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.