As my ears popped on the drive up to the club the wind must have been gusting to at least 60mph and a storm was fast approaching.
The weather was such that any sane person wouldn’t have stepped foot on a golf course yet alone one situated over 1,000 feet above sea level and as exposed as the most desolate links.
The conditions were such that the professional simply laughed when we walked into his shop and said that we wanted a couple of green-fees. We didn't ask for it but I think he felt obliged to discount the price for us because of the wind. I estimated we had a three hour window of dryness before the deluge arrived. We certainly had the course to ourselves because even the members who had arrived for their regular roll-up remained in the warmth of the clubhouse.
Because of its lofty position most people would say that Cleeve Hill is possibly the worst course to play in gale force winds. I would argue that it’s one of the best and this is because of the amazing width that the course allows from the tee. There is a real spaciousness to the course and I suspect that it was actually one of the few courses playable in the country on a day when the UK took a battering from Storm Katie.
The Cleeve Hill golf course, commanding truly stunning views of the surrounding countryside, is a municipal with the attached members club being named Cleeve Cloud. It’s one of those rare and unique courses which I wish there were more of. It is quite a quirky course but lots of fun played on a common with a number of blind shots and some significant slopes.
The simplicity of its design speaks volumes and whilst it won’t really test you from the tee there are some sublime green locations that are not only a joy to play towards but present all sorts of difficulties around them should you miss due to the contouring.
Located in an area of outstanding natural beauty, encompassing the highest point of the Cotswolds, the course is often referred to as an ‘inland links’ and, whilst I often dismiss this oxymoron of a term, Cleeve Hill is the certainly the closest you will get to playing seaside golf in what is virtually a land-locked county. I suspect even on a calm day there will be a constant wind and although the turf isn’t particularly sandy the tight lies you will play off from undulating fairways are as linksy as you’ll find away from the coast. And if I were to show you some images of holes 12 through to 16 you would swear they from a true links course.
Once you have played the opening trio of holes until the moment you descend rapidly at the 17th the landscape is lunar in appearance, wild and barren with an almost planetary feel. There’s a beautiful roominess which is perfect for golf favouring the ground game.
The front nine is as solid as a rock in terms of quality. Things really start to get going with the excellent approach into the fifth but the short sixth is the pick of the bunch in my opinion on this nine; played over some wonderful broken ground to a plateau green with a deep quarry to the right it is a fine test in a cross wind. The entire outward half has a real natural appearance, as does the entire course, where the greens are wonderfully sited and lightly bunkered.
Onto the back nine and the only hole I didn’t really care for was the 219-yard 10th but the views from here across the moonscape make up for my dislike of this downhill par-three.
The stretch of holes from the 12th, which has a green complex that would be superb if played to from virtually any angle, through to the 17th is magnificent.
The 13th, a par 5 from the white tees and a long par 4 from the yellows, has a green set in an old Anglo Saxon encampment and is absolutely brilliant with a small tongue at the front which widens towards the back. A blind drive at the 14th, one of several on the course, again cries out ‘links golf’ and the approach to the semi-basin green is fantastic and must be worked in.
Back-to-back short holes follow at 15 and 16. Despite running in the same direction both complement each other exceptionally well. The former is played over another old quarry whilst the terrain in front of the latter is sensational and if it were at somewhere akin to Cruden Bay it wouldn’t look out of place. The 17th is all about choosing the right line from the tee on a hole that sweeps severely downhill and from right to left with the harshest of quarries down the left yet out of sight from the tee.
The 18th is rather tame in comparison to what has just gone before but the number of memorable holes throughout the round is particularly high for a course that receives very little recognition on a national scale.
Even if we’d paid the full asking price of £20 for a weekend round in March it would have been exceptional value for money.
The game of golf has the ability to take you on amazing journeys to the most wondrous places where you meet such interesting people.
It was an impulsive, crazy… and some would say utterly ridiculous… decision that took me to The Machrie in the Spring of 2018.