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.