Feature Review Heythrop Park
I’ve played on quite a lot of ‘resort’ courses and I’ll say now that nearly all of them are fantastic. All different in their own right and I like that and Heythrop Park is certainly no different.
I’ll start with saying that Heythrop Park is no ordinary resort course though. You know the ones that are very easy on the eye but sometimes all too much the same. Heythrop blows that comparison right out of the water as it has the toughest stretch of holes I’ve played in a long while. Holes five to 11 are everything I like to find in a golf course. Short par-4’s with trouble everywhere, a long par-3 with hidden hazards, risk and reward par-5’s and you can even throw in some blind tee shots and approaches as well.
What you find in that stretch is everything you need to know about the whole course. Accuracy is a must, well placed hazards, blind tee shots, undulating greens and rolling fairways which mean uphill and downhill lies on approaches. Heythrop is a great ‘thinkers’ course where you must trust your yardage as depending on where the pin is, you won’t be able to see the bottom on your approach.
Re-designed by Tom Mackenzie in 2009, the 7088 yard par 72 course meanders its way around the estate using natural contours towards its tough setting. The ancient woodland, fishing lakes and natural streams all come into play with the huge mansion behind the 18th green visible from quite a few holes around the course.
Mackenzie has Open golf course pedigree with Turberry, Royal Lytham & St Annes and this year’s venue Royal Liverpool on his list of re-designed courses so you know you’re going to be in for a treat when you tee it up at Heythrop Park.
The fabulous front nine
As soon as you step out of the clubhouse it all seems quite open. A lovely grass range with numerous yardage targets, short-game area and large putting green within sight of the first tee. As you walk closer to that tee however, you start to see the tee shot which is very daunting for an opening drive. A gap of no more than 30-yards has to be found which splits between 300 year-old birch trees down the right and a graveyard on the left. The green is slightly raised with a deep bunker tucked in front-left. If the pin is behind that like it was for me, it’s hidden and tough to get at.
A lovely little downhill par-3 follows; two bunkers protect the left hand side. Any further left that that will be out of bounds (OOB). The third usually plays back into a south westerly wind and is a slight dog-leg left par-4. Avoid the three fairway bunkers down the left to set-up and short downhill approach into a large but narrow green.
The 4th is a great par-5 which is dominated by a waist high wall that covers all 530 yards down the right hand side. Beyond the wall is small dyke that separated the estate with the Foxberry Woods back in the 18th century. The hole itself is narrow with accuracy a must off the tee. A left to right shot is ideal but stay away from the right hand side and you can walk away with a par this scorable par-5. Long hitters can reach in two even if the tee shot is someway off line to the left. The 3rd fairway is all that waits over that side. Three large bunkers cover a lay-up distance of between 70-100 yards so lay-up wisely. The green is large and slopes left to right.
You walk through the dry stone wall and through the gate to get to the 5th tee which starts the stretch I mentioned earlier. The downhill walk will catch your breath with what waits ahead of you.
The 5th is a great par-4, one of the best on the course in my opinion. From the Championship tees it plays 377 yards and you’ll have a carry of around 200 yards over water (which incidentally flows down and plays a big part in holes to come) and a bunker to reach the fairway. Go long and you reach the other bunker. A high fade is ideal to hit the short stuff. If you find the fairway you’re left with a wedge to another narrow green. Play it safe and go over the bunker protecting the front left portion of the green as missing the green right will send you racing down a swale to a watery penalty.
The 6th is one of the signature holes at Heythrop. The look off the tee is no wonder and it’s a genuine risk and reward hole. An architect’s dream some might say. The water that started on the 5th cuts the hole in two and has to be cleared with a long iron or fairway wood to ‘lay-up’ if you like ready for your approach. Long hitters can try and go for the green but a carry of about 285yards must be made, missing the giant oak tree to the right of the green as you look from the tee and water directly to the left. If you found the fairway and missed the bunker the tree is now front left of the green with a bunker front right. It’s a picturesque approach.
Water continues down the right hand side of the 7th and this par-4 is a blind approach from the fairway and anything more slightly right that hasn’t reached the water. The huge hump in front of the green is to blame for that. Three bunkers protect the right of the green so aim for the left hand portion to be safe.
The 8th tee is tucked away right in the southern corner of the estate and is surrounded by the forest growth. The woods and the dramatic 90 degree dog-leg right makes this hole very tough and that’s not even mentioning the tee shot that has to clear a lot of shrubbery and be hit 230 yards or more to have a view of the green. This tough par-4 also has an uphill approach with two bunkers front left, another great par-4.
The outward nine finishes with a long par-3 that has four small ponds down the right hand side. Favour the left but make sure you don’t go too far as long grass and newly planted trees protect golfers playing with caution.
The inward nine starts with another demanding par-4 with bunkers down both sides of the fairway. Big hitters are at an advantage again as the right hand traps can be cut to shorten the 450 yarder into a driver and a wedge. The green hits back to the old mansion which proves a spectacular backdrop.
The 11th is a long par-5 with a very similar tee shot to that of the 10th hole at Augusta. A sweeping high draw is ideal that will run down the one of the widest fairways on the course. Risk and reward again is brought into play as water has to be cleared if you want to reach the green in two. A large tree also protects the front left of the green so another high draw is needed when throwing caution to the wind. A scorable hole for sure but watch out for a high number on your card as a lot of trouble lurks.
A winding walk takes you across the main road that leads up to the mansion and clubhouse. A giant oak tree is what you see from the 12th tee which needs to be cleared to hit the centre of the fairway. It sits some 180 yards away from the yellow tees. Passed the tee is one of the smallest green on the course protected by bunkers both left and right.
The 13th is a great par-3 which has everything. Playing anything from 160-205 yards the tee shot must be hit over a valley which runs down into a small stream to what looks like a narrow green. A huge bank to the right will cover anything leaked and anything left with be taken down into the water. The green typically slopes right to left towards the water.
I said that the 11th hole reminded me of the 10th at Augusta, well here’s another one that brings memories of The Masters to life. The par-5 14th is reminiscent of the 13th at the end of Amen corner as the sloping right to left fairway uses the contours to its advantage. Hit the fairway and you’re still left will a right to left lie to a hidden green. A birdie can certainly be found here if you play smartly, even if you don’t go for the green in two. The green itself is quite small and undulating, I can openly say I was very happy to hit the green in two but very angry when I walked off with a par.
There’s an uphill walk to the 15th tee which Mackenzie actually said he was worried about. Once to the top though you can catch your breath before you take aim and play the picturesque par-3 which is a tough club choice given the swirling wind. Favour the right hand side as anything left of the green will run down the grassy hill and you’ll be left with a tough up and down.
The start of the road home has you hitting back towards the clubhouse. The 16th is a narrow par-4 that requires a fairway wood off the tee. The undulation in the fairways means if you’re bold enough you can take the driver to try and reach the flat part which will leave you a wedge into a green that slopes front the back. Fairway bunkers will punish anything right so be accurate or be bold.
The 17th is a great long par-4 which even though you feel like you’re near to a relaxing swim and sauna this will bite you quicker than you can say steam room. The long par-4 has a demanding uphill approach to the green. Walk off with a par here and you’ll be one happy golfer standing on the final tee.
I took a picture on the 18th tee and tweeted it saying ‘it’s one of the straightest holes I’ve ever played’. Near enough 600 yards, the par-5 finish needless to say requires accuracy. Tree-lined rough on either side is to be avoided and your approach a very undulating green. Not quite two-tired but make sure your approach is on the right side of the hole. Speaking of the approach, the mansion sits behind the green in the distance which is a perfect back drop for your final shot in, but beware, get your yardage as a deep swale in front of the green makes it seem closer than it is.
For more information visit www.heythropparkgolf.co.uk
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