LOCATION: Kirkby in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, England
ARCHITECT: Original layout by Willie Park Junior. Initial revisions (primarily to bunkering) by John H. Taylor, with further changes to the layout made by the Tom Williamson, the Club’s long term Professional.
PAR: 72 S.S.S. RATING: 76 LENGTH: 7,250 yards
DATE INSPECTED / PLAYED: Sunday 22nd June 2014
Despite being situated amongst the suburbia of the adjacent Kirkby in Ashfield, Annesley and Ravenshead, arriving at the Notts Golf Club – or Hollinwell as the locals call it – you feel as though you are in the middle of the English countryside, a million miles from anywhere. This is due in part, to the rather long entry road that has you passing through a small patch of farming land before climbing up and over a hill clad in mature pine trees. Emerging on the other side of this narrow ribbon of forest the course finally reveals itself, with the tumbling downhill 18th hole spread out before you to the left and a large practice area to the right, with the attractive clubhouse straight ahead, set directly behind the 18th green.
The land occupied by the Notts Golf Club must be one of the largest land holdings of any golf club in England, and if you have played here yourself then you will understand what I am talking about. Technically there are only two pairs of adjacent holes in the entire layout that actually run parallel to each other – the 4th and 18th, and the 14th and 15th – indicating a course which is rather spread out. Adding to this, the layout changes direction so frequently that there are only two instances where consecutive holes actually play in the same direction: the 13th and 14th both play to the south, while the 16th and 17th head to the west. The fact that there isn’t much of the acreage that can be described as flat may well have something to do with all of this, as might the course’s length: a whopping 7,250 yards from the tips.
The landscape through which the holes meander is both beautiful and varied. As a result, the course has several distinct feels of being part heathland, part moorland and part woodland, which all blend seamlessly as one moves through the layout.
The opening three holes at Notts are played on a parcel of land to the west of the clubhouse and are separated from the rest of the layout by the entry road. The driving range is also located on this portion of the property, smartly utilizing an otherwise empty bit of land. These opening holes are configured in a triangular loop such that the third green sits directly below the clubhouse and adjacent to the 1st tee and 18th green (with the entry road in between). From here you pass across the front of the clubhouse and out to the 4th tee. For the next seven holes you continue playing on gently undulating ground, with holes meandering in and out of treed and open areas. Several of these holes are framed by the adjoining farmland, which provides for some attractive district views.
One then encounters some steeply rising ground at the par four 11th, and it is at this point that the layout really takes advantage of the more interesting terrain found on the property. You must embrace a roller coaster ride over the final seven holes – both physically and metaphorically – as they rise and fall dramatically over ridges and through several valleys. A real charm of the course is the fact that the quality of holes, and the subsequent drama and excitement, build slowly as you progress such that by the time you have reached the later stages of the round you’re hoping there might in fact, be a third nine out there somewhere so you don’t have to return to the clubhouse just yet.
The back nine holes at Hollinwell rightly receive the majority of the accolades – simply due to the fact that they occupy the best land on the site. Moreover, Willie Park Junior and Tom Williamson did a wonderful job in utilizing the topography, draping each hole in such a way that the severe contours add both playing drama and beauty to the layout. I should clarify that this isn’t to say that the early holes are weak in any way – far from it. It is simply that the course continues to improve upon itself as each new hole is revealed. Despite the front nine covering some less-interesting terrain, credit must go to all three Architects involved for making the most of such land with challenging and thought-provoking golf holes such as the par four 2nd and 8th holes, the par five 3rd and par three 9th.
The bunkers scattered throughout the layout are a mixture of sand and grass-faced, and do a good job of being sited in the vicinity of where your tee shots usually need to be to set up the best angle into the greens. Typically they are of a moderate depth, though in some instances are quite deep and therefore punishing. Interestingly, some of the deeper bunkers can actually be found on the fairways and not near the greens. As for the greens themselves, they possess a mild amount of slope, which is generally in the form of a tilt in one or several directions rather than internal undulations. They range in size considerably, though importantly tend to be appropriate for the length of shot received.
From a playing perspective, it is the par four 10th that really gets things moving with a blind drive over heather followed by an approach to a raised, semi-blind plateau green that must also negotiate a pair of bunkers some 50 yards short of the putting surface. Only one of these hazards is actually visible – sitting in the right half of the fairway – with the second bunker hidden in the rough up the slope to the left. There is a slither of fairway in between these two bunkers that one can use to run the ball up to the green, though the portion of fairway in between the bunkers and putting surface is strongly cantered from left to right. With a further bunker located front right of the green, any running approach must be well judged to avoid a sandy lie.
At the uphill 11th your drive is played into the narrow chute of a valley, from where you are required to make a very accurate approach to a small green protected by a cluster of bunkers front left and thick rough/gorse to the right and rear. Staying below the flag here is crucial if you are to avoid three-putting. Another uphill blind drive is encountered at the long, rollicking par four 12th, which tackles several huge ridges and valleys in a perpendicular alignment. You then arrive at the visual climax of the round: the long, downhill par three 13th. This hole is without doubt the most scenic, and arguably one of, if not the best hole in the layout. At 241 yards from the back tee you will need a fair bit of club to find the huge green, which is protected by no less than six bunkers.
However, despite the 13th being the ‘post-card’ hole of the course and the previous three all being good holes in their own right, I consider the closing four holes to be the best stretch in the eighteen.
At the uphill par four 15th your drive needs to negotiate both a menacing fairway bunker set just below the crest of a ridge on the left-hand side, and a strong left to right canter in the fairway itself. Longer hitters who are able to carry this bunker must be careful to avoid a second one further up on the right, cleverly placed to capture running balls feeding left to right off the heavily contoured fairway. You are then asked to follow that up with an approach into a small, steeply pitched green nestled at the base of a valley. With thick heather, gorse and long grass abutting both sides and rear of the green there is no bail out here other than short. Think twice about playing cautiously to the front of the green though as you will risk your approach running 30-40 yards back down the bank fronting the green complex, leaving a semi-blind uphill pitch to save your par.
At the downhill par four 16th one may be tempted to take on the corner of the dogleg with the driver so as to get as close to the green as possible, but in reality a well-struck mid-iron is all that is required to utilize the steep downhill slopes and find the fairway, leaving a pitch into a huge tired green protected by a deep bunker spanning its entire front. In fact given the oblique orientation of the fairway in relation to the alignment of the tee boxes, the difficulty with the drive lies in being able to actually hold the fairway with your tee shot and not run through it into the rough on the far (left-hand) side. One gains an advantage by successfully hugging the left-hand side of the fairway so as to then play the approach down the full-length of the wide, but relatively shallow green.
After navigating these two testing holes, one finds welcome relief at the short par five 17th. Measuring just 501 yards from the tips there is plenty of opportunity here to claw a stroke back with a birdie. Playing as a right to left dog-leg, the shortest route home requires one to hug the left side off the tee, flirting with both long rough and a carefully sighted lone fairway bunker. Again longer hitters are to take note of a pair of fairway bunkers situated further along on the left half of the hole. For those wanting to take a safer route, there is plenty of room out to the right of these bunkers, though with contours feeding balls right to left, accurate placement of your tee shot is still required to avoid running into the sand. An open front provides sufficient room to skip your approach shot up the bank and onto the large, punchbowl shaped green, though veer too far in either direction and you’ll end up in one of three greenside bunkers. The beauty of this hole lies in its simplicity: a reachable par five with plenty of width and an inviting green, where the penalty for poor strokes is harsh, yet considered fair in the context of what is being asked of the golfer.
Standing on the elevated 18th tee, one is given a commanding view over the full length of final hole, whose green is set somewhat attractively below the clubhouse. Being downhill it plays much shorter than the 460 yards listed on the scorecard; yet is still no push over. This is largely due to three separate pairs of staggered bunkers, which are carefully placed along the length of the hole guarding either side of the defined playing surfaces. The first set can be found at the landing area in the fairway, the second some 30-60 yards short of the green, while the final two butt up against the front left and right-hand edges of the putting surface. In each instance these pairs of bunkers are diagonally offset from each other from left to right. This somewhat affords the golfer more room to move, though also ensures that both short and long hitters need to play for position if they are to secure a closing par. In what appears to be just for good measure, one final greenside bunker lies to the back left-hand side of the green to swallow up anything slightly left and long. Try not to be distracted by the views, as this holes beauty is matched by its challenge, forming a great finish to an impressive layout.
COURSE IMAGES: Please click on any one of the images below to load a slide show of photographs of the golf course.
FEATURED COVER IMAGE: The 241 yard par three 13th
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