It’s a venue that seems to go somewhat under the radar, even within golfing circles around the Midlands, but can and does hold its own against most of its peers.
I recently played here in Club’s annual 36 hole scratch competition and although we were blessed with a glorious day, when only a mild breeze blew across this challenging par 70 course, it played every inch of its 6,721 yards. The demanding layout is mildly undulating for the most part with a few holes that heave a little more than the rest and it is these changes in elevation that produce the best holes. A clutch of these are found on the other side of a busy railway line that dissects the course into two.
It’s not a heathland layout in the mould of those on the sandbelt South-West of London; there is very little heather to be found here, however, there is firm, sandy, well-draining turf and an abundance of gorse. So much so in fact that coupled with lots of other shrubbery and trees it feels very claustrophobic, at times overly so.
It is certainly very tight and on a number of holes there are some real ‘no-go’ areas that are not too far offline. It’s this tightness that is the biggest drawback of the course in my opinion and the one thing that perhaps holds it back from more notoriety. There seems to be a fascination with making it as difficult as possible and the SSS of 73 is probably about right. In the quest for added length there are a couple of excruciating long walks back to the competition tees; at the seventh and 11th one must walk at least one hundred paces before turning to see what lies in store. Importantly it also has the effect on the better golfer of him becoming very conservative and defensive rather than taking on the many well-placed bunkers. I suspect this is not how the architects, initially Harry S Colt and later James Braid, intended the course to be played. Fortunately I managed to stay away from the cabbage that lines many of the fairways but saw first-hand on a number of occasions how even a slightly wayward shot can disappear for good. The possibility to recover from a poor drive, one of the thrills of golf, is sometimes taken away from you here with the penalty of not just a stroke but distance too.
That all said I enjoyed my golf at Northamptonshire County and was particularly impressed with the long par fours such as the fifth, seventh, 10th, 14th, 16th and 17th. The pick of these visually is easily the tenth which sweeps left to right, has two glaring fairway bunkers and features a large valley running across the fairway at driving distance before you play to a green that favours a running approach down the left-hand-side avoiding the front-right trap. The 16th is also a real gem, more on that later. The quartet of short holes is also very strong and pleasingly all play at differing lengths.
A number of the tee-shots have limited visibility and although this adds to the overgrown feel I quite like the intimidation factor that this presents in a similar way to Alwoodley Golf Club in Yorkshire.
On many of the holes you are asked to work your ball from left-to-right and often into the lie of the land. As a consequence this can make the course play even longer but there is such an onus on being on the fairway it is imperative that you don’t try and force it around here. Holes four, nine and 14 give back a little in this respect where you play from elevated tees but in the first two cases you are likely only using an iron for placement so the advantage is nullified to an extent.
The greens also keep the interest going throughout the round. A number of them tilt significantly and playing across and down them can make judging putts of any length extremely difficult. There are number of holes where being below the cup is a real advantage, even if that means you are not actually on the green! The fourth, seventh, ninth, tenth, 13th, 14th and 15th are perfect examples of this.
The contouring of the putting surface at the 16th is also superb, as amazing as it is unique, where there are large ridges and furrows running diagonally across it with also a slope from back-to-front adding to the challenge. The design of the green dictates where you want to approach it from and as a consequence of this where you wish to place your drive. Like all good holes the strategy works back from green to tee. The approach is likely to be a long one too so you also need to weigh-up where you would prefer to miss the green in order to leave yourself the best chance of an up-and-down.
If the playability factor of Northamptonshire County improved, by clearing out a lot of the undergrowth, I think I would rank this course much higher. As it stands I was still very impressed by my first visit to this fine club and hope to make it an annual visit.
Following a 4:00am alarm call we’d already driven for more than six hours and covered over 350 road miles before boarding a ferry at Oban sailing to Lochboisdale.
The Halifax Golf Club, often better known as Ogden, is a course that divides opinion.