It begins at a nice steady pace then gathers momentum towards and around the turn before it gradually but emphatically builds to a crescendo at the 12th; one of the finest holes you will ever play.
However, unlike many other courses that noticeably peak at some point during the round, but then often fade away, Hayling continues to deliver over the subsequent holes too. This ultimately ensures its position as one of the country’s leading links courses.
The Club was established in 1883 but the course we play nowadays was mainly laid out by Tom Simpson in 1933 with only minor changes made since then. The present low-key design serves up natural and classic links golf in abundance with a lovely rugged feel to many of the holes and where the ground game is well and truly alive.
The opening holes, including a par three to start proceedings, produce good honest links golf and set a strong tone for the round but it is noticeable that from the moment you play the short but tricky par three fifth, with a long and narrow green, and then fire across a ravine at the next, that the course has started to up its game.
Over the next half a dozen holes Hayling moves through the gears effortlessly and really grabs your attention with each hole either bettering, or at least matching, the previous one. The course also meanders more and more into the dunes and it is this that helps produce the more exciting and engaging golf.
You are faced with ‘Death or Glory’ at the par five seventh where you must play across bunkers and heathery scrubland if you are to successfully find the wonderful green complex in two strokes, something that was comfortably possible with the lightning fast conditions I was greeted with in the summer of 2014 when it should be noted that the greens were also immaculate.
The eighth and ninth are both two-shotters that have excellent approaches whilst the 10th is also a par four but may only require one stroke because it is easily driveable, although danger lurks around the green. The view from the tee on this hole is surreal as it blends into topography beautifully. Meanwhile, the short 11th is classic links golf at its best with deep pot bunkers waiting for those who miss the tilted green either right or short.
For me the climax of the round comes at the captivating 12th. This 444-yard par four slides left-to-right, through a shallow valley of dunes on the left and barren ground to the right, prior to playing towards a raised and angled green tucked between two large sandhills in an almost amphitheatrical setting. A lone yet dangerous bunker short and left of the green poses the main hazard for the second shot to a delightful putting surface. It’s a simply stunning hole visually but more importantly playing wise too.
The ‘up & over’ 13th and long 14th are both superb holes too with many enthralling features and continue a run of very strong holes going back as far as the fifth. The former enjoys a blind drive to the highest point on the course, from where you can see the splendour of the entire linksland as it ripples gracefully through the predominantly shallow duneland, before you descend to a dell green that offers an unlimited amount of options as to how you play the approach (which could include a putter from 120 yards!). The latter, a par five of 534 yards, comes alive at the green site with an angled putting surface that slopes from left to right but requires a draw shaped shot in order to have a chance of holding it.
The 15th is unusual in that it has a split level fairway, higher on the left than the right, whilst 16 is a strong par three that turns direction from the rest of the gorse-lined homeward run. The demanding two-shot 17th comes at a key point in the round before the final hole eases you home in front of the new clubhouse built just after the turn of the millennium in the art-deco style of the original.
One could argue that that final few holes aren’t quite demanding enough for a real top championship links course, and with the prevailing wind at your back there may be an element of truth to this, but should the breeze switch direction, even just a quarter, and like it often does at the coast, then I imagine it to be an intimidating finish.
The location of Hayling, on the windswept south-west tip of Hayling Island, is a stunning one with splendid views across the English Channel and towards the Isle of Wight but its isolation from other leading links courses mean that it goes somewhat under the radar. One must head 100 miles east before arriving at Rye whilst Burnham & Berrow in Somerset is the closest true links course to the west.
But if high quality links golf is a staple part of your diet then a trip to Hayling is essential.
Waterville provides a fantastic mix of championship golf & more quirky duney fun.
Dingle Golf Links, sometimes referred to as Ceann Sibéal Golf Club, is one that is trending in the right direction.