If you are playing Hockley, just south of Winchester in Hampshire, be sure not to leave yourself a tricky putt on the 17th. Chances are, you will be so distracted by the wide, far reaching views from the green perched atop the rolling South Downs that you will struggle to focus on the petty detail of getting the ball in the hole. Hockley’s elevated sections, and that’s the majority of the holes, to be honest, offer plenty of opportunities to stand and stare, certainly on a sunny summer’s day such as the one when three of us took on its challenges for the first time.
First timers are at a disadvantage here, as Hockley is one of those courses where a degree of familiarity with the contours and the prevailing wind is key to correct club and shot selection. Those used to playing on links courses will feel right at home, as Hockley has a similar feel, with its fast running fairways, ubiquitous bunkers and ever-present breeze.
The opening four holes climb gently up the side of the escarpment, all relatively straightforward par 4s, albeit two of them over 400 yards, even off the yellow tees. Then comes the first of the par 3s, a temptingly reachable 147 yards from the yellows, but the contours of the green mean you need to be careful how you go about it, and missing the green leaves a tricky chip from any angle. The views have opened up now, as you are up on top of the downs. Which is pretty much where you will stay for the rest of the round bar the final hole. Not that it’s flat – there are plenty of ups and downs along the way and lots of views to be taken in.
Before the turn there is still a tough par 4 to negotiate, 439 yards and stroke index 1, along with a demandingly long par 3 whose 192 yards may well be affected by the wind. A couple of par fours in the 7th (driveable by some at 269 yards, but it’s a totally blind tee shot) and the 375 yard 9th, and that’s a diverse and interesting first half of your round completed.
There are no par 5s on the front nine: Hockley has saved them all for the back half of the course, and there are no fewer than three of the long treks to be tackled, two of them measuring in excess of 500 yards. At the other end of the scale there are two par 3s, one of them – the 16th – a fairly straightforward affair at 165 yards (unless you top your iron off the tee, as I did), and the other – the 12th – a mere 122 yards, but with a green so surrounded by danger that it’s probably the trickiest 9 iron or wedge shot that you will have faced in a while.
So it’s an eventful homeward journey, reaching something of a climax when you stand on that wonderfully situated green on the 17th, with all of Hampshire at your feet, leaving you wondering how can you follow that. Well, Hockley has one last trick up its sleeve in the steeply downhill 18th which, in the course of its 483 yards (528 off the whites) brings you back down to earth and the clubhouse. What a hole: not only is the tee shot played blind over a ridge, so is your second shot, and when it comes to your third shot, the approach to the green is screened by an embankment sporting three large bunkers. Never would a bit of previous experience have come in more handy.
We thoroughly enjoyed our morning at Hockley and look forward to returning in the future armed with the wiles that this first round will have provided. It’s an entertaining, challenging and scenic course, and our only reservation is whether its exposed setting (it was sufficiently breezy on a warm August day for us to keep our jumpers on for most of the round) might make it a less attractive proposition in the depths of winter or in the early season.
No, I haven’t succumbed to a severe bout of depression (though, to be fair, my failure to update this blog in recent months might well have triggered one). Anything but, in fact. I am feeling quite chipper following a two stroke cut in my handicap as a result of my round with the seniors last Tuesday. It remains a determinedly ordinary handicap (21.2 to be precise) and still some way short of the sub-18 mark that suggests you are not completely incompetent when it comes to making your way round a full 18 holes. But a cut is a cut.
I have to confess that I thought my handicap would fall from its initial 27 rather more quickly that it has done in the two and a bit years that I have been playing this great game with some degree of regularity. I got down to 25 fairly quickly, got stuck there for a while, worked my way down to 22 then slipped out again to 23, where I have been stuck since last summer. Over the winter I have played to or near to my handicap on a regular basis (not hard to do if you don’t have to break 90 to do so), which has allowed me to pick up a prize most weeks. But it wasn’t until five days ago that I managed to find greater consistency than is normal for me (I have earned a reputation for being Mr Unpredictable) and racked up 41 points, while leaving quite a few more out there on the course.
But I will take the 21 and try to see it as a stepping stone to something rather more respectable. I shall have to try and adopt on a more permanent basis the approach that served me well last week, i.e. forget about scoring and just enjoy each individual shot as an independent challenge. I’ll pass on the playing with a dodgy knee bit, however.
How many blogs does one ordinary golfer need? Well, in this ordinary golfer’s case, it would seem that one is not enough, and I am pleased to announce the birth of a sister blog to this one, which can be found under the name Ordinary Golfing.
The purpose of this new online diary is just that, to keep a record of rounds, range sessions and other golf-related events and activities which are not significant enough to warrant an entry on this blog. Consequently it is likely to be much more a personal record and perhaps of little interest to others. But if you feel like peering over my shoulder, you are welcome to do so.
The initial entries, starting here, record my mixed fortunes over the course of three rounds in three days and go to show just how erratic ordinary golf really is.
If you are seeking the challenge of a varied 18 holes that will ask all the right questions (and quite sternly at times) of your strengths and skills as a golfer, then Hamptworth, lying in rolling Wiltshire countryside between Southampton and Salisbury, could be the course for you. If you are looking for a casual, relaxing round with a few friends, stay on the A36 and don’t take the turnoff for this well appointed golf and country club. Hamptworth provides quite a workout for both your physical and mental capabilities, so don’t be taken in by the apparently fairly short distances, especially off the yellow tees. There may be plenty of sub-400 yard par 4s, but they don’t surrender too easily.
It all starts off quite straightforwardly, with three of the aforementioned shortish par 4s in a parkland setting, one of them a classic right hand dogleg, before you face the first of the par 3s, an uphill 195 yards with a bunker lurking front right to catch any gentle fade you might impart to your shot. Here you begin to realise that questions will indeed be asked. The next two holes – yes, sub-400 par 4s – exemplify the differing facets of this course. The 5th boasts a beautiful elevated tree-framed green with a bunker to catch your tee shot if it drifts right, and pine woodland to swallow it if it drifts to the left, while the 6th is all open spaces, but with two large bunkers dominating your view from the tee box and another wrapping itself round the front left of the green, making your approach shot very tricky unless you keep well right on the fairway. And now another realisation dawns: that to play this course successfully, you need to get to know its quirks and foibles, learn its intricacies, and – perhaps most importantly – work out appropriate club choices.
The three holes that take you to the turn are a par 5, par 3 and par 4 respectively, but the medium distance par 3 is a filler between two parallel holes of very similar length, the 7th counting 440 yards off the yellows, the 9th 10 yards fewer. They both play down hill, with a long approach shot over the same creek to an elevated green. But the 7th is manageable, given its par 5 status (though it’s a strenuous climb up to the green!), whereas on the 9th certainly it’s only the more muscular amongst us who can hope to reach the green (shared with the 18th) in two. Realisation number three: this is a hilly course, with lots of ups and downs, plus some long treks between green and following tee.
At least it’s downhill all the way on the 10th, with 142 yellow yards required from the elevated tee to reach the green below you. On 11 we are climbing again, and threading our way through the trees on the long stroke index 1 par 4, followed by a bit of an open spaces breather on 12. The 13th is a delightful par 3, 165 yards to a green carefully guarded by an elongated pond, before you arrive at one of the gems of this course, the short (322 yards) 14th. An accurate line through a narrow gap in the trees is required from the tee to reach the uphill fairway set in a beautiful unspoilt woodland clearing where you can savour the calm and quiet of the Wiltshire countryside. Hamptworth offers quite a few moments like this, when the rest of the world, indeed the rest of the golf course, seems very distant.
Nice and open again on the 15th, with the usual well placed bunkers to play tricks with your mind, then another gem in the longest hole on the course, the par 5 16th – 566 yards off the yellows. Prior knowledge would help here, for your first two shots at least are played blind, as the hole wends its way up and over a hill through a couple of narrow gaps between trees to the green which is hugged on its left flank by yet another ball-attracting bunker. A joy of a golf hole.
The clubhouse beckons, but there is still work to be done to get there. The 17th isn’t long at a mere 296 yards, but there is a valley to be traversed between tee and green. Which is but the warm-up for the much longer trip downhill and up again on the 439 yard 18th, which has echoes of the 7th and 9th holes in its layout. That little creek certainly earns its keep – and keeps a few balls for itself too, in all probability. And that’s Hamptworth for you. You will know that you have played 18 holes. But you will want to play them again. If not immediately.
Further photos of the course may be seen here.
When it comes to equipment, most golfers will spend a lot of time researching and testing before they commit to buying a club or set of clubs. And so they should. They cost enough. But when it comes to a glove, they just settle for whatever happens to be behind the counter at the pro shop when the old one wears out. I certainly used to be like that, but not any more.
Aha, you say, a golf glove doesn’t really count as equipment. Well, having worn the Bionic Performance Grip glove for the past couple of months, I beg to differ. It’s the first glove I have worn, and I’ve worn a number of different brands, that feels more than just a glove, more like a ….. well, piece of golfing equipment. And it all came about pretty much by chance, as I was trying to find something that cost enough to add to the pair of golf shoes I was purchasing from an online store in order to qualify for free delivery. And the Bionic gloves did it, being on the pricey side for a golf glove.
Bionic make big claims for their gloves, claiming that ‘Bionic technology is totally unique in the marketplace. There is nothing like it.’ Supposedly designed by a leading orthopaedic hand surgeon, ‘unlike conventional gloves, which are designed with a straight cut in the fingers, Bionic gloves feature a pre-rotated design that follows the natural motion of your fingers’. They also feature lycra ‘Motion Zones’ over the knuckles and ‘Web Zones’ between the fingers. Certainly Bionic gloves are distinctive in appearance and look a bit different to your run of the mill product.
But does this so-called technology make any difference? Yes is the simple answer. I found the glove a perfect fit (medium/large being the size that did it for me) and that, in line with the company’s claims, it was genuinely more comfortable, did feel like a second skin, and moved more naturally when gripping. They key thing for me was that there was no rucking up effect in the palm when gripping the club, something that had annoyed me about all other gloves I have worn. Must be the web zones. In fact, I think it is the web zones, if I must call them that. They really do the business.
So far, so brilliant. The downside? I found that after three weeks of admittedly hard wear (two or three rounds a week and time on the range on the remaining days) a slight tear developed along a seam on the palm of the glove. That said, I carried on wearing it, and in the end I have just replaced my original purchase after two months of daily wear and tear. That slight let down aside, I can’t recommend this glove highly enough. It might cost a little more than your average glove, but then it is, in my view, a fully fledged item of golfing equipment.
Postscript. The Performance Grip is just one of the golf gloves manufactured by Bionic. They also offer four other versions, one of which is specifically designed for those who suffer from arthritis in the hands. And that one is so effective, it is banned for use in official competition. ‘Nuff said.
If you think that sounds like one of those too good to be true offers that require you to flex your credit card in exchange for the secret of how to play consistently good golf, you’d be right. It does sound like it. But it isn’t. Instead, it’s merely my musings on how I might have reduced yesterday’s humdrum score by said 10 shots with a little bit more care and attention.
Yesterday morning, in perfectly decent conditions – course drying out after recent wet weather, cloudy and cool, with little in the way of a breeze – I shot a 96. Yes, there were a couple of horror holes in there, but for the most part the golf was as grey as the day itself, dull and unremarkable. Which made me wonder: how could I have taken ten shots off my score, making for a rather more respectable round in the mid 80s?
So how to identify the ten shots I could have done without? I decided not to include the genuinely bad shots, like the couple of wildly sliced iron shots from the fairway, or the tee shots I put into bunkers on two of the par threes. Rather, I set out to identify the silly little wasted shots that cost me my claim to shoot in the 80s. I did find ten of them, and here they are.
(1) A simple bogey putt missed on the 14th (we started our round on the 10th), having got things back together following a tee shot that found the adjoining fairway.
(2) A fluffy chip on the 16th à la recent Tiger Woods.
(3) The short putt for par missed on the 18th green.
(4) Failing to take enough club to reach the green for my third shot on the par 5 1st.
(5) Three putting on the par 3 2nd, having just played a nice tee shot to reach the green.
(6) Pitching short to the 3rd green for no good reason.
(7) Burying my ball with a fairway wood as I topped my second shot on the par 5 4th.
(8) Taking three putts on the 6th following a nice shot over the pond to the green.
(9) Being too ambitious on my second shot on the par 4 8th and connecting with a tree.
(10) Taking a hybrid rather than an iron when my ball was lying in a divot, with the inevitable result.
So there we have it. I could quite easily have shaved 10 shots off my score with a little bit more thought, a shade less ambition and, critically, a steadier hand on the putter and, indeed, the wedge. There are clearly lessons to be learned from this. Will I be a dutiful student? Next week’s scorecard will provide the evidence.
The ball that changed the ball. That’s how Callaway has been billing their new introduction, the Chrome Soft, released yesterday, January 16th, following a major build up in the press and social media which included clips of Phil Mickelson, no less, getting so excited that he threatened to bin his Tour-spec balls in favour of this new wonder ball. Now I suspect that that is not likely to become a reality any time soon, but have Callaway discovered the holy grail of golf balls and reconciled the conflicting interests of distance off the tee, control around the greens and feel off the putter face? After 9 holes with the Chrome Soft yesterday afternoon, I’m thinking that they might well have done.
My first experience of the Chrome Soft was giving it a whack with a 9 iron on the short par 3 that opens the back 9 on my home course of Chilworth. I had forgotten what hitting a really soft ball could feel like. Not since my unsuccessful flirtation with the Callaway Supersoft 12 months ago had I hit a ball and wondered if I actually had. That’s what a compression ratio of 65 can do for you. But on looking up I found that indeed I had and there it was, on the green, having landed and spun back some 4 feet to leave a good chance of a birdie. Not that I converted it, of course.
So, ‘incredibly soft feel’ – check. And I like that in a golf ball. What about the ‘exceptional distance’ that Callaway are claiming for their new baby? Well, in the interests of fairness and at least some degree of objectivity, I played my nine holes double hitting most shots, using a Titleist NXT Tour S as the comparison ball, reckoning that it is of similar construction, is in the same price bracket and has the same claims made for it. The result? The Chrome Soft was longer every time and with every club, most notably with the 3 and 5 woods, where the difference was anything up to 20 yards. Even with a pitching wedge, the Chrome Soft was 8 yards longer.
And as for the ‘excellent control’ claimed as a result of the soft urethane cover, you can tick off that one too. I do like to play a tall shot into the green and have it check up, and the Chrome Soft is happy to oblige in that department. Fancy a bit of backspin? No problem. I had one wedge shot come back some 12 feet on a pretty soggy green and a number of other less dramatic instances that prove this ball is highly capable from 150 yards in.
But the final ace up the Chrome Soft’s sleeve is its performance on the green, the vital arena in which the Supersoft fell down by its tendency to mimic a dead hedgehog and become unresponsive to the point of unplayability (for me, at any rate). When yards become feet, the Chrome Soft retains its soft but nonetheless responsive feel, and I found I preferred it to both the NXT Tour S and my old favourite, the DT Solo.
I do think Callaway are on to something with the Chrome Soft and that for once, the reality lives up to the hype. I can’t see Phil and his peers bagging it, as they don’t need to. They’ve got what they need already, in the form of the Pro V1 and the other tour-spec balls they are supplied with. But we ordinary golfers can’t get the best out of a Pro V1: we can’t compress it sufficiently, for a start. But we can compress the Chrome Soft. And, because of its 3 piece construction and soft urethane cover, we can control it around the greens and stroke it nicely with the putter on them. This is a tour performance ball designed for the mid to high handicapper – and that’s a big market.
Personally, I love it. Having parred 5 of the 9 holes I played, gained a bit of distance and enjoyed the feel off the woods, irons and putter, I enjoyed my afternoon with the Chrome Soft. I feel I have found the ball I have been waiting for.
Dibden (formerly known as Bramshott Hill) promises much. The approach to the club takes you alongside the 12th fairway which is attractively lined by mature trees, and the panoramic view from the clubhouse across the course to Southampton Water would be the envy of most golf clubs in England. But does this course, formerly a municipal but now run on lease by MyTime Active, deliver?
The first, a 409 yard par 4, is a nice opener: level, easy on the eye and not too challenging for the not yet warmed up golfer. The 164 yard par 3 that follows is another confidence booster – unless you snap hook it left into the trees, that is. The third, a short par 5, provides a better flavour of what this course is about, as you play your tee shot blind over a ridge followed by two strokes (or one for the ambitious big hitter) downhill to reach a green protected to the front by a reedy pond and with a backdrop of trees to punish those who overdo things. The round is now properly underway. A straightforward but pleasing par 3 and an attractive dogleg par 5 follow, and then you are faced with the par 4 6th, classified as stroke index one: a slight lefthand dogleg, not long at 390 yards but with penalties for those who overcook their tee shot and a raised green well armed with bunkers and other types of punishment if you calculate your distances less than perfectly.
Of the next three holes that take you to the turn, the pick has to be the 8th, played blind from the tee and with a long doglegging downhill run to the green that sits behind a ditch and has other entrapments to catch out the unwary or the over-ambitious. Unusually, the 9th doesn’t bring you back to the clubhouse: it’s the 6th that does that, with another opportunity to bail out after playing the 11th. Before you get there, the 10th is a very pleasant parkland par 5, rising up to the finish, which – like the 3rd – captures the essence of the course. The 11th definitely doesn’t, being a bit of a gap-filler par 3 played off a mat to a green some way above you. It is billed as 100 yards but my GPS gave it as 67. Not that it mattered, as I sliced my lob wedge wildly into the pines.
The aforementioned 12th that follows is another nice hole, a tree-lined avenue, downhill and short enough to encourage the big boys to go for it. But then the course sadly rather dissolves into unremarkable banality, with a series of anonymous holes, the best of them being the 14th, a challenging 200+ yard par 3 that fully deserves it SSI of 2. The final hole gets things together again, however, and the view from the tee is at last what you you have been waiting for, a panorama like that from the clubhouse. It’s a good hole, too, with a straight and well-judged tee shot down the hill to find the right spot for a wedge to reach the green that now sits above you such that you cannot see its surface. More good judgement is required if you are to avoid raising the eyebrows of the old boys sitting on the terrace outside the clubhouse.
So. Does Dibden deliver on its initial promise? In my view, not quite. The front half is highly enjoyable and the finish is a good one, but the absurd 11th and the dullness of much of the rest of the back 9 leave the course just short of what it takes to leave you wanting more. It’s a perfectly pleasant day’s golf but not one to go into the little black book of must-play courses. A gallery of the course can be seen here.
It’s a funny game, golf. One day you think you’ve finally got the hang of it and can play the game, the next you might as well be swinging a club for the first time ever. I have dabbled, sometimes pretty successfully, in a number of sports, but have never come across one where your form can be so radically variable as is the case with golf. As a consequence it was a funny week, last week.
I had been feeling for a while that a half-decent round was bubbling under, and on Tuesday it came to the surface, admittedly half-decent rather than fully-fledged, no questions asked, 100%, full-fat decent, it has to be said.On a frosted white-out of a course, certainly in the first half of the round, I held things together quite well, successfully resisting the temptation to lash the ball wildly into the rough, and accumulated enough Stableford points to take the top prize in category 2. Which was nice, given my absence from the upper echelons of the ranked scores in recent weeks. Cue that ‘finally got the hang of it’ feeling (again).
The following day I had a winter league match against a lady member who came highly rated by her peers. I was clearly so rattled by this that I lost any capabilities I had possessed the previous day and started my round by making a double figure score on the par 5 first. I don’t know when I last did that. First time I picked up a club, probably. Admittedly things did settle down after that, and we enjoyed a close contest over the front nine.
I took three holes on the trot around the turn and thought that all was well, only to lose a ball (still not sure how, as it landed in clear view) on the 13th and went on to lose 2 & 1. I was some 8 shots worse than the day before and played poorly off the tee. Clearly, in golf, 24 hours can make all the difference.
On Saturday, I played a solitary front nine on a beautifully clear and blue-skied December afternoon. 72 hours previously, I had been 5 over after after one hole. On Saturday I was as many strokes over par having played nine. Five pars, two bogies, one double bogey. Tee shots largely straight,55% greens in regulation. 1.89 putts per hole. I think that’s the best front nine I’ve ever played at Chilworth. It’s a funny game, golf. That’s for sure.
This afternoon I played the front nine at Chilworth. It’s not a particularly easy set of holes, with three par 5s, a 200 yard plus par 3 and the notorious 6th among its challenges, so I was pretty content to finish in the gently gathering dusk at 8 over par. Last Saturday saw me go out and play the same front half of the course with an outcome of 9 over for the 9 holes. It’s what usually happens when I play the front nine on my own as practice – par for the course, you might say. So why, when playing in the weekly seniors’ competition yesterday morning, did I find myself reaching the turn in a staggering 21 strokes in excess of par? Triggering the rage as in the title, not necessarily against the machine, but against pretty much anything within range. My poor gap wedge took a particular hammering at one especially desperate moment after I had rocketed the ball across the full width of the green at high speed.
Five over after the first two holes wasn’t a great start, to say the least, and set the tone for the following seven holes, with not a solitary par to lighten the gloom, but with topped tee shots, duffed chips and missed putts aplenty. Par on the 10th proved a false dawn as an incredible 13 more dropped shots on the next four holes followed and plunged me into such despondent and frustrated gloom as only a golfer would know. And then the miracle happened. I rediscovered an ability to play golf. Tee shots soared, pitches landed obediently on greens and putts dropped into cups. Well, except for a slight miscalculation on the 18th, which denied me the last of four successive pars over the closing holes. Better late than never. Perhaps. But the overriding emotion that lingered from the round was that uncomprehending rage triggered by the frustration at my inability to play and score in the way that I know I can.
I suspect that it is, as they say, all in the head. Golf is, after all, the mind game par excellence. I just need to find the mental serenity in a competitive environment that will allow me to once again card the same kind of scores that come so easy when playing for fun or for practice.