To Be Or NOTTS (GOLF CLUB) To Be
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Kirkby in Ashfield
Near the famed Sherwood Forest is the home of Notts Gof Club, also known as Hollinwell. The course stands out as somewhat unusual in England for its length of over 7200 yards and Notts has tested professionals in the past. With the help of Gordon Irvine, who has supervised a program designed to revitalize the heathland characteristics of the course, the club hopes to host the 2019 Walker Cup. This may come as a bit of a surprise to many outside of the United Kingdom, but Notts has longed enjoyed an excellent reputation as a superb test of golf even if many foreign tourists have failed to enjoy its delights.
At the forefront of perhaps the greatest period of architecture, Willie Park Jr’s 1901 (designed Sunningdale Old and Huntercombe in the same year!) design is to some degree still intact. Glaring changes, including the new trio of starting holes marooned across the entrance road were affected by long time professional Tom Williamson. Other work by Williamson included changing the order of holes and altering the direction of some holes. Some may wonder who this Mr Williamson was and it is an accident of history that he doesn’t get his due as a great servant of the game. Tom Williamson pulled off the remarkable feat of playing in 50 consecutive Opens, serving as professional/green keeper of Notts for over 50 years and designing or having a hand in designing at least 50 courses. Not too many years after opening JH Taylor also had a hand in Hollinwell by designing the bunker scheme and Frank Pennink was a club consultant for a great many years.
HOLES TO NOTE:
The first three holes form a triangle and loop back to the clubhouse. After gentle opener things pick up considerably on the long two-shot 2nd. The hole slings sharply around to the left into the fold of hill. There is something compelling the player to cheat on the left with the drive when in fact the hole bends so hard left that many players would prefer to be on the far right side of the fairway where the view is opened up. Once the green is viewed it becomes immediately clear the club has been hard at work improving the course. Many of the trees on the hill were part of the thousands of removed trees these past several years. It is anticipated that a reduction in trees will encourage the regeneration of heather. Additionally, some of the interior views that have opened up are splendid. In any case, one knows they are on a course of quality after playing Robin Hood’s Seat.
The 3rd is a lovely little par 5 that is very reachable, but the road lurks on the left for the second…or third…and there is no free relief!
The course crosses the road marching away and toward the clubhouse twice upon reaching the 8th, named Holy Well. With the addition of two new holes, one can head back to the clubhouse at this point in the round. Though this isn’t recommended as the final eleven holes compare favourably to nearly any long stretch of holes. Before playing the 8th, however, we should backtrack for a few very good holes. #4 is a bruising par 4 turning a twitch to the right and can have an obscured second when played into a winter breeze. Notts is blessed with three very good par 5s; quite unusual in my experience. The 6th is a rolling, straight away three-shotter. One aspect the golfer may notice during the front nine is that the greens tend to be fairly small relative to the length of the course. This characteristic strikes the author as somewhat rare for a course that can stretch back to ~7200 yards. The 8th is a terrific hole which plays to a green sloped hard left to right, down a large hill in the middle of the property. Before teeing off, first, take a moment to drink from the holywell.
The excellent stretch of holes between 10 and 17 uses the hill in an expert manner and are essentially what makes Notts comparable to the fine heathland courses of Surrey and Berkshire. The 10th, a short par 4, is a very good change of pace hole in which the complexity of the approach varies enormously depending on the hole location. If the hole is cut in the front or back of the green it is very difficult to access. #11 continues around the most severe section of the hill, but with a bit more purpose in that an ascent is quite evident. The target for this approach is miniscule considering most players would be hitting a wood for the second. Now then, #12 is a cracker of a hole if there ever was one. The play is along a high ridge and the drive plunges out of view. The back tee must be 100 yards behind the daily tee, one of many such holes with a large variance in distance between tees. The best place to drive is well to the right where the fairway is relatively flat. The further left one is the more the slope of the hill comes into play. The green is slightly below the level of the fairway and a runner coming from the right (tons of trouble down the left) will work quite nicely. #13 is a well known downhill 3 par of some considerable length. Brutal is not an unfair word to describe the fifteenth; which rises gently into the spur of the hill. Although, some of the bite has been removed due to the clearance of heavy vegetation to the left of the green, the long second remains intimidating. The fine run of holes continues with 16, a reverse dogleg in which the bunkering is begging to be carried, but only the longest of players can pull this off. For most, its best to play safe and trust to the short to mid-iron approach. Notts’ penultimate hole is a lovely par 5 that can be reached in two if one challenges the bunkers down the left. The green rests in a magnificent setting with trees forming the backdrop.
The stretch from 10-17 which includes three All England candidates (11, 13 & 16) lift Notts from the ranks of good courses to that of very good courses, possible even great. The terrain which makes these holes so compelling simply does not exist among the class London heathland courses. While there is a small handful of good short 4s, other than an enviable drivable par 4 or two, Notts has fewshortcomings. Be that as it may, if one is planning to be in the Midlands, Notts is not to be missed. It should be no surprise the club has ambitions of hosting a future Walker Cup. The course can certainly provide a stern challenge for the best amateurs, but more importantly, hosting a Walker Cup would be a just reward for the tree/vegetation clearing and poa eliminating efforts made by the club to bring out the true heathland characteristics of the course.
In very close proximity to Notts:
Coxmoor GC: A hilly, but short course which is a delight to play.
Sherwood Forest GC: an immensely handsome heathland course designed by Tom Williamson.