The entire course uses the land given to it perfectly, where nothing is forced or contrived, to create a blend of delicious holes with the green complexes and putting surfaces standing out as truly exceptional.
A sharp turn off a tree-tunnelled Hampshire country road brings you straight into a charming little car-park with the ninth green in close proximity and a quaint L-shaped clubhouse on the far side adjacent to the first tee. It’s a cosy and compact area which feels very homely and works perfectly. What’s more, the ninth green looks an absolute treat with a narrow entrance, some lovely contours and sunken bunkers. The golfing appetite has been well and truly whetted.
The lay of the land is used beautifully on the first two holes to create a brace of short par fives that are not dissimilar in style to one another. Both play gently uphill and follow a natural valley as they curve left to interesting green sites housing gentle dips, swales and hollows which can either help or hinder your approach. For those governed by par I’d argue the 446-yard second would contrast better as a tough two-shotter after a genteel opener.
Whilst the opening two holes quietly impress the third hits you smack in the face with its quality. It’s a short par-three played across the valley to an elevated green complex sliding off the hillside in waves. The green is once again large; a pleasing constant throughout the round at Leckford, and missing neither left nor right is going to leave an easy recovery.
The best tee-shot of the round quickly arrives at the next. It’s a real sucker driving hole, which tries to drag to you to the left, with the visible fairway sweeping around a cluster of staggered bunkers on the inner-elbow of this excellent dog-legging par four. Discipline and knowing your limits is required from the tee and a conservative drive should leave you shooting straight down the green. You can try and chew off a bit of the corner for a shorter approach but this is much riskier to a fairway that looks closer than it is. On the approach it appears as though you can feed a ball in from the right but a cunning little trench does not make this a certainty; this clever feature is also used at Prestbury on their 16th hole – another Colt course that does not receive due recognition.
The course is not as strong off the tee for the next few holes - all par fours which are played on a high plateau - but the green complexes deliver in spades and more than make up for any weakness on the drives. The domed nature of the fifth presents numerous options on how to play the approach whilst the sixth and seventh also fit into their natural surrounds elegantly and pose a real challenge due to the shape and contouring of the greens. The movement on the greens, particularly around their edges, is as refreshing as they are outstanding.
I simply loved the eighth hole - which returns to the valley from a high tee - and in particular the green complex which is arguably the best on the property. My only criticism is that the narrow fairway may slope a little too severely and, certainly in the dry conditions we experienced, most golfers will approach from the right-hand side semi-rough, but this again gives you so many options on how to play your shot into this benched and tilted green with a front-right bunker to be negotiated as well as a sneaky back-left trap too. The shape of the green allows a ball to be fed in from the left but the flight, weight and direction of your shot must all be executed well to accomplish this.
The round closes with a fine downhill par-three. We’ve already see the green and had a glimpse of this hole on the way to the clubhouse from the car park and it looks just as good from the raised tee as it does from green-side; it’s a delightful way to cap an enthralling round of golf.
The chalky downland that the course plays over is more than accepting of the ground game but the large greens also means it is possible to play more aerial shots too. The beauty is that on most holes you are given the option. Indeed it is gleefully rare that you have to work the ball so much as you do at Leckford.
Using the same set of tees for both loops is also nice and reduces clutter than you often find on nine-hole courses. The par is 36 and the yardage is 3,129. Located on the Leckford Estate the course is owned by the John Lewis Partnership and is only open for members/partners and their guests although limited society play and a small number of charity days are permitted.
High quality nine-hole golf courses are few and far between. In England Leckford Old (there is also a New course designed by Donald Steel in 1989) can certainly be discussed in the same conversation as Royal Worlington & Newmarket and Reigate Heath.
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.