Bill Workman considers himself an 'average' golfer, playing off a handicap of seventeen, as he does. In this short article, he explains what is important to him as a golfer, using Market Drayton Golf Club as his benchmark; an above average course for an average golfer
I consider myself to be an average golfer; very average my playing partners would most likely comment whilst in their usual complimentary mood.
With a current playing handicap of 17 (16.9 and fluctuating!), my main aim is to reduce my handicap (like most golfers) down to 15 by the end of the year!
I consider an average course to be one that a golfer of my handicap can negotiate without being in too much trouble. A confident statement, I admit, when the reality is that average golfers are usually in trouble around the course at some point or another.
I play on a regular basis at Market Drayton Golf Club which is situated in a beautiful rural setting just outside the town.
An apt description is on the clubs website which states, "A hidden gem set in the rural Shropshire countryside". A hidden gem indeed, it is a parkland style course incorporating several elevated sections which give an impressive panoramic view of the surrounding countryside.
An average golfer's requirements of a golf course involves consideration of several factors, including costs, setting, degree of difficulty, general condition, required fitness and welcoming attitudes of club staff. Of course, we must not forget the availability of a warm, comforting clubhouse offering a variety of food and beverages to replenish the inevitably depleted energy reserves of the tired and hungry golfer.
The course itself is 6295 yards off the white tee positions (6067 off the yellows) and is a par 71. The ladies enjoy 5593 yards with a par 73 rating.
Market Drayton is certainly not a flat, predictable and uninteresting course. Some careful decisions about which choice of shot to undertake have to be made throughout the course.
The 1st has a slight dogleg right leading up a gentle rise. The main photograph is taken about fifty yards up the fairway from the patio outside the clubhouse, where many a refreshing drink is consumed when the weather is suitable. The golfer, whether average or not, understands the importance of the impression that the first hole gives you as a visitor. It immediately sets the tone of expectation, whether it's a positive or a negative one.
There is a beautifully maintained flowerbed directly in front of the tee and, when the fairway is mown in "stripes", the effect can be quite impressive. The initial impression becomes instantly one of "this looks a quality course!" even before the rest of the course is explored. The importance of a positive first impression on the visiting golfer cannot be over emphasised. I have been with golfers, playing the course for the first time, look up the first and comment ... "stunning!"
A well maintained and compact putting practice green is directly adjacent to the 1st tee, with its speed as close as possible to the actual greens themselves. This is often a bone of contention at some courses where the practice putting greens are far slower than the main greens. This is often seen as a "cunning plan" when playing club matches at other courses, which is usually strenuously denied by the opposition.
Course layout is often debated by golfers far and wide. Discussions such as positioning of bunkers and various hazards, such as ponds, abound. Usually, the complaints revolve around "it penalises a good shot". This response is inevitable when a player hits what they consider to be a good shot and then discovers that their shot wasn't as productive as they had previously thought.
There has been many a conversation about the ancient oak tree just to the left of centre of the 2nd fairway about eighty yards short of the green.
The view right is taken from just in front of the 9th green looking back down the fairway. More importantly, to the right of the 9th fairway is the 2nd fairway. It is 351 yards long, starts off down the slope, then turns a dogleg right up the hill to an elevated green just out of view on the top right. All eyes are inevitably drawn to the "Old Oak Tree"… (I'm sure Tom Jones was once laid beneath it? Or was a yellow ribbon tied around it?) in the middle of the fairway at the top. Some golfers have called in the past for the offending tree to be removed because it penalises a good straight drive.
The reality is that, if a straight drive is hit down the middle, or even slightly left of middle, then the oak is easily bypassed to the right-hand side. Alternatively, a longer drive can be taken and a short iron used to fly straight over the tree. On occasions, I have witnessed players hitting low shots under the tree; the difference between them and me is that their efforts were probably intentional! Above average golfers have been seen to take just a 5 iron down to the middle of the flat area, and a 6 iron straight onto the green ... easy game for some, isn't it?
The hole is, after all, designated a stroke index 5, obviously for good reason. So, as we are aware the tree is there, we must consider it to be an integral part of the course, consider it a challenge, come up with a manageable strategy, stop whingeing and "get on with it!"
Some golfers dread any holes that involve water of any description. The only hole on the course with a water hazard is the 3rd, which has a pond thirty yards long and about ten yards wide to the right hand side of the fairway. The unfortunate added problem is that the fairway itself has a slope running left to right, which encourages shots played down the right of middle to run even further right and inevitably into the pond itself!
The water looks so dark and mysterious; if you stare at it for a while you can imagine a beautiful water-nymph slowly emerging from the water without causing a single ripple. She is wearing a diaphanous garment whilst wielding what appears to be an immaculate golden sword and is asking you in old English ... "your name doesn't happen to be Arthur, does it?" That reminds me that I must be due for my next appointment with my psychological therapist!
I am not going to describe the course hole by hole. I have merely used the first three holes to illustrate what the golfer can expect throughout the course.
The state of bunkers and the quality of sand used is often a discussion point on courses. I have personally played courses where bunkers have had great clumps of weeds growing out of them! Not a great impression. Bunkers are there for a reason; none of us want to end up in the hazard, but do expect the sand in bunkers to be reasonably free of debris and of a quality that encourages good sand shots to be made.
Rakes must always be available, some courses have 1 rake between 3 or 4 bunkers; this is often noted as a negative point.
Market Drayton's bunkers are well maintained, with plentiful rakes, giving us no excuses when unable to get out of them at the first attempt.
The average golfer needs a course that makes him/her think about their golf a little more carefully, it needs to be a challenge without it becoming so difficult that the enjoyment factor is removed and, most importantly of all, ensures that the golfers return over and over again!!
Quite often, the first club member met is the pro in the pro shop. Russell Clewes, the professional at Market Drayton, has been at the club for many years and is well aware of the importance of a positive first impression. Through his years of experience, he is able to provide appropriate assistance and advice to meet everyone's requirements, as often as he can and to the best of his ability.
Finally, a sometimes underestimated impression on visiting golfers is the quality of the food and service in the clubhouse. At Market Drayton, you can meet the three birdies at "The Green" called Ange, Cassie and Chelsey ... a complete family effort! The food is homemade, freshly prepared and always remarked upon by everyone as "quality at a very reasonable price". Service is always with a genuine smile and every effort is made to meet the requirements of the visitor.
I consider Market Drayton Golf Club to be very much "above average" for all the above reasons.
A golf course isn't merely land, grass, fairways, trees, water, bunkers, trees and greens, with their inherent problems of maintenance. It is a very complex brew of ingredients where, mixed together carefully, the resulting taste experience can be impressive enough to encourage the golfer, just like Oliver Twist, to demand "More Please!"