It was over twenty years since I had visited the Bournemouth area to play the four fine courses nearby. Though Broadstone, as I remembered well, is the 'biggest' of these and while Parkstone and Ferndown are sited on enjoyable heathlands with tremendous facilities, it was nevertheless the Isle of Purbeck that took my breath away, and not just because of its wonderful views.
Chris Harvey has been course manager since 1991 and, much like Lawrie Tremlett at Lewes GC, (another shorter yardage course visited recently), is used to operating within a tight budget. Chris, like Lawrie, has exercised traditional austere greenkeeping methods (as explained in Jim Arthur's Practical Greenkeeping, - 3rd edition published by The R&A 2014) to encourage the fine fescue/browntop bent domination of the grasses. This produces glorious, firm and true surfaces all year round that is so important for the running-golf game and enhances the joy-to-be-alive feeling.
Isle of Purbeck continues to be privately owned and how lucky the members have been with their various caring family owners over the years.
The Club was founded in 1892 by a group of local gentlemen from Swanage on land leased from large land owner Ralph Bankes of Kingston Lacy, who became the Club's first President, at a time when the area was growing its tourist trade.
Since Bankes' death in 1981 his lands, that include Corfe Castle, Studland and the Club's course, have been passed to the National Trust.
Initially nine holes were laid out by Arthur Jackson, the greenkeeper and pro at the Royal Isle of wight GC at Bembridge. The Club's name has variously been changed to Swanage and Studland for marketing purposes over the years but returned to 'Isle of Purbeck' under the ownership (1965 to 1983) of Harry (H.B.) Randolph who was Managing Director of his family firm, Wilkinson Sword. There are some very fine and historical swords still to be found in the clubhouse.
Enid Blyton, the prolific writer of children books and creator of Noddy and Big Ears while living among these wide open spaces, along with the Famous Five books (still selling two million copies each year in more languages than any other writer apart from Shakespeare and Agatha Christie) was wife to the man who bought the Club to indulge her love of golf in the 1950s.
Isle of Purbeck, though now in its 125th year, was not in Frank Penninck's Golfer's Companion published in 1962 as this was prior to HB Randolf leading the transformation of the course into the fine quality it is today. He also invested in a single story clubhouse in 1966 with lots of glass to allow the partakers of the renowned restaurant to enjoy the glorious views over the heather clad heathland across to Poole harbour and beyond.
J. Hamilton Stutt, President of Parkstone GC and founder member along with Fred Hawtree and Ken Cotton of the British Association of Golf Course Architects, was the new course architect and the centenary book suggests in combination with a member Peter Denness. It would not be surprising if Harry Sales the professional here from 1931 to 1976 also lent a hand as he was also helpful in keeping the Club together during a financially difficult period.
There are now twenty-seven holes, the 'Dean' nine holes above the clubhouse and the main Purbeck course on the lower heathland ground. One website reviewer has Harry Colt as the course designer, but I doubt this to be true and, anyway, it is from after 1966 that the main course gained most of its finest holes, namely ten through to sixteen and five and six.
The Robinson family (who became owners in 1983) let Chris Harvey get on with creating a heaven, though with a tight budget. Now, two American entrepreneurs, Kathy and David Suruki, who took over a couple of years ago, have recognised the need for further investment and the course will only get even better.
Chris spends little on fertilisers nor does he have a need for expensive fungicides to protect his fine grasses from disease and if fusarium should attack it only helps clean out the small amount of annual meadow grass (Poa annua). Having said that, there are three greens that are not of the agronomic quality of the rest. The first and eighteenth, for example, apparently suffer from water run-off and certainly do have larger patches of Poa.
Also the long, 194 yard par three eleventh (named 'The Island') with a large two tier green, situated on a shelf of land surrounded by heather and gorse and backed by a band of scots pine, is certainly intimidating from the tee, though it is said to be easier to find than one might fear. Though a great hole, to my mind it could be improved by thinning out the trees behind to not only highlight more clearly the sentinel beauty of the remaining ones but also allow more drying air across a green that does suffer from some spongy moss.
The entire site is of important archaeological interest with a number of barrows (bronze age burial grounds) and is of environmental importance with a high SSSI status.
The paths here are of local stone or sand, giving a rough and natural feel that adds to the great environment.
The course starts slowly, after two out and back holes to the clubhouse and a driveable, blind, dogleg left, short par four ('Quarry') of 302 yards, there is then a straightforward enough par three ('Tubbs') down the prevailing wind to a hill top green. Each hole has its interest but not the wow factor that the rest of the course provides.
It is at this point that Isle of Purbeck starts to sing. The next two new holes are quite outstanding in exactly opposite ways. The iconic fifth ('Agglestone') has teeing ground on top of a barrow and the whole area from Corfe Castle on the left, across Poole harbour, Bournemouth and on to the Isle of Wight and the Needles visible on a clear day, is set out before you. Indeed, in a TV discussion in the 1980s between a well-known panel of world travellers, answers to the question "what do you consider to be the finest view in the world", the answers varied from 'The entrance to Rio de Janeiro's harbour' to 'the Himalayan backdrop to Kathmandu' to 'the view from the fifth tee of the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club'!
This hole, 404 yards, is surrounded by gorse requiring a drive to a narrow downhill fairway doglegging right with a desert of rough edged, heathery and sandy bunkering on the corner. Crenshaw and Coore might well have tried to copy this hazarding at their recent well-endorsed course creations like at Pinehurst Number Two, it is so natural and fair but difficult.
If one has managed to find the sloping fairway and not run out of the short grass, the medium iron approach is to a green perched along a hump-backed fairway with a deep bunker left. This bunker so easily attracts the weak shot that can arise from being afraid of the purgatory to the right and over the back of the deviously subtle green.
This hole is best conquered by two very clever shots rather than opting for the bravura that the sight from the tee can so easily lull you into going across the corner. But that is what the great risk/reward shorter par four holes are all about.
The sixth ('Old Harry'), a 492 yard par five in the opposite direction, is uphill through a valley moving to the right. It has a narrow and long two tier green protected by a deep bunker left centre and to reach it into the prevailing wind in two strokes will set even a scratch golfer's heart a-flutter.
The seventh ('Fishing Barrow') is from another high tee to a valley in echelon across the fairway with a short iron approach to a tiny, domed, sloping green guarded on both sides.
The longest hole comes next ('Thorney Barrow') and brings us back in front of the clubhouse again, around the only wood on the course that the fairway slopes towards which is wide, though furrowed and one's shoulders can be opened up to smite the 594 yards.
The first nine finishes with a par three ('Punch Bowl') that looks innocuous from the tee but it is easy to bounce through a green that slopes away with a little surrounding mound that makes the bump-and-run retrieval more interesting.
Hit your big drive down the right of the straight tenth ('The Narrows') when its dry and running, over an escarpment diagonally across the fairway and you might not hit a longer drive that year, even if your ball finds the left semi-rough. The approach shot is to a well sited shelf green.
We drive over a ravine and uphill at the twelfth ('Tumuli') between two mounds falling to the right and seemingly all out of kilter so the long iron shot to the green at 424 yards is a testing one. Remember to leave your ball below the pin or a three putt on this severely sloping back to front green will be likely.
The next two holes ('The Dyke') and ('Rowbarrow') and the sixteenth ('Cresta') are all around 385 yards, played backwards and forwards across the hill. Nevertheless they are each delightful and different.
A stream at driving length at the Dyke poses a question before one plays a second up a steep hill to a level platform green with a helpful bank behind. Rowbarrow is played from a high tee across a heathery, long carry to a rising fairway and your second should be run-in under the prevailing wind to a wide green on a second rise.
The fifteenth ('Crater') is a very fine, 187 yard, slightly uphill par three with proper bunkers in front both close to and shy from the green giving a perplexing perspective. The prevailing wind is from the right and with the green sloping away to gorse at the back, the best route in feels to be from the right.
Cresta again has drainage ditches in play from a blind drive but above all the green complex has intriguing small bumps and undulations and is set in a slope that falls away at the back. It is high quality subtle architecture made even more excellent by the fine grass agronomy of the apron and surroundings that can be relied on for a dependable bounce for your bump-and-run third shot.
The finishing two holes are both to raised greens, firstly at 334 yards ('Himalayas') where the length to the pin is difficult to judge among its many hills and secondly the eighteenth at 306 yards ('Rhodes') both combine to give a weak end to the round that has previously set your pulse racing.
What fun to play a course just under 6300 yards set-up as true running-golf should be and challenging for all types of golfer! One of the things I loved about the course was the number of times I had to think about what type of shot was required and the times, though I was playing quite well (enjoyment builds concentration!), my ball bounced away leaving me with my favourite bump-and-run shot with a seven iron across reliable dry and tight turf of apron or run-off.
The other three fine courses in this area are much better known, particularly through personalities like Percy and Peter Alliss and have much higher greenkeeping budgets but if visiting the area, don't be tempted to omit Isle of Purbeck merely because you might have been told it is a bit rough at the edges and not long enough. No, this is a serious golf challenge particularly to those who are only used to soft, lush 'Target-golf'.
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Running Golf - 4th September, Notts Golf Club Hollinwell
Europe's most respected fine grass greenkeeper will be making a major speech (with relevant slides) about how the history of the running-golf game needs to be reflected in the values of the future of the game if recreational golf is to prosper in modern times.
John Philp MBE, legend of Carnoustie, is not only addressing FineGolf's Running-Golf Day, but has also agreed to join FineGolf's Advisory Panel.
Gordon Irvine MG, Europe's leading golf course consultant, Steve Isaac, a Director of The R&A and Mick Grindle, Chair of Green at Notts GC that is successfully going through the change to firm running surfaces, are also going to be talking about the benefits of running-golf and how clubs can change their courses away from 'target' to this more entertaining version of the sport.
After Notts GC made a review of space available a further sixteen places have been arranged and so, at this moment, there are six extra places available to those, first come first served, who get in contact via email@example.com
There will be representatives from the sponsoring companies whom all support fine perennial grasses: Symbio, DLF Johnsons seeds, Farmura/Aquatrols, Baroness and Barenbrug seeds. Do speak with them during the networking and refreshments time.
In the afternoon there is an opportunity to play what is considered, by many, as the finest inland running-golf Championship course in GB&I.
Ted Dexter's Speedier Rules to be played at FineGolf's Running Golf Day:
'Ready golf' will be played which includes on the tee and putting out.
Each hole shall be played as though there is a "lateral water hazard" on each side of the cut rough.
Thus no provisional ball will be played.
When a ball is lost, the player shall take a drop in the semi-rough not nearer the hole than the area of search. If lost before the reaching the fairway another ball to be dropped in search area.
Lost Ball Penalty: one stroke.
A player may 'deem' a ball lost at any time. Thus there is no imperative to search for a ball.
Only three minutes search time allowed for lost ball. Other players to play their own ball before helping look for lost ball.
Balls may be dropped from a one inch height.
Only one practice swing allowed.
No attending the pin. The pin to be removed only at request of any player. No penalty for hitting the pin.
Short putts "within the leather" to be given.
Do not allow space to develop between your match and the one ahead. Call through if this happens.
Any transgression shall make the player liable to pay for a round of drinks for his fellow competitors.