Monday, 6 October 2014

Golf Monthly Forum Help For Heroes Day 2014

Last Monday, the 5th Golf Monthly Forum Golf Day in aid of Help for Heroes took place. This event has become a must play in the diary of the members of the forum and continues to grow and become bigger and better year after year. It started with forty members playing and raising £2,200 and then grew to fifty five players the following year which raised £6,500. It then went to Blackmoor Golf Club where eighty players attended and a significant £11,500 was donated. In 2013 the event really took off with a day at West Hill, a top 100 course where one hundred and eight golfers had a fantastic day and a massive £18,000 was raised. A magnificent effort and it just proves that from humble beginnings, it's possible to do great things. Of course it doesn't happen by accident and Richard Hart and Rick Garg, two stalwarts of the forum have worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make each and every event bigger and better.

Of course this meant this years event at North Hants Golf Club had a lot to live up to. Situated in Fleet in Hampshire it's where Justin Rose learnt his golf as a youngster and is a marvellous heathland course. North Hants Golf Club was an ambitious project when it was opened in 1904 by Princess Alexander of Teck. It offered the ethos of a gentleman’s club to attract members from London and the atmosphere of an American Country Club with, in addition to a fine golf course, lawn tennis courts and croquet lawns of the highest quality.

The Golf course was originally designed by James Braid, extensively redesigned in 1913 by Harry Colt and further improved in 1930 by Tom Simpson. More recently, three new holes were designed by Donald Steel in 2001 and a magnificent new clubhouse was opened in 2003. The Club has enjoyed a fascinating history which in many ways has mirrored the history of golf. A significant moment was the founding in 1957 of the Hampshire Hog which, as a leading event in the amateur golfing calendar, revealed the Club’s existence to a wider golfing audience.

So what's it all about? In simple terms it's a day to raise money for Help For Heroes a charity set up by Bryn and Emma Parry and was formed with a simple vision: that any serviceman or woman suffering life changing illness or injuries in the line of duty deserves the very best support

They now have a network of recover centres located in Catterick, Colchester, Plymouth and Tidworth and are open to both serving and veteran members of the armed forces. In May 2013 HRH The Duke of Cambridge, at the royal opening of the recovery centres said:

"These journeys of recovery will be cut short, unforgivably, if we as a nation unfix our attention. We must not let the wounded men and women of our Armed Forces down. This is therefore, I hope, as much a renewed pledge by all of us to go on supporting those who have sacrificed so much, as it is a celebration of an amazing achievement"

The day itself dawned cloudy and misty but with a favourable forecast bar an isolated shower as the golfers arrived ready for the day. Many had come from across the UK and many had already enjoyed a game of golf at various local courses the previous day. There had been a large gathering at a local curry house on the Sunday night and it seemed much falling down water had been taken and several arrivals were looking decidedly jaded around the edges. We were joined on the day by a golfer from Battle Back. Help For Heroes is a founder partner of the Battle Back programme which uses adaptive adventure training and sports rehabilitation to help seriously injured personnel gain independence and confidence to focus on what they can achieve, rather than what they can't

Just to get the heart racing, the course starts with a devilishly difficult 200 yard par three to a well bunkered green.

The intimidating opening hole at North Hants
A sweeping dog leg second hole from a raised tee provides another tricky par but this gives way to a much more comfortable and, for the low handicapper at least, a reachable par 5 third. This is a new hole, one of three designed by Donald Steel in 2001, and includes a spectacular approach over a lake to a raised and well contoured green. The rest of the front nine is classic heathland golfing fare, firm fairways giving way to well protected and fast greens. The short 8th is a classic par 3 which, though only 130 yards, requires a precise shot over a steep bunker to a narrow two tier green. When the pin is on the bottom, this is a true challenge.

My day didn't start in auspicious fashion. With a hooked hybrid tee shot the ball scuttled way left into the trees. I had a restricted swing with a bunker to negotiate and could only move the ball forward short of the bunker. I pitched on and two putted for a double bogey five. My day didn't approve at the second. Again I was left off the tee but was unlucky that the ball pitched first bounce into a heather laden ditch prompting a penalty drop and another double bogey.

The third is a glorious drive, blind over the brown of a hill and a second shot for the long hitters into this par five has to negotiate a large lake all the way to the putting surface. I took the safe route left onto the fairway and hit a good looking pitch from 77 yards which flew the green. I chipped well but failed to make par but at least I'd stopped the doubles.

The 3rd hole. A risk reward hole with a large lake and a testing blind drive
The remainder of my opening nine holes were a mixture of bogey and par golf. I wasn't playing bad golf and drove the ball reasonably. I was frustrated to hit the tough 422 yard 7th hole in regulation only to three putt from twenty five feet and more frustrated to end the nine with a double to dove tail my opening hole one. Having gone left off the tee at this dog leg I had to pitch back onto the fairway avoiding the line of bunkers but then hit a poor pitch trying to get too clever and coming up woefully short. A lame approach to the 18 feet and two putts. A messy end and I was in dire need of sustenance at the halfway hut. It's a wonderful place to stop and unwind and the sausage and onion bap was most welcome.

Another challenging, long par 3 starts the back nine so it hardly breaks you in gently. The uphill next requires an accurate drive to avoid a well placed bunker about 230 yards up the left and then needs a decent shot to assure you of a par. The tough stretch continues as the 12th hole is stroke index 1, a long sweeping dog leg to a two tier green with bunkers either side that tests even the finest strikers. The last 6 holes of the course are a delightfully varied mix; up and down, doglegs both ways, a great par 3 at the 15th and a long, challenging par 5 penultimate hole that has a green reminiscent of the Road Hole at St Andrews. As you step onto the final tee and face the imposing clubhouse once more, you will be 420 yards away from the final green, but it's not a given par

The food must have worked as I found the green at the 10th. It's another par three to open to nine holes and I hit a solid hybrid to thirty feet and two putted with ease.

The 10th, a tricky test, especially after enjoying the delights of the excellent halfway hut
My game continued to be a real mixture of good and bad. Although it was supposedly a charity day, there's always a desire to do well as there is no quarter given or asked on these forum days and the humour and mickey taking for any particularly poor shots is fierce but good natured.

I made a hash of the hardest hole on the course, the 12th trying to be brave from the right hand semi rough taking a three wood from 226 yards. Not a great move as I carved it into the trees and it found a nasty lie in deep heather. I could barely move it forward and the club selection was probably wrong. I took a six iron as I had to keep it low but there wasn't enough loft to get it out of the heather. My next fared little better and by the time I reached the green and two putted it was a nasty triple and all momentum I hoped to build for a grand crescendo disappeared.

In fact the stretch from the 12th to the 14th was a nightmare as I went triple, double, double but fought back to par the fearsome 15th although my tee shot barely scared the hole and it took two putts from 45 feet and a par putt from 10 feet to make the much needed par.

The tough 15th. All carry to a narrow green and some very deep bunkers await if you come up short
I'd made net par at the 16th and 17th including a fine chip and putt at the par five penultimate hole. Having gone right off the tee I was back in perfect position and the wedge from 105 yards looked all over the flag but flew the green. It left a chip up and over a steep bank to a tight flag position and having got the ball to within 15 feet I rolled the par putt in. Sadly the closing hole towards an impressive back drop of the clubhouse behind the green didn't finish the round in style. My drive was right and took one large bounce into a huge rhododendron bush. I managed to find it but had to take a penalty drop.

The tough closing drive. My ball found the bushes just visible on the right. Not what I'd intended!!
In the end, my points tally was a disappointing 28 and good enough for 48th place out of some 87 golfers. Not what I'd hoped for but having never played the course before, there were some holes where club selection is vital and I'd definitely have played certain holes differently.

Although I was never going to threaten the prize table, there is a rather unique trophy on offer to the winner which was donated by Sandy Catford from GoKart, the golf trolley manufacturer. It was given to her by Brian Slatter from tank manufacturer Vickers. In January and February 1991 Desert Storm took place to kick Saddam Hussain from Kuwait and Vickers had made and shipped nearly 200 Challenger tanks for the campaign. At the time, they were also making a "Mark 2" and one of the main features was it was designed to be almost invisible to enemy radar, "low signature" as it's called and these tanks featured a new and different paint job to make it harder to see. It's known as the "disruption pattern"

At the time, a lot of the officers had taken golf clubs out and needed a ball to show up in the white desert sand and so Vickers made 24 golf balls that were hand painted in the new disruption paint and shipped out to the officers. In the end Brian Slatter donated one of these balls to Sandy at GoKart and she thought it would make a fitting trophy for the Help For Heroes Day.

The day wasn't done with the prizes to be given out and a fabulous charity auction with some marvellous lots to bid on. As well as vouchers to play some great courses like Wentworth and Royal Liverpool, in the company of Golf Monthly's editor Mike Harris, there was a chance to have a lesson with Mark Crossfield. He's created a niche for himself online with some great swing fix videos, hilarious course blogs from around the UK and abroad and some insightful product reviews. There was a chance to be Golf Monthly's Editor for a day and there was also a signed pair of golf shoes from Justin Rose which given the location seemed rather appropriate.

On the day the total made was £15,000 but as always more money will always come in after that as donations continue to arrive and the successful bidders pay for their lots. I wouldn't be surprised if the final total doesn't beat the record last year at West Hill but whatever the final figure, it was still a fantastic day, wonderfully organised. I'd like to offer my thanks to all associated at North Hants Golf Club for their hospitality and the catering staff for their fine fare. I'd also like to thank all those from the forum who made the effort to play. It was great to see some old faces again and to meet up with some new members I'd only conversed with online.

All that remains to be done I guess is get my game sharper next year so I can perhaps have a chance to have such a unique trophy in my possession for a year and to finding out where and when the next event will be. It will continue to grow bigger and better and hopefully raise more and more money towards an excellent cause.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Cuddington Golf Club

As many of you will be aware, I am a regular contributor on the Golf Monthly forum (http://forums.golf-monthly.co.uk/). As well as a fantastic melting pot to discuss all things golf related, they organise a fantastic charity day each year in aid of Help4Heroes. This year was no different with forum members from across the UK descending towards North Hants Golf Club on Monday 29th September. To help make these trips viable, there were a number of games organised over the weekend and I was fortunate enough to bag a round at Cuddington Golf Club near Banstead in Surrey.

Cuddington Golf Club was opened on 1st January, 1929. The course was designed by H S Colt in conjunction with John Morrison and Frank Harris Brothers who produced a downland course of good length and variety. The greens were large and offset to emphasise the correct line of play. Initially the course was virtually tree-free but over the early period of the Club a major tree planting operation was conducted which involved, it is said, the planting of 10,000 saplings. At 6,000 yards the course was then considered long and acquired a bogey of 78. The course has subsequently increased in length to over 6,600 yards with a current par of 71. A practice ground was created in 1967. In 1999 all the greens were totally reconstructed to USPGA specifications. The new greens were first played upon in June 2000 and whilst this work had been going on a number of tees were moved and improved. Improvements to the course continue.

We were fortunate enough to sample the course off the white tees, playing its full distance of 6,603 yards. On a exceptionally warm and sunny day but with the tress just beginning to put on their Autumn display with the leaves changing to wonderful rustic browns it was a fabulous environment to enjoy a mornings golf before getting back into the sumptuous 19th to watch the end of the Ryder Cup over a a meal and a drink.

The first hole is a 521 yard par five playing slightly downhill from an elevated tee. It's a wide enough fairway and a good tee shot will give the longer hitters a chance to go for the green in two. Unfortunately my tee shot was low and left into the rough and I struggled to an opening double bogey. However with views across London as far as the arch at Wembley Stadium it was a wonderful opening hole

The opening hole at Cuddington. A gentle par five with fantastic views across London
The second is also a par five and one of the first holes that has an abundance of trees which looked stunning. A par five cheered me up.The next is a testing 442 yard par four. A good drive still left a four iron into the green. I hit it well but it just missed the green right. A good chip and putt secured another par.

If you regularly follow my golfing exploits (thanks if you do, and if not I hope you will after this) you'll know that the 2014 season has been blighted with numerous good shots and rounds ruined by a bad shot or hole from nowhere. This was the case again at the next. It's a short 168 yard par three. I carved a five iron miles right into some bushes and although I got it out and pitched on, a double bogey ensued.

As the course meanders on, it's so quiet giving its proximity to London and the bustling commuter towns of Epsom and Banstead. It's secluded and there's little traffic noise. If there was a small gripe, it's that you have to cross several roads to get to the next hole but that aside it's a real hidden gem.

My golf continued to be a curates egg of the good and bad. The par three's in particular were a real graveyard of poor shots and dropped points and I made several double bogey's. They aren't particularly long, the 201 yard 16th being the longest but I kept making bad swings on them. However on the longer holes, the par four and fives I was driving the ball wonderfully and striking it as well as I have for a while.

The final two holes are challenging. The 17th is 486 yards and plays as a par five off the whites. I hit a good drive and an excellent fairway wood but still came up short. A mediocre pitch and three putts made for a disappointing dropped shot.

The closing hole plays uphill towards the imposing clubhouse. At 420 yards it's a stern par four. Again I hit a glorious drive, leaving 205 yards into the green. I hit a great five wood but it was still short facing a tricky pitch over a bunker. I stuck it to ten feet but couldn't make the par putt.

The tough closing hole at Cuddington
After a fantastic day's golf in great company it was time to retire to the clubhouse. The bar area was packed with members watching the Ryder Cup play out to a conclusion but it made for a great atmosphere. There is a wide range of beers on offer and I took full advantage of their one course carvery which was reasonably priced at £6.95 and was very tasty. Aside from the bar area it has a restaurant area and dining room making it ideal for parties and weddings and is decorated in a very light, modern way.

The imposing clubhouse hides a great bar, and fantastic dining room. 
I have to say despite having lived pretty close to Cuddington for many years, it's never been on my golfing radar which was a big error. It's a a warm and inviting members club and I really enjoyed seeing the professional teaching a gaggle of kids on the putting green as we teed off. I'll definitely be back for a return visit and if you are ever in the area, it's well worth the effort to seek this place out and enjoy a decent course, well maintained, with reasonably priced green fees.