As recently as 2014 it was chosen as a qualifying venue for the Seniors Open Championship and I can imagine that when the wind howls across this narrow stretch of linksland it will provide a test to the very best.
There’s no denying this is a true links experience with the sixth, ninth, 12th, 14th and 18th being the real stars of the show in my opinion. This quintet of holes stand-out from the rest as being superior to the others on a course that borders on good-to-very good for the remainder. The reason is perhaps the more pronounced changes in elevation that these holes have in contrast to the rest, which are mostly played across flattish ground, save for a couple of dropping short holes.
The routing at Ashburnham is slightly unusual in that the opening two holes and the final three are played close to the clubhouse in a curious configuration. For me the real character of Ashburnham is displayed between the third and the 14th where you essentially play out and back on a thin strip of gently rippling terrain.
After an enjoyable start the par three sixth is the first real showstopper. A plateau green falls gracefully off a dune on the left and is protected by a deep bunker on the same side whilst there is a sharp fall-away on the right. There is also a bunker on the right which probably provides an easier escape than the tight lie you will no doubt get otherwise. It’s a classic links short hole and regardless of which point of the compass the wind blows from a par here is received with welcome arms.
After working your way out to the farthest point on the course the ninth makes an about turn and commences the long run for home. It’s a terrific driving hole with half a dozen bunkers dotted down the left which encourage you to bite off as much as you dare. However, it’s the green setting that elevates this hole to being one of the best on the course; slightly raised, tilted towards you with a narrow entrance and nothing for left.
The 12th is a lovely hole with a sweeping, gorse-lined fairway where should you thread your ball far enough down it will reward you with a view of the raised green. Meanwhile the 14th is a tale of two halves; a relatively none-descript drive before playing blindly over huge hummocks to a green nestled at the foot of a ring of dunes. There is a narrow funnel of fairway which will guide your ball to the putting surface should a running approach find it but if not you are faced with an awkward pitch.
The closing hole is also a gem. There is more going on with the drive than may initially appear whilst the approach to another lofted green requires good ball striking, judgement of distance and an ability to control your ball flight should you wish to set up a final birdie opportunity.
There’s very little to be critical of at Ashburnham. Many of the holes are structurally sound in the strategic sense and the greens on our visit in April 2015 were excellent. Midway through a very dry Spring they were firm, running true, fast and were already starting to get that lovely browny-glaze that good quality links greens are renowned for.
If I was forced to nit-pick it would be the bunkering. Not the positioning of them (that was very good) but they were quite tired looking in places and the style wasn’t particularly to my liking. A bunker renovation scheme would no doubt be costly but could transform this course from being very good to excellent.