Minchinhampton Golf Club – Old Course
United Kingdom

Ninth hole, Dew Pond, 375 yards; Two key features expertly rub off each other: a pit left off the tee and a sharply canted green from right to left. As the golfer plays away from the pit, his angle of approach worsens in what amounts to perfect architecture. Sean Arble, who has done more in the past decade to extol the virtues of golf in the English countryside than anyone, describes the ninth thusly: ‘Tom Simpson, the English architect as well known for his arrogance and aberrant behaviour as for elegant architecture, once quipped “The vital thing about a hole is that it must either be more difficult than it looks, or look more difficult than it is. It must never be what it looks.” At the heart of Minch Old’s middle of the round purple patch is the splendid 9th, a hole which certainly isn’t what it appears to be and without question is more difficult than it looks. Unlike much of what comes before and after, from the tee the obvious appearance of this two-shotter looks like a hole out of Minchinhampton place and time. Simplicity itself, the 9th bows left around a quarry and is of a distance which causes little concern. The charms of the hole aren’t fully revealed until after a clever, safe play right … well away from the quarry. The golfer turns the corner and soon fathoms that the combination of a diminutive green tilted away from play and expertly placed humps and hollows has left him in an untenable position.  Will the golfer accept the situation and play accordingly or will the decision be a bold one which risks finding a second quarry left of the green?’

Given the firmness of the turf, approaches from the right bedevil.

Eleventh hole, Tom Longs, 430 yards; More of this hole pre-1900 remains in play than another hole. Standing on the tee, the golfer looks well into the distance and is unclear what he sees. It almost looks like the dark flag is lying on the ground and that someone perhaps forgot to put the flagstick back. Upon closer inspection, the golfer determines all is well, it is just that the green is located in a four foot deep hollow with the flag barely visible. The sensation of hitting toward this green complex is invigorating, in part because so many options exist all of which have appeal. Do you hit a low rolling bullet draw, and have the ball tumble out the last 40 yards until it disappears into the bathtub? Do you play more of a conventional shot and have the approach land just short before descending into the hollow? Or last, do you hit a conventional shot that flies all the way and let the ball wander off the sides or back wall? Regardless of whether you go high or low, the walk toward the green is done in mystery as to the outcome. If the ball is close, you potter around and hope that a passing car might notice what a superb golfer you are!! The competition for ‘best shot on the course’ is fierce but the approach to the eleventh is one of the candidates – and has been one of England’s standout holes for over 125 years.

One of the great remnants from Victorian golf is this green complex. The traffic pattern is a bit muddled due to the livestock crossing.

Thirteenth hole, The Holly Bush, 365 yards; The mirror image to the fourth with one important exception: the string of mounds that separate the tee and green are taller than a person here and so the green is out of sight for one’s approach. No wonder this course was referred to as a links. Mr. Dangerfield explains the size of these mounds, known as Bulwarks, ‘They date back to the iron age and are thought to surround the village of Minchinhampton enclosing an area of about 200 acres. Because of the bank outside the ditch it is believed that the Bulwarks were intended to keep things in rather than out and the obvious interpretation is that they represent a giant animal corral.’ You be the judge as to which architecture is more meritorious: Minchinhampton’s, with its varied features that are directly in the line of play and that must be crossed versus that of modern architecture with superfluous bunkering that is expensive to maintain and that is frequently and pointlessly placed on the sides of holes!

Fifteenth hole, Box View, 430 yards; This hole reintroduces an attribute found early in the round, namely you won’t see where your tee ball finishes. You have since the ninth but not here as you play over a hill crest. The kicker is how the green follows the land and it too slopes from front left to back right and away from the player. Again, this hole encapsulates lay-of-the-land architecture, especially how the green wasn’t propped up to receive a shot like ‘a catcher’s mitt’, as Max Behr once shrewdly complained. The diverse, exhilarating four hole finish cements the course as a personal favorite and ultimately helped the course join the 147 Custodians of the Game on GolfClubAtlas.

The 15th green drifts away to the back right corner.

Sixteenth hole, Centenary Hole, 165 yards; Similar to the eighth, the golfer tips his hat in appreciation as to how a one shotter can be so visually compelling without any bunkers. The pitched, cascading green is surely the most vicious on the course and the author always appreciates features in the late stage of a round that prey on nerves as this green clearly does. In the dry summer of 2018, to be above this hole was to court additional strokes as the grass on the green provided insufficient friction to make a downhill putt stop anywhere near the desired area. Great golf made even better by the presentation, with the course beautifully reflecting the area’s parched conditions.

With land like this, who needs bunkers?!

The devilish 16th green, where the effective area for a tee ball to finish on the same tier is teensy-weensy.

Seventeenth hole, Halfway House, 275 yards; The move this century of the tee from across the road (and thus the shortening of the hole) happens to dovetail perfectly with advancements in technology to create a superb risk/reward hole late in the round. As now played, the hole is drivable but downside abounds thanks to the tilt of the green from left to right. Any tee ball played too far left is in strife and at odds of getting up and in. Of course, the most obvious severe trouble is right but it is the cant of the green that really confounds.

With a view like this down the 17th, one would swear a large body of water is surely nearby!

Eighteenth hole, Clubhouse View, 405 yards; The only two markedly uphill walks come at two holes near the clubhouse (the third and here), which helps explain the wonderful views afforded from the clubhouse and lodge next door. Suffice to say, the various people who had their hand in the evolution of the course never believed and/or sought permission to provide visual aids to assist the golfer. Ultimately, golfers are asked to play the old fashioned way here, which is to say by feel. It’s a most welcome re-introduction to one of the glories of the sport that has been lost in time by over-zealous framing by modern architects and range finders. Minchinhampton stands for proper golf.

How rude – this foursome cut in front! The clubhouse is in the distance.

The Home green, as seen from near where the old seventeenth once was across the road. The mounds hold great appeal, largely due to their irregular nature. Modern architects make such mounds look far too symmetrical.

The clean lines and uncluttered simplicity of Minchinhampton makes the golfer question the merit of the architecture where he normally plays. Not only is Minchinhampton in all likelihood much more fun, it is also markedly less expensive to maintain in a suitable manner.

Course presentation follows the weather. Certainly, the above photographs from August reflect the dry, hot summer of 2018. The same photos taken after a wet fall would – of course – feature materially different hues – and the author loves that. Too many courses in North America fight nature rather than reflect it. Firm playing surfaces are key for Minchinhampton to sparkle, so what a delight to have seen it under these conditions. There is no Stimp reading referenced on a chalk board outside the professional shop; you get what you get with most days seeing the greens running perhaps on average around an 8. True, some people who believe that it is a birth right for a well struck putt to go in might find inconsistencies in the putting surfaces not to their liking but this golfer would never think to take the outcome of a putt so seriously.  A sporty course with quirk and nuances trumps an artificial one everyday.

Two stories sum up the appeal of Minchinhampton Old. The first is from Mr. Nash who recounts the horrible day in the mid 1940s when the clubhouse burnt to the ground. An elderly member could see the fire from his sick bed at Stroud Hospital. Upon being told the club was on fire, he replied, ‘In that case, there is no point in living.’ He turned from the view and passed away.

On a more upbeat note, though no more heartfelt, the second story is highly personal. My wife has accompanied me many times to the United Kingdom. In general, she is quite happy to go for a jog while I play and sometimes she opts to accompany me. On the occasion when we found ourselves at Minchinhampton Old, something else happened – she decided to play. This had only happened at Cabot Links before but she was so moved by the ambiance and the setting that the common enjoys. She hadn’t swung a club for several years but after a few holes, she settled into a rhythm and started bashing it. She was literally overcome with enthusiasm for the sport. If you ever want a concise definition of a great course, that is it: it makes people fall in love with the sport. Minchinhampton Old performed that trick that very day; compare that to the thousands of more expensive places that are abject failures in luring people into the sport. In this age of consumerism, OLED screens, and things that beep at you, the value in spending time on the common at Minchinhampton is even more acutely felt – and appreciated.

Old Minch has captivated golfers and non-golfers alike for nearly 130 years.

The End