Living less than an hour and a half away from this Cheshire course I had heard it was impressive but it wasn’t until October this year that I got to experience just how good it actually is.
Competing in their Men’s Pairs Open I discovered a challenging, fast running layout with an ever increasing heathland feel to it and wonderful rolling terrain. There’s a real natural appearance to the course with lots of width, bags of character and the sandy fairways were an absolute joy to play from. This is my type of inland golf.
The rough had also been cut back at this time of year so the course was infinitely playable with bags of strategy although I can imagine much straighter hitting is required during the summer months.
The two nines at Delamere both start and finish close to the wonderful ‘black and white’ clubhouse but are relatively contrasting in style. The front side is the stronger in my opinion although the inward half may be the more memorable and exciting for others.
The opening hole is one of the best and showcases the fantastic changes in elevation that you see throughout the round. Most of the front nine, and a couple of holes on the backside, have a beautiful open and expansive feel to them located high in the Cheshire countryside. The holes over this part of the property not only have far-reaching views but play firm and fast with the undulating land adding to the experience with a minimalistic, almost links-like feel to them. Maybe the two books prominently on display behind the pro-shop counter, Classic Golf Links of GB&I by Donald Steel and True Links by George Peper & Malcolm Campbell is a coincidence. Perhaps not.
Even from the championship tees the course stretches to only just over 6,500 yards and with a par of 72 it is the par fives where the length is mostly sacrificed. On the front nine both the second and seventh are reachable in two for even the modest hitter and although the 11th and 18th look longer on the scorecard, because of the topography, they can be reached with a couple of good strikes.
There are also some short par fours at Delamere where position is important off the tee but the approach will still be with only a short iron. However, they are not all straight forward and the ninth exemplifies this with a thrilling drive from a high tee to a plateau fairway before firing across a grassy valley to a tricky green setting where anything just short will run back 30 yards to the bottom of a hollow leaving a treacherous pitch.
The result of the modest length is that this creates exciting golf and birdie opportunities to be had. However, tactical nous is required to score well and like all top courses where it often gives with one hand it can take away with the other and at the fourth, fifth, eighth and 16th you will be very pleased to walk away with a par.
The first and last of that testing quartet are par three’s and the complete set of one-shotters is very impressive. The dropping sixth played to a small, well-guarded green is great fun but the 201 yard 16th is the best of the short holes where the contours of the land allow you to feed the ball into this long green from the left with a running approach if desired.
In my opinion the best hole on the course - there are several contenders by the way - is the eighth where you must decide how much of the heather you wish to bite off for a shorter shot into the partially blind green set in a slight dell. The 14th is also worthy of a special mention with a narrowing fairway and visually appealing green complex that slopes more from right-to-left than you may initially think.
The only hole I didn’t really care for is the one that most people may cite as their favourite. The par four 15th is an unusual hole with a blind ‘up and over’ drive which then dog-legs to the left before rising up to a plateau green. The hole, which can also play as a par three in the winter months from a forward tee, didn’t quite sit right within the rest of the course for me but this is really just nit-picking and testament to how good the entire course is.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised how much I liked Delamere Forest upon learning that it was Herbert Fowler who laid out the course. I’ve played a number of layouts designed by Fowler and very rarely walk away disappointed.
Most of the bunkering looked to have recently had a makeover and the greens were amazing for early October; quick and true with lots of roll out.
Away from the course is exceptional too. There’s no doubt that this is a traditional club but it appears to be meeting the modern day demands of golf well and an hour quickly went by in the comfortable clubhouse that has a view of at least four holes from the window. The food was also top notch.
It had taken me over 20 golfing years to play Delamere Forest but I can assure you it won’t be another two decades before I return. Indeed I returned in October 2020 and was equally impressed with the course on my second visit.
Copt Heath is a very fine parkland golf course that requires precision, plotting and a deft touch around the slick greens.
The Blue is a mix of American-style design and traditional English parkland. It's an unusual combination which makes the most of the terrain available. It was designed by Simon Gidman and opened in 1994.