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|
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|
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|
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|
|The tough closing drive. My ball found the bushes just visible on the right. Not what I'd intended!!|
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.