The Oxfordshire Feature Review
The Oxfordshire Golf Club is one of five venues Operated by Leaderboard Golf, who must consider themselves fortunate to have such a magnificent golf course on their books. Located in the tranquil Oxfordshire countryside, but less than ten miles from Central Oxford and five minutes from the M40, the former European Tour venue has every attribute you would expect from a club of such prestige.
The long, winding road through edge of the course gives a glimpse into what lies in store, but it is only when you park the car and walk towards the clubhouse that the beauty of the course becomes apparent. As you stand on the clubhouse's ample patio and gaze out over the terrain, you see a mixture of wild rough, stunningly clear lakes, humps and hollows and, as far as the eye can see, a perfectly manicured course meandering through hazards and expertly carved out of the natural terrain by revered architect Rees Jones.
To only mention the clubhouse and patio fleetingly would be doing them a disservice. The striking, Japanese-English amalgam opened in 1993 and contains a spacious, luxurious spike bar, a fully stocked professional shop, high-quality dining facilities and more. The large patio is the perfect place to sit and unwind after your round, with views of the 9th and 18th greens and panoramic vistas of the wild topography stretching into the distance. The Oxfordshire also boasts a specialist golf academy, a luxury hotel, a swimming pool, a gym, a spa and an open driving range. It really is the ideal place to come for a weekend retreat, especially for those who live and work in the city.
There are four par 3s at the Oxfordshire, two on each nine, and all of them represent good scoring opportunities. Indeed, the par 3s are like the course in general: hit good shots and a low round is possible; stray off line and water and other hazards come into play.
The first par three on the course, the 2nd, is a relatively nondescript hole, with a bunker fronting the back-to-front sloping green and mounds to the left. The sixth, however, is a fantastic short hole. A lake runs all the way down the right of the hole and cuts in in front of the green, meaning tee shots must carry to the front of the green or run through a five yard gap onto the left hand side of the putting surface. The green seems deceptively narrow from the exposed tee, which - like the course in general - is often buffeted by the strong prevailing wind. The hole is only 130 yards but with so much to think about and a tiny target to aim for, only the very best shots will find the short grass.
Water also features heavily on the best par 3 on the back nine, the 13th. The hole is set at a right-to left angle, with tee shots hit at the green needing to carry a good 150 yards to clear one of the biggest lakes on the course. With the prevailing left-to-right wind, there is a tendency to miss right, but the contours mirror the wind direction and can push your ball into the trees and heavy rough on the right of the hole. Two bunkers also guard the green, one in front and one behind. The front bunker isn't the worst place to be, but the back bunker is, leaving a downhill shot to a green sloping away from you and water waiting if you don't make perfect contact. A treacherous hole.
The par 4s at the Oxfordshire provide a good test whilst being irrevocably fair at the same time. Some of the holes are only around the 300-yard mark and present good opportunities for birdies, but others are extremely tough, especially when they play straight into the jaws of a 30mph wind. The par 4s are expertly carved out of the natural landscape - with mounds and natural features used in many places to create natural amphitheatres - and, again, water comes into play on many holes to add to the challenge.
The 8th hole sums up the Oxfordshire perfectly. The hole plays about 330 yards, but a sizeable lake borders the right hand side of the fairway and even cuts in to the short grass some 220 yards from the tee. The hole is crescent shaped and swings round to the right, meaning, even if you have found the fairway, you still face an approach over water to an island green with absolutely no bail out area. The green itself, as with all the greens on the course, is absolutely perfect, but find yourself above the hole and you could feasibly putt off the green and into the water.
The 10th hole is similarly spectacular. Drives are hit from an elevated tee to an undulating fairway some 50 yards below. A lake runs down the right and borders the three-tiered green. Again, finding the green in regulation simply isn't enough to guarantee a par.
The 18th is a great finishing hole, and doglegs round to the right. It is only 390 yards, but plays considerably uphill. If you find the fairway, a long iron or fairway wood remains, especially if the hole plays into the prevailing wind. The green is centered in the middle of a natural amphitheatre, a wonderful vantage point, especially if the sun is reflecting off the humps and hollows. The putting surface is fully 30 yards from front to back, with three distinct tiers. If the pin is on the back tier, par is an exceptional score.
The par 5s at the Oxfordshire are great risk reward holes. They aren't the longest selection in the world, but they can cause some serious damage to the scorecard if you aren't on your game.
The 11th, for example, is reachable in two, but a lake borders the right hand side of the fairway all the way down the hole. Even if you get your drive away, any pushed or sliced approach will find a watery grave. Up at the green, there is a treacherous bank just off the right hand side of the putting surface that runs down into the water.
But the best hole on the course, without a shadow of a doubt, is the 17th. As you stand on the tee, all you can see is an expansive body of water separating the hole's two different fairways. The left fairway is about a 280-yard carry from the tee, meaning the vast majority must look to the right. The right hand fairway stays straight for about 300 yards before turning left at almost 90 degrees. Second shots can either be played up the right and around the water, or hit across the lake, at the very least a 170-yard carry. If the latter is chosen, the second shot is shorter and the angle is better, but water still lurks right of a treacherous, undulating green. A completely unique and thoroughly enjoyable hole.
The Oxfordshire is a brilliant golf course in pristine condition. The holes are varied and challenging, the greens are superb, the scenery is extremely pleasant and the architecture is first class. I would give the Oxfordshire an overall rating of 8.5/10.
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