Located in an area of outstanding natural beauty this par-66 golf course is very unique, memorable, fun and boasts a handful of exceptional holes to boot.
Golf has been played here for over 100 years with James Braid and Harry Vardon instrumental in the present layout which, if not rudimentary in design, is certainly of the old fashioned variety (including some square greens). That, however, doesn’t prevent it from producing good golf and with the pure delights of the second, fourth, eighth and tenth holes it is more than worth a visit.
At just a few paces over 5,000 yards from the very back tees Church Stretton packs in a huge amount of variety to its modest length and you are likely to play shots here that are not part of your usual golfing armoury. The course features in our best golf courses under 6,000 yards.
The adventurous course climbs several hundred feet from its base at the quaint clubhouse, halfway up Bodbury Hill, and most of this is done in the first three holes; all of them par threes! And whilst the terrain is perhaps a little too steep to make them holes of real quality each of their challenges is varied. In fact I am a huge fan of the second, which has a green hiding within a crease in the hillside, because at just 111 uphill yards it asks you to hit the perfect shot in order to get close. The other two options are to risk having your ball come up agonisingly short and run nearly all the way back to you or alternatively play safe, by taking a little extra club, and accept that you will have to try and rescue par from through the back of the green. Meanwhile the third is the most picturesque of this opening trio with a lovely located green in a secluded spot between two large rocky hills.
As a side note the 18th, which has its tee adjacent to the third green, is also a short hole and plunges all the way back down towards the first tee! This sub 650-yard loop makes for a very interesting quartet of one-shotters… as well as being extremely good exercise!
Once you have made a further big climb to the fourth tee the walk across the summit of the hilltop, where the reminder of the holes are played, is actually reasonably walkable and further ascents are more gradual. This culminates in another huge drop at the bizarre 15th hole; a 320-yard par four that under the correct conditions can perhaps be ‘driven’ with a pitching wedge!
Anyway, if you haven’t had your breath taken away by the climb to the fourth tee the views from here will certainly do that. It is a truly awe-inspiring location and gives you a real joy to be alive sensation. Although we’ve not really had chance to play from it until now the moorland turf is also very good for golf up here; springy yet tight and pleasing to hit from.
The fourth itself is arguably the best hole on the property. From the tee you can spy the green in the distance, across a ravine and far away to the right, and working out how to get there is a great deal of fun. With a tail wind on my visit a drive and short iron did the job but into a stiff wind I can image it is a different proposition although the way that the hole sweeps round from left to right, beyond the steep drop, it allows for an alternative route (along the ground) if required.
There are some real marmite holes at Church Stretton that you will either love or loathe; they are quirky for sure but may at times just step over the line and become a little too much. All of them will ask a question of your short game with lots of interest around the greens. I lost track of the number of times I failed to get up and down (in three!) from within 50 yards of the green. Wrong-side yourself here and your scorecard will feel the pain. It is one of those courses that if you miss your landing-zone by just a couple of feet with your chip or pitch the end result can be your ball ending up several yards away from the intended target.
In addition to the second and fourth the other two holes that oozed quality for me were the eighth and tenth. Both two-shotters, the former is a wonderful driveable par-four where you must not only choose the perfect line from the tee but also get the correct shape on your ball flight to hit the green and the penalty for not finding the dance floor will likely be the trickiest of recovery shots. Meanwhile, the 308-yard tenth is just so natural in appearance and makes use of the land perfectly with a fairway running alongside a ridge before you play across to a green nestled at the foot of the hillside.
A further highlight on the run for home includes the 13th, a sweeping par-four that has another excellent green-site, and is only marred by a new plantation of young trees that also blights the returning 14th. I’m not quite sure why trees are required to divide the holes on this exposed and expansive landscape where the openness is its inherent beauty.
The course was virtually bone dry on my visit in April 2016 and the greens, which were nice and firm, ran beautifully. At times the course can be a bit disorientating; there were a couple of occasions I wasn’t absolutely certain where I was going so don’t forget to pick up one of the handy maps that are available in the locker-room.
In summary, Church Stretton in an inspiring golf course and one I would recommend anybody play. It won’t be to everyone’s liking but it’s right up my street. Drink in the views, savour the walk but above all else enjoy the golf.