Back then Notts appeared little known outside the Midlands save for those who were in the know. That day I played for the first time I knew I had stumbled upon something extra special.
In more recent years Notts Golf Club has deservedly gained more notoriety and nationwide acclaim. It now ranks closer to the summit than the foot of the various top 100 golf course listings but in my opinion it still has further to climb. Much further.
I don't say it lightly but this is within my personal top five favourite English golf courses and one I enjoy playing above some Open Championship venues. And that is coming from somebody who loves links golf! On an inland level it more than stands shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Ganton, Alwoodley, Woodhall Spa in the North and all of the famed Surrey/Berkshire sandbelt courses further South. In my opinion I would say there is only perhaps the New course at Sunningdale that is its superior.
I've played Hollinwell on a number of occasions and I struggle to find fault with it. Each hole on its own is so strong but the majesty comes when you put them all together. The flow of the course in my opinion is unparalleled, a joyous wooded-heathland nirvana. There are so many different flavours and textures of holes it really gives a sense of deep joy.
The first is a perfect opening hole; a quick getaway but not without its dangers. The famed 'Robin Hoods seat' second is an early delight; in fact it's a truly great hole. The backdrop to the approach into this hole is stunning but it's more than that, it's a very strategic shot where after a favoured right-to-left drive the clever golfer will allow his ball to feed in from the left to avoid a gathering bunker to the right. The third completes a triangle back to the clubhouse and it is from the back tee here that the scale and grandeur of Hollinwell becomes apparent. The way that this hole falls gracefully from its high tee to an inviting green close to the driveway makes playing it a pleasure, especially if you avoid the treacherously deep and magnetic bunker on the right side of the fairway.
During the following trio of holes the full range of par is covered starting with the difficult fourth and finishing with the rolling par five sixth which sandwich the simple yet brilliant short fifth.
The next sequence of holes not only offers variety, challenge and opportunity but they effortlessly follow one after another creating a magical journey through the most wooded and enchanting part of the course. A trip to Notts wouldn't be the same without a quick visit to the famous 'Hollin Well' where you can sample crisp, clean and refreshing spring water. This is located close to the 8th tee.
Moving on to the back nine and the course begins to open up slightly. The 10th is a fabulous driving hole, especially from the longer tees, whilst the snaking 11th is reminiscent of Hindhead where the hole funnels through a valley of bracken and gorse (much now removed) up to a green where you 100% don't want to be above the hole. Maybe the 12th is the blot on the landscape that I continue to look for, but am unable to find, at Hollinwell. It is slightly out of kilter with other holes on the course but still requires thought especially on the blind approach where the undulations can be used to stay away from trouble on the left and sweep your ball in from the right.
The downhill 13th is an iconic hole at Notts and with multiple tee boxes can play anything from a short iron to a driver! Meanwhile the 14th is the calm before the storm which arrives in the form of the 15th, a world-class hole which boasts a great drive and an equally special and testing approach to a green surrounded by heather and other shrubbery, although on my most recent visit this had been trimmed back - hopefully not long term because it makes the approach much less intimidating at a crucial stage of the round. A player driving over the crest of the hill in the fairway may gain several extra yards of distance but their lie is likely to be a hanging downhill one.
The final three holes provide a fitting blend of golf to cap an enthralling round of golf. The 16th tempts longer players to have a go for the green but a heathery or sandy fate is the probable outcome and an approach from 100-120 yards is easily better than one from 30 to this raised two-tiered green which is much wider than it is deep and slopes deceivingly from back to front on the lower level. The 17th is everything that a par five should be in terms of strategy but it is also a thing of beauty wrapping itself across the expansive landscape with one of the best fairway bunkers I know in terms of it's location exactly where you want to be after your drive. The 18th also has all the right ingredients that a strong finishing hole should possess. The drive is formidable but exciting as you hit down to the fairway below and should you successfully find the short stuff you must still play a precise, and probably quite long, approach to this closing hole where a par four is always a good score and no doubt appreciated by the inevitable onlookers behind the imposing clubhouse window just a few paces from the green.
One of the things that is often mentioned about Hollinwell is the splendid driveway into the club, rounding that final bend and seeing the vastness of the course open up in front of you.
That experience is unquestionable true, however, it is simply an aperitif of what is about to follow once you begin walking the firm and fast fairways of Notts.
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.