Kington Golf Club
« Go back | Club House, Kington, County of Herefordshire HR5 3RE
At about 5900 yards, many will dismiss Kington as far too short and nothing but a bit of fun, though fun Kington certainly is, the course should not be taken lightly. Hutchison’s fondness for North Berwick, a links famous for its variety and quirkiness, enabled him to value unusual concepts without discarding what was at the time modern design theory. In Kington, Major CK Hutchison produced a remarkably crafty course which relies greatly on gaining the correct angles of approach, for the greens often fall heavily away from the front or a sides making recovery from the wrong position terribly difficult despite appearances to the contrary. It should come as no surprise that the Major could create such a gem. He was a well known figure in the game as an amateur (he reached the final of the 1909 British Amateur) and as a serious student of architecture through his membership of Huntercombe, an early Willie Park Jr. ground breaking design. On a more practical level, James Braid relied heavily on Hutchison’s knowledge during the design and construction of Kings and Queens courses at Gleneagles. Additionally, for a brief period starting in the late 20s, Hutchison was in partnership with Majors GC Campbell and SV Hotchkin. This “Trinity of Majors” was most famously responsible for the creation of Pulborough, a course well known for its combination of beauty and fierce hazards.
Kington can fairly be described as an inland-super-mare. The sea is miles away, yet the golf at Kington is remarkably similar to seaside golf due to the keen terrain. There are no bunkers and the course is generally wide with practically no shaping of the fairways. In fact, Kington is the epitome of why wide is good. Let the golfer open the shoulders, but if he places the ball in the wrong spot he can be left with a devil of a recovery – often times from quite close to the hole. Bradnor Hill is among the chief defences with its slopes acting for and against play. The micro undulations can leave a player confounded on how to make solid contact with anything other than short irons, or indeed the putter. The course climbs the hill for much of the front 9 and affords arresting views of the Brecon Beacons, Malverns and Black Mountains. The club claims that at 1284 feet Kington is the highest course in England, but that isn’t important other than to impart that wind is another of Kington’s primary defences. The greens tend to be narrow and many are angled against fairways and/or over deep fall-aways. While there are plenty of unknowing breaks to be had, the greens are essentially flat. Finally, Kington’s turf is as fine as one could hope to find on most highly rated links. There is a springiness which encourages the player to be aggressive both on the fairways and greens. It must also be noted that as sheep freely graze the course, the fairways are cut only once a year in mid-summer!
The first three holes make steady progress up the hill. All are good and require a deft touch rather than brute force. Because of dramatic grade slopes, putting surfaces can be surprisingly fast and turn where it seems improbable. The gentle start abruptly changes on the 4th, still uphill, but a brutish 435 yards usually into the prevailing breeze. This is one of the few holes at Kington which requires a carry.
The course continues to wind its way around Bradnor Hill with blind drives, front to back sloping greens and skyline greens as particular features. Holes of special merit in this stretch are the wee par 3, 9th and the very drivable two-shot 10th. We eventually reach the par 3, 12th; a perfect example of what golfers often face at Kington. Awkward, sharp mounds surrounding the greens can be terribly frustrating unless one can find some of the available gateways or be precise with the approaches.
Fourteen continues the thrilling golf with a reachable par 5. More people than not tend to find the ferns when trying to have a two shot bash at this green. Unusually for Kington, the green sports a false front which gives the impression of an uphill approach. In truth, the green runs away from the player. The dramatic finishing hole affords the handicap golfer the opportunity to stand on the tee of a par 4 and aspire to a 3. More importantly, he can choose a club, take aim at the pro shop, fire away and let the fun unfold.
Bernard Darwin had this to say about Kington: “Wisely, no attempt has been made toward a ‘set’ or stereotyped layout…outstanding in its variety, interest and charm.” As with other courses such as Woking and Beau Desert, for those who give Kington due attention, a gradual appreciation and admiration will emerge. There ar eno less than four All England candidates in numbers 9, 12, 13 and 18 with the last being this author’s pick as the finest finishing he has experienced. One’s handicap may be flattered if he chooses to play Kington on its terms, but without question fun will be had by one and all.
None within 45 minutes, but the little known Church Stretton an hour to the north is a hidden gem, there are few more beautiful courses in England.