Our 'average' golfer, Bill Workman, returns with a critique of Ludlow Golf Club. Playing off a handicap of seventeen, as he does, he delights in the quality of the course and the local brew, but warns of the 'crater of doom'
Ludlow Golf Course was first established in 1889 and then redesigned by James Braid in 1927. It is, therefore, the oldest course in the Shropshire and Herefordshire Union. It is easy to imagine, at times, that you have stepped out of a machine designed to travel through Time and Relative Dimension in Space, (the T.A.R.D.I.S for the uninitiated)! You can almost "taste" the history.
It is set within the boundaries of Ludlow Racecourse, where tradition states that soldiers from the nearby Ludlow Castle "matched" their horses in the 14 century. Much later, there is a record of racing from 1725, but with the present buildings retaining a strong Edwardian flavour. National Hunt racing began in the middle of the 18th century, followed by the use of the land within the racecourse being developed for the then newly fashionable game of golf!
The link between the racecourse and golf course is important because they have both managed, very successfully, to co-exist, whilst having completely different uses and demands on their facilities.
The main aim of a grandstand is to enable spectators to watch the proceedings as far around the course as possible. This leads, ultimately, to the need for viewing obstructions to be kept to a minimum. The absence of very tall trees on the golf course is testament to this, but gives the opportunity for some creative course management. There are many Scrub oak mini plantations on the course which are unusual, but also very attractive. They are regularly trimmed and have developed a shape of their own!
They certainly seem to be appreciated by the local wildlife, because we saw a kestrel perched calmly in one of them at the side of the 6th fairway, and only twenty yards away from us, until it was unceremoniously chased away by an irate crow. It was certainly a disturbance in what I mistakenly thought would be the correct pecking order.
At that moment, we glanced upwards and were rewarded by the sight of four buzzards, circling high above; a magnificent sight indeed. With the abundance of crows on the fairways indicating a healthy existence of insects and invertebrates, there is obvious evidence of a thriving habitat with its complex inter-relationships being in complete balance.
This was all observed at the end of February, by the way, so in itself is an indication of superb course management by the groundstaff who obviously have a high regard for wildlife issues.
I have been very fortunate, as an average golfer off a 17 handicap, to have played in Ludlow's four winter open competitions. The weather conditions at times have been horrendous, but I have been astonished at how superbly the course withstood these challenges. On one particular occasion, following weeks of torrential rain, and then a considerable arrival of snow which shut most courses and led to many entrants on that day not travelling at all, I was amazed to find the course not only open, but actually green!
The fairways were still springy and the greens fast and true as usual. As we played, we found ourselves continually commenting, with amazement, at the condition and quality of the course considering the inclement weather.
The course is built on heathland with some links-style approaches to the greens. The fairways have a sand and gravel bed which leads to some astonishing drainage capabilities, enabling a decent fairway shot to be hit from anywhere, whatever the conditions. The vegetation is typically heathland and includes heather, broom, western gorse, bracken and a good showing of silver birch. More substantial size trees are evident in places where they are outside of the racecourse, as is evident on the approach to the 9th green where you cross an unclassified interior road.
There are eleven holes the clubhouse side of the B4365, leaving seven holes on the other. Many courses are split by a road of some designation and Ludlow is no different in this respect. The greens and tee boxes are, however, far enough away from the main road as to eliminate danger; obviously, common sense is required before crossing. The interior access roads are very lightly used and visibility is excellent, enabling safe golf shots to be played by those with even a little intelligence!
I was lucky enough to play the course again at the very end of February with two friends, Alun and Steve, both members at Bridgnorth Golf with handicaps of 14 and 19 respectively. We qualify as a very average group indeed, but hasten to state that Steve is probably just above average, otherwise there's a possibility that he could shake me warmly by the throat!
With the grandstand being adjacent to the right-hand side of the first fairway, it is an impressive view from the tee. To add a pinch of spice to the tee shot is the obvious barrier of a fence on the right which is an 'out of bounds' magnet, especially for those golfers who fade the ball left to right.
Of course, if you manage to compensate for the dangers on the right by aiming left, you inevitably fall prey to the beautifully presented fairway bunkers. Incidentally, there can be no complaints about an inability to play a good shot out of Ludlow's bunkers because of poor quality sand or bad maintenance, they are consistently excellent.
We were all in agreement that Ludlow Golf Course is a superb test of golf, with excellent springy fairways and greens that run fast and true, regardless of the weather. It would not be prudent to describe the course hole by hole because the club's website guide does this, with additional photographs, and also offers advice on the best ways to attack the course. I only wish that I had taken my own advice for a change and actually studied it before playing; a definite advantage if you are thinking of visiting the course for the first time.
There are three very interesting par 3s which are actually situated side by side on the course, but played in order as the 3rd, 13th and 14th. They all incorporate hitting your tee shot over considerable trouble and being longer is better than being short. Having been lucky enough to birdie the 3rd and 14th over the last four visits (sorry, but had to mention it), I will merely mention the 13th which I only managed to bogey once, the other attempts being significantly worse!
What the website description doesn't warn you of is that it should be called the 'Crater of Doom' because there is trouble all around it. Within the crater there is a green that slopes from back to front and is always quicker than you think it is going to be. The photograph above illustrates the raised aspect, but not the slope which is obvious only when standing there. It is certainly a 'green of three putts'.
The tee position is 165 yards to the right, off the white tees, with any wind at all creating a very tricky shot. When Steve chipped onto the green from the back, after an adventurous tee shot, the ball proceeded to roll off the front of the green. When he exclaimed; "that was an awful shot", the reply was "it wasn't as good as that!"
A very strange happening occurred at the side of the 16th fairway when I hooked a shot with some admirable style into what my learned friend Steve described as "old straw of Rosebay Willow Herb". It is a rough area weed which has long stems topped by reddish flowers that turn to a cotton fluff when it seeds. It obviously has ancient and mystical powers of accumulative duplication. This is proven by the fact that I only hit one battered ball into it - that I failed to locate - but walked out of it having discovered, to my infinite joy, six other balls of considerably superior quality. A moment of pure magic indeed!
I managed to redeem myself at the 182 yard par 3 17th, where I hit a shot against the wind to three foot from the pin on the left-hand side, helped yet again by the receptiveness of another superbly prepared green. My delight was short-lived after the comment from Alun of "at least Dick Turpin had the decency to wear a mask!". Of course, I then purposely missed the birdie putt merely to avoid the inevitable abuse (honest).
If you are in the twilight of your golfing career and the bones ache a little more than they used to, then Ludlow is certainly the course for you! It is flat with easy walking and, not to forget, buggies and trolleys are used throughout the year; a definite bonus for a large number of golfers.
We must not forget that a golf club has many important aspects besides the course itself. All other ingredients in the mix have a role to play.
Russell Price and Dan in the Pro Shop understand clearly what is required from them. They are welcoming, enthusiastic to help and attempt to ensure that every golfer's needs are met, wherever possible. They are obviously very proud of their golf club and rightly so.
The clubhouse is in the modern style and has excellent facilities, including a function room. The bar was a delight for me personally as I am a fully paid up member of C.A.M.R.A. and love to sample different types of real ale. I can state that the pint of Ludlow Gold from the local brewery is simply the best pint I've had at any golf club I've visited ... praise indeed!
The standard of food and service is excellent with a good value menu available. I've thoroughly enjoyed every meal I've sampled over the last five visits.
Last, but not least, it has to be mentioned that the quality of the work of the greenkeepers is truly superb ... the evidence surrounds you.
A truly challenging round of golf with some good, but dubious friends with the accompanying levels of laughter and very 'tongue in cheek' abuse has to be a very healthy way to enjoy yourself. We certainly were able to wind our weary way back home to our loved ones feeling that we'd had a marvellous day out!
Ludlow Golf Club really is a quality "Step Back In Time".