ENGLAND - Delamere Forest is one of Cheshire finest courses, a fantastic heathland track with an abundance of character and amazing scenery. If part of the allure of golf is the surrounding scenery and the call of nature, then this place is definitely for you. Set admist one of England's finest forests, it is no surprise that the course is a haven for wildlife and flora. Indeed, in April and May when the rhododendrons are at their finest, this is one of the most picturesque places around.
Unfortunately, one cannot afford to be unduly distracted by the wonders of nature for Delamere is a fine and difficult test of golf. It was the venue for the first Cheshire County Championship in 1921, and has played host to that particular event on a further eight occasions. However, perhaps Delamere's finest moment came when it was selected as one of two final qualifying venues for the Open championship of 1967. It was then that Maurice Bembridge recorded a wonderful score of 63, which to this day remains as the professional course record.
That year, the Open was played at Hoylake, the home of Royal Liverpool Golf Club, and just last year, the Royal & Ancient confirmed that Royal Liverpool would once again play host to the finest championship. While no official date has yet been set, it is believed that the Open will return to Hoylake in 2005.
At Delamere, your game is tested from the outset. Indeed, the opening holes are arguably the most demanding on the golf course. Overcome the first five holes in respectable numbers and you have a really good chance to post a good score. The first at Delamere is a demanding four hundred and twenty nine yards and is often played into the prevailing wind. That said, the plateaued fairway is a fairly generous target, and the green poses no hidden dangers.
At the second, the visitor becomes acquainted with the unusual bogey five system that is in place at Delamere Forest. This system is a concession to reality and recognises that, for most club golfers, the prospect of getting home in two at holes in excess of four hundred and forty yards is nothing but a pipe dream. Accordingly, all holes over that mark are deemed par fives, making par a more realistic pursuit for your average player.
The third is a four hundred and fourteen yard doglegged par four. The drive needs to be further left as two well placed bunkers act as magnets to anything sliding down the right hand side. The approach is played over a marshland area and requires pinpoint accuracy as this long green is extremely narrow.
The fifth is a wonderful long par four that is amongst the best I have seen. The drive is played to a slightly off-set fairway and accordingly a draw is the ideal shape. Anything fractionally off line will be heavily punished as there are five fairway bunkers from where it is almost impossible to get home in two. However, at two hundred and twenty six yards from the back tee, the longer hitters should be able to carry the last fairway bunker on the left, and this hazard then becomes the perfect line for the drive.
The approach is played over a shallow gully to a slightly elevated green. Like the fairway, the green is off-set slightly, only this time it is angled the other way and therefore sets up perfectly for a slight fade. Certainly you don't want to miss this green left as there is a steep grassy embankment leading down to a watery resting place. With a draw required from the tee and a fade ideal for the second, this hole, more than any other, will discover if the golfer lacks a shot in their repertoire.
The eighth is another fine hole, where accuracy from the tee reaps a distinct reward. In total there are five fairway bunkers, four of which protect the right hand side of the fairway. Unfortunately, with the tee set back and left of the fairway, it encourages you to aim directly at these traps, and those who fail to draw the ball back will inevitably find a sandy resting place.
The second is played to a green set down a little from the fairway, and accordingly, while the flag will be visible, the surface itself may be out of sight. This makes judgement of distance very tricky indeed and an extra club is often a good idea.
From the ninth you get stunning views of the clubhouse which is often set behind a blaze of colour as rhododendrons cover the large banking up to the clubhouse.
While I have to confess to preferring the front half more than the back nine at Delamere, there are still some great holes near the finish at Delamere. The most obvious ones being the fourteenth, fifteenth and eighteenth. Both the fourteenth and fifteenth are well under the four hundred yard mark but require some astute tactical shot making if they are to be played leaving the card unscathed. Driver is not the club from either tee, as in both instances you are likely to run out of room.
At the fourteenth a three wood will see you carry the ridge on the fairway and leave you a short iron to a steeply sloping green. Again at the fifteenth, a three wood or long iron is ideal from the tee. Keep right of the marker and whatever you do, don't try and cut the corner of this dogleg left as there is a well placed bunker waiting to snatch hold of anyone's over greedy tee shot. More importantly, the green here is set some twenty feet above the fairway, and accordingly, you must leave yourself a full shot if you are to have any chance of stooping the ball on the surface.
The eighteenth is a classic finishing hole. The drive is played from an elevated tee from where you can really open the shoulders and get one away. There is out of bounds in the trees on the right but there is much more room than you might think. The longer hitters should be able to get up to this par five in two, but lesser mortals will have to decide whether laying up is the safer ploy as there is a nasty piece of marshland lurking some thirty yards short of the putting surface. This is a super finishing hole which throws up a good chance of a birdie, but which can heavily punish poor shot making.
The food and hospitality in the golf club are excellent, but for a wider variety and more options, try Chester which is only twenty miles or so away. This is a beautiful part of the country and the golf course sits comfortably admist such wondrous surroundings. Quite simply a joy to play.
Delamere Forest Golf Club
Tel Secretary: 01606 883800
Tel Professional: 01606 883 307
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Darren Clarke learned to play the game at Dungannon Golf Club, a pretty parkland course right in the middle of Northern Ireland. While the course is pretty enough and the green fee is almost embarrassingly reasonable, the appeal of Dungannon is the opportunity to pay homage to the 2011 British Open champion, Clive Agran writes from County Tyrone.
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