It is also a drawer’s paradise. Only one hole (the 10th) asks you to hit a fade whilst the vast majority of the other long holes set up for a right-to-left ball flight. A running draw will particularly benefit you at the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 9th, 12th, 15th and 17th!
I personally hit this shape of shot and love playing here for that reason (!) but I can imagine somebody who naturally fades the ball may struggle. The lopsided nature of the shots you are asked to hit from the tee is the only real criticism I can throw at what is an otherwise exceptional and visually striking golf course.
The Club, located on a SSSI, opened for play back in 1897 as a nine-holer before James Braid advised on the addition of a further nine holes in 1922. Subsequently, three new holes were created in the mid-1930s when Harry Colt was called in to rework the course and not a great deal has changed since except for the inevitable lengthening of most holes.
Bobby Locke described the course as the closest resemblance to a seaside links and there are indeed comparisons on this vast, exposed and unsheltered heathland where flighting your ball low in any sort of a wind is essential. Having said that my most recent visit in July 2019 was on a benign day and shooting at the pins with a drop and stop strategy was the order of the day.
Hankley Common has an elegant setting and a fine routing which takes us on an intriguing exploration of the endless heath where slithers of fairway cut through never-ending swathes of heather, each in their own little universe.
It is a relatively easy walk with the only climb of any sorts coming when we play the triad of holes where the sixth and eighth (both par fives) act as two lengths of an isosceles triangle with the superlative short seventh joining the dots.
Indeed one of the beauties of the course is that it plays in little triangles, or mini-loops, throughout the round. The first to fourth bring us back to the clubhouse. 10, 11 & 12 are another triangle as are 13, 14 & 15. As a result there are lots of options to hop from one hole to another during the round if members so wish.
Hankley is not an overly strategic course and this could be another quibble you could throw at it. The questions it asks are fairly straight-forward and the course is eminently fair with flattish fairways and minimal fairway bunkering. You do find yourself hitting the same shot a number of times during the round. Although you could argue that the joyful experience of playing on this uncluttered layout outweighs any short falls in this department.
From the normal competition tees (6,474 yards) the course is a par 71 with an SSS of 71 which is about right; there are some tough holes but equally plenty of birdie opportunities should one stay out of the snarly heather which lines every fairway. However, there is also a set of purple tees that stretch the course to a sizeable 6,932 yards (SSS 74) and glancing back towards some of these tees sends a shiver down your spine. I imagine this is an extreme test of golf when the wind howls across the plain.
The quartet of short holes are particularly impressive at Hankley. The 2nd plays to a pushed up green with a significant slope from back-to-front. The aforementioned 7th is an iconic hole played over a valley of heather to a two-tiered skyline green sat beautifully on the opposite hill. The 11th is a brute of a hole at over the 200-yard mark and the uphill 16th is another beauty with a deep trap protecting the left side. They are nicely spaced throughout the round and if you can get through these four holes with your card intact you are likely to post a good score.
With the exception of the 10th and 18th you are unlikely to face too many long approach shots into the par fours and if your wedge game is dialed in you should give yourself plenty of birdie putts but missing the green – many of them raised – is likely to lead to a taxing recovery. Although modest there are some nice breaks on the putting surfaces too.
There are three par-fives and all go about their business in an unassuming manner. I can’t say any of the trio are truly great holes but the sixth is probably the pick of the bunch with a slight dog-leg (to the left!) before rising up to a green falling off the hillside and defended by sand on both sides.
There’s something about golfing at Hankley that makes you feel completely at ease. There may be an element of style over substance but the sublime landscape allows you to enjoy your golf, gives you some chances but still delivers a true test of golf.
It's a long time since I've walked off a golf course and been as impressed and surprised, compared to what I was expecting, than at Newbiggin.
A family holiday brought me to Whitby Golf Club. After stuffing myself with fish & chips, losing most of my money on the penny slots and catching umpteen crabs in the harbour it was time for a round of golf!
Planning a round of golf in late October can be a dicey affair, especially in my home county of Yorkshire where the vast majority of courses are built on heavy soil or clay, so it was very refreshing to discover when venturing down south how well East Berkshire played at this time of year.