Quarries of CLEEVE CLOUD Golf Club
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At 1083 feet Cleeve Hill is the highest point in the Cotswolds with commanding views over nearby Winchcombe to the north, Bishops Cleeve and Wales to the west and Cheltenham some four miles distant to the south. Indeed, the renowned Cheltenham Gold Cup was first run on Cleeve Hill from 1815 to 1855 before moving to Prestbury Park just north of Cheltenham. Plenty of horses being exercised are still seen about the common. Covering some 1000 acres, Cleeve Common was cleared of trees about 6000 years ago and is the largest unenclosed wold on the Cotswold escarpment. The land has been used for farming, grazing and quarrying. Much of the iconic golden Cotswold stone used for nearby buildings was quarried in and around Cleeve Cloud (a lower summit of Cleeve Hill and the name of the members’ club attached to the course) and has been for at least two millennia. It is these quarries which give so many holes their character. The course seems like it has been around as long as the quarries, but in fact the original course wasn’t built until 1891. I am not sure when the current location was settled on, but there was little heed paid to eliminating blind shots. The course is so hilly that avoiding blind tee shots would have required an incredible amount of construction. As it is, there must be eight blinders, surely too many for any course, however, these somewhat annoying shots are not overly hampered with harsh penalties for inexactitude. So, we have quarries, blind tee shots and a knowledge that things come in threes. It may sound very strange for a common land course leased out by a borough council (Tewksbury) to exhibit anything of an exceptional nature, but true it is. On several occasions it is nothing less than dreamy after cresting a brow; for the green sites are one after another, exquisitely placed. We talk about second shot courses all the time, but in the case of Cleeve Hill it is nearly as perfect a description of a course as there can be.
It is not known who the original designers were, but one David Brown, designer of another Cotswold beauty, Painswick, was in 1891 engaged to “arrange for the preparation and keeping of the greens.” Mr Brown was famous as the teacher of Queen Victoria and for winning The Open at Musselburgh, his home green, in 1886. He later became the professional for Cheltenham GC (wound up in 1935) before his departure to the United States where he would finish second in the 1903 US Open. Sadly, David Brown went bankrupt in the Wall Street crash and was deported back to Scotland where he died penniless.
The course must have been a bit rough and ready for Braid’s comments after losing a match to Harry Vardon in 1902 were short and sharp; “You get a great view of Cheltenham.” Additional big matches were held in 1905 and 1924. The international match in 1905 featured Vardon and Taylor against Braid and Herd; all three members of the The Great Triumvirate and the much loved would be fourth member, Sandy Herd. In 1924 two well known British professionals, Abe Mitchell and George Duncan (recent winner of The Open in 1920) played a match to celebrate the opening of the newly extended course. As it happens, the 18 year old Alf Padgham was recently hired as the Assistant Professional. Of course, Mr Padgham went on to become a premier British player, winning The Open at Royal Liverpool in 1936.
The card of the course can be deceiving due to its 6083 total yards from the yellow tees, however, upon closer inspection we note there is only one par 5, resulting in a course par of 69. Like Woodhall Spa, Cleeve Hill is a rarity among courses in that it is easier to play to one’s handicap by stepping back to the medal tees – measuring 6448 yards with a par of 72. To further complicate matters, the lone yellow tee par 5 comes straight out the gate at #1.
Holes to Note
The short par 4 second shares a sharply sloping fairway with #1. Gorse awaits on the left for those trying to fight the endless run of the ball down the slope to the right. A sight to behold, the green is literally dug into the hillside.
At the fourth the world seems to open up! Despite appearances of being wide open, this is a very testing hole with a good wind off the left. The green is severely sloped from back to front making it difficult to accurately judge the approach. It is thought Alistair Mackenzie re-designed this hole (along with #s 5, 7 & 9) previous to WWI.
#5 introduces the golfer to the quarries left and to the rear of the green. Cleeve Cloud tends to be very generous off the tee, despite visual evidence to the contrary, this is a far tighter driving hole than it seems. The green is beautifully draped over the terrain.
Behind the excellent 6th tee in the valley below is the handsome (and relatively unspoilt) Cotswold town of Winchcombe and Sudely Castle. The area around Winchcombe and the castle is littered with Roman ruins. Of particular note is the Spoonley Roman Mosaic covered by an old corrugated roof and a carpet!
Playing over another quarry, the downhill 7th requires a deft touch on the approach.
#12 begins with an uphill drive into the prevailing breeze. The green site, tucked under the lee of dug-out turf and next to a bank of gorse, is one of Cleeve Cloud’s best.
Just when one may think it is time for a breather, the astonishing 13th comes along. Once again the drive is wide open and uphill. A few sand-free hollows short of the hillcrest give us an indication of the line, but not what follows! Coming over the hill the entire town of Cheltenham lies before us. Once the spectacle of this view diminishes the ordeal of the second shot comes sharply into focus. The green rests in an iron age ring known as the Camp which runs toward Cheltenham at such a slope that success in holding this green can only be achieved with a great deal of luck.
Playing up the seam of a gap, the anxiety level is upped a notch on the one-shot 16th.
Not to be outdone by any of the previous quarry holes, #17 is both fascinating and perplexing. Yes, the drive is blind, nothing new there; hit at the pole, find it and figure out what comes next. Wrong, the fairway is more an up-side-down V than a humpback and the drop down toward the mother of all quarries is sharp and without mercy.
The greens roll inconsistently. The ground is clay-like hard. There is too much up n’ down. The fairways are too forgiving. There is only one All England candidate in #17. Damn it though how easy it is to admire Cleeve Cloud! For those in the near vicinity and brave enough to turn off the Tourist Trail to embrace what a hidden gem is all about… you will not be disappointed. Just to see some of the stunning greens draped over the lumpy landscape is a joy to behold.
Quite nearby is Painswick GC, the self styled Jewel of the Cotswolds. Painswick is unique in the world of golf; featuring seven par 3s and less than 5000 yards, Painswick is pure joy.