Negotiations to bring the golf clubs on a family holiday can be tricky. With a wife and two teenagers that are not golfers and two dogs that take up the space of a Tour bag and trolley, it is a tough sell.
I was surprisingly delighted therefore, when informed by the better half that her parents were joining us on our week away, that I was directed to take the father-in-law, who had recently taken up the game, for a round. It will be some male bonding, she said.
And so it was, that having made the trip South to The New Forest and obliged in the standard procedure of an hours queuing to get through Lyndhurst (It is worth it for the time spent as a voyeur past the Ferrari and Maserati showrooms at the bottom of the High Street) that we made our way to Bramshaw Golf Club.
Chosen with my novice playing partner in mind, the Forest Course is the original layout at this 36 hole venue, with golf dating from 1865, but now plays second fiddle to the pristine parkland of the Manor Course on the other side of the road. Built within the boundaries of the National Park, this is natural golf at its most natural. The green-staff are heavily restricted on the maintenance that they can complete due to the protected status of the land. Fortunately there is a secondary maintenance crew consisting of cattle, ponies and pigs, who graze the land with a nonchalant disinterest. How much damage can my partner do, thought I, given there are already dozens of hooves wandering the fairways.
The scene is set on the opening hole when the space between the elevated teeing area and the approach to the green is almost entirely filled by dairy cows spilling out from the farm to the left of the fairway. Fortunately my 3 Wood manages to carry the herd whilst the father-in-law sprays one so far right into the trees that we can give the cattle a suitably wide berth. The fences around every green are perhaps the only unnatural element on the whole course, but essential to keep the various spectators away.
Many of the highlights of the course come quite early, with a series of stunningly natural green sites among the undulating land, streams and bracken. The wide open gently rolling vistas offer a stunning walk, with the dusky browns and oranges of early autumn coming to the fore. This land will barely have changed since the origin of the game in England in the mid-19th century and it is a rare treat these days to play a course untouched by the modern hand. It really does feel that you should be wearing a tweed jacket and using hickories to propel your feathery round the course.
Over the half-time sandwiches and 7Up I have time to reflect on an enjoyable front 9 of 8 pars and just a single bogey. If a certain amount of drama had been lacking from the occasion to this point, however, the events of the 10th hole made up for this. Launching a huge Garryowen type up and under from the tee, my father in laws ball disappeared into the drizzly grey atmosphere.
One of the more pleasurable experiences in golf is when you hit a great looking approach shot and whilst it is in the air, your eyes flit between the flight of the ball and the pin. Back and forth, back and forth, until the two meet in perfect harmony. Well, this was like that apart from instead of the flag, your eyes tracked the steady plod of a huge brown and white heffer across the fairway a hundred and forty yards away.
The result was inevitable as, like a guided missile, the Titleist 2 moon ball completed its near vertical descent onto the rear of the cow. Remarkably the old girl remained unmoved as the ball lay beside her. The mind wandered to the etiquette of a cow fatality. Should one continue their round? Can you be arrested? Anyway, like my father-in-law was later to observe, you can say what you like about the quality of his golf but you cannot claim that he can’t hit a cows arse.
Sensibly leaving the ball where it lay for fear of reprisal, my partner had time to compose himself as he walked the remainder of the hole. Unfortunately I had no such opportunity and the resultant 4 putt double-bogey was blamed upon the tears in my ears.
Many of the best green-sites are reserved for the short holes and so for most these are the holes that they remember – and indeed they are a wonderful set of Par 3’s. The abiding memory for me, however, is the feeling a striking iron shots into the par 4’s from the crisp firm turf kept short by sheep, cows, ponies and pigs. That I managed to finish the round with a short birdie putt put the icing upon a unique experience.
Opportunities to golf on one of the UK’s most natural and stunning landscapes do not exist in many areas these days. In England, Minchinhampton Common and Painswick are another of this select band that spring to mind. Call me a fool, but if you gave me just one place to play golf for the rest of my life, I may shun the likes of Augusta and Pebble Beach for The Forest Course at Bramshaw.