee shot is required, before an accurate approach to a green that nestles amongst the trees. The 8th and 10th holes actually share a fairway, although played in opposite directions. The two centre lines are split by mounding and a well-placed bunker, and whilst it would be cool for the designers to have created a single 100-yard wide fairway, it may have been carnage for golfers on a busy corporate outing!
A drive past the old JCB machinery exhibition grounds takes you to perhaps the prettiest hole on the property. Overlooked by stunning ruins, the par-3 9th hole plays downhill, to a green that’s hugged on all sides by mounding, and protected by bunkers short. It’s a hole that gives you the opportunity to hit a short iron close - but high numbers can be racked up quickly by any tee-shot missing the putting surface, one of the trickiest at JCB.
A good time to throw in an interesting nugget about the greens then … each has up to seven different pinning positions, allowing for the holes to be changed every day if required, without any placement being repeated.
The Back 9
The 10th is another long hole, and despite playing downhill towards the green, can be a stretch to get home in two; particularly if there’s any opposing breeze. The design is wise to this, and places bunkers at 160, 130 and 80-yards short of the green. However, none of these cover the centre of the fairway, meaning an accurate layup should find no trouble.
Here it is then, the half way (sort of) hut. On the day of our visit, there were two members of very helpful staff working away within the conservatory-like building that sits short of the 11th tee (it’s also not too far from the 7th green for anybody itching for a snack earlier!). You simply must get a sausage roll. YouTuber Rick Shiels visited recently and waxed-lyrical about their virtues, and we couldn’t agree more. Absolute best-in-the-business type stuff!
We love the 11th hole. Forgoing distance in favour of guile, the golfer is asked to hit a tee shot into a relatively narrow gap between two bunkers, before playing toward a stadium-like green fronted by the brook. You can play further left from the tee-box, but this will add distance to the approach. It’s very much ‘choose your adventure’, with the brave golfer potentially rewarded to a mere flick into this par-4.
And how do you follow one great short par-4? How about with another one? The 12th will be drivable for some, although a well-struck mid-iron will only leave 100-yards or so. These two holes are perfectly positioned within the round, coming after some of the course’s toughest and longest holes. They’re welcome respite, before getting going again with the par-5 13th.
This hole offers another view of the fantastic lodges on site at JCB which can accommodate groups of golfers who are looking to stay at the property; perhaps ahead of a meeting with the corporate area of the company. The pond comes into play for those looking to attack the green in two, with an approach hit entirely over it needed for those coming in from the right-hand side.
Crossing the entrance road will take you across to the short par-3 14th, the penultimate ‘short’ hole on the routing. It’s one of the more restrained holes on the property helping to set up the grandstand finish to come.
15 doglegs to the left, although a straight shot can be hit over the centre of the bunkers on the left-hand side for bigger hitters, making this one of the last good opportunities for a birdie. The 15th green is actually the closest to the clubhouse, although golfers would be foolhardy to stop here, with three of JCB’s strongest holes to come!
The par-4 16th is a real risk-reward. Two fairways are separated by rough and a relatively severe change in elevation, with nothing good to be found at all down the right-hand side of the hole. From the very back tees, the carry onto the top level is over 300-yards, forcing all golfers to lay up to the bottom fairway. However, the middle tee box requires a carry of just 240-yards, and those who are successful will be left with a short pitch into the green. Is it worth the risk? We think so … but then we managed to sneak it onto the top!
The 17th hole at JCB Golf & Country Club is perhaps the most photographed and talked about new hole in the UK. The back tees require a carry of 230-yards just to clear the water, with a further 30-yards or so needed to find the middle of the green. Fear not though, a huge drop in elevation will help to reduce some of the actual yardage needed - unless there’s wind blowing into the face … then we’ve got no clue what to suggest! In all reality, most groups will play the hole from the middle tee boxes, which have a playing yardage of around 190-yards by the time the slope is taken into account. Still, it’s a mighty intimidating shot, to a green that isn’t even that wide! Much like the 17th at Sawgrass, its shorter cousin, it’s not a hole you’d want to play every day; nor is it a design that should be replicated often, but it certainly gives a unique aspect to this already fantastic golfing property.
You’d think then, that after the stress of 17, the 18th would be a gentle stride for home? Nope! The 18th tee box is actually on the island alongside the 17th green, asking the golfer to hit back up the slope to the elevated fairway. It’s only around 150-yards to the start of the fairway, although it plays much longer, and the intimidating nature of the bunkering forces you to be committed to a line that avoids them. If we’re being honest, 18 is a fantastic hole, but it feels a little brutal for most at the end of an already long golf course! By this point, and after the majesty of 17, many golfers are ready for a warm shower and a stiff drink - and so to be asked to hit a driver, followed by a fairway wood or long iron into a narrow-entranced green feels a bit harsh!
All told though, the JCB Golf & Country Club is a wonderful golf course. If you do still have the energy afterwards, there’s a full gym within the building that houses the golf locker room, complete with all of the latest fitness equipment (so we’re told …). For the rest of us, it’s to the bar to try and make sense of the place we’ve just played.
The course very much deserves the praise that has been lavished upon it in recent years. It’s very much a modern design, built by the expert team at European Golf Design, with no expense spared. Acres of land has been moved to create what you see today, and although this type of course won’t be for everybody, it’s an exhibit of what can be achieved when some of the financial shackles are loosened in the building process.
There isn’t a weak hole on the golf course, and the playing surfaces are getting better with each year that goes by. As mentioned, we played the course in winter and had no need to ‘pick and place’, other than to make our playing partners aware of the fact that we actually found a fairway or two! The greens are superb, and again, whilst their modern design might not be for everybody - partly due to their difficulty - there’s no denying the trueness that the agronomy team has achieved here.
It's not a course that you’d necessarily want to nip around for a casual 9-holes after work, there’s much shorter and easier destinations for that. But as a special treat, and true test of championship golf, you’ll struggle to find many places better; both on and off the golf course.
For more information, please visit https://www.jcbgolfandcountryclub.com/.
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|JCB Golf and Country Club
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