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Delamere Forest

Yardage
6348
Par
72
SSS
71
Built
1910
Architect(s)
Herbert Fowler, Donald Steel,
Nature:
Herbert Fowler designed 1910 heathland course. Finest inland club in North West England.
Location/Address:
To the east of Torporley, from the A49 in Cheshire. CW8 2JE
http://www.delameregolf.co.uk/
Secretary
Mike Towers
Telephone
01606 883264
Professional
Martin Brown
Green Keeper
Andy Ralphs
delamere forest golf club, herbert fowler, donald steel, fine running golf, golf course review
delamere forest golf club, herbert fowler, donald steel, fine running golf, golf course review
delamere forest golf club, herbert fowler, donald steel, fine running golf, golf course review
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Access Policy:
visitors welcome by arrangement
Dog Policy:
Well-behaved dogs welcomed
Open Meetings:
Various
Fees in 1960s
37p
Fees today
£50 - 2015

Review

Delamere Forest Golf Club is the finest inland club in the North West of England. 

Founded in 1910 when a group of merchants leased some Crown Estate land.

From the beginning the Club has engaged the best professional advice and they invited Herbert Fowler to build on his success in designing Walton Heath, Saunton, Beau Desert, Bull Bay (Anglesey), North Foreland and Yelverton among others. He didn’t let them down.

CH.18thgreenHe created a routing, with some amendment when he returned in the early 1920s, that has not changed to this day. Originally, the course measured 5877 yards in length and is now 6348 with the front nine the longer at 3300.

Hidden away in rural Cheshire on a strongly undulating area of sandy draining soil, the course is surrounded by land that has been quarried for sand over the years within Delamere Forest, one of Henry VIII’s original hunting grounds.

This inland course is a wonderful heathland example where fast-running conditions create the challenge.

The members are proud of the firmness and trueness of their greens (70% browntop bent, 10% fescue 20% Poa annua, cut at 4mm). With minimal watering the course presents a tactical challenge particularly in a dry summer when the tee shots demand accurate positioning to give the correct angle of approach to run the ball into the greens if good scores are to be achieved. If this course was merely an over-watered, soft, ‘Target-Golf’ creation much of its the imagination and skill requirement would be lost and would, to my mind, become mechanical in the shot-making, easier for low handicappers and less enjoyable.

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The eleventh fairway

In the late 1950s Fred Hawtree was engaged to do a full review and identified weaknesses at the 7th and in the 11th, 12th and 13th hole arrangement but was unable to suggest any improvement on Fowler’s routing design.

The cost of maintaining all original bunkers after the Second World War became too onerous, as it did for many clubs, and those that had become redundant with the increasing length of the ball were removed. A very welcome aspect of the recent design update has been the return to the original Fowler naturalistic shaping to the bunkering.

The Club, who co-opted members without election to the committee for its first forty-five years, is generally happy to be described as a benevolent autocracy and has enjoyed equality between the sexes from day one.
For whatever reason the Club has enjoyed a number of pros, greenkeepers and secretaries with long appointments, the most characterful being Tony Legard who joined the club in the 1930s, became Secretary from 1968 to 1983 and captain twice in 1962 and 1983. Described in the centenary history book as always ‘black or white’ on every subject, it is worth quoting his idiosyncratic views on greens committees:-

“Farmers should be avoided like the plague since they will want to encourage the growth of grass, whereas greenkeeping is largely concerned with stopping grass growing”.

“Every year some ass gets up and says that he has never seen so many divots lying around the course, which only shows how short people’s memories are. It is no worse than last year”.

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The ninth hole

The Club, which eventually acquired the land from the Crown Estates in 1963, has always had a small membership and Tony Legard’s view on the inadvisability of operating a waiting list reflects good commonsense though in today’s politically correct, bureaucratic age may create some frowns. “If the list gets too long, the waiting time soon becomes a matter of years, and most of the really desirable applicants will join some other club rather than wait, and you will get the dregs. The applicant at the head of the list will regard himself as entitled to the next vacancy even though he may be a bit of a shit”.

In the 1970s Donald Steel, (the author of the finest book on links courses – and see his YouTube video at the FineGolf Enjoyment Day at Temple – Donald is a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel), started a discussion at the Club on removal of trees from a design with a focussed agronomic perspective but as with so many clubs the ‘tree huggers’ continued to fight a rear-guard action, not recognising that the environment of a fast running heathland course does not improve if air is unable to circulate around greens and dry them. There are quite a few trees on the course and indeed a dense copse between holes 18 and 9, but though they frame many holes they seldom actually decisively come into play.

This is a heathland course with gorse and some heather and a particular demanding first six holes; perhaps not quite up to Royal Dornoch’s standard but nevertheless still testing.

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The drive at the second.

The drives at the first and second are both played to sloping fairways that need to be kept to the right on the first fairway and the left on the second, to stop a long drive being kicked off into the rough. To successfully hit the flat first green with its false front with your second shot will set up your confidence for a good round and with the 443 yard second hole still being a par five (stroke index 15) there is reward for threading one’s long second through between the mounds and bunkers to a small green that has plenty of movement in it.

At the third we play downhill and need to miss bunkers on the corner of the right-hand dogleg before choosing the correct iron to a long, valley green.

The uphill 212 yard fourth has a green set into the side of the hill and any weakly hit ball will cascade off to the right. Many players will have to bump-and-run back from having played up the left to the back of the green.

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Fowler bunker on fifth hole

The fifth (431 yards) is a great hole, uphill, with drive bunkers left and right waiting for any less-than-perfect drive across the left-hand dogleg. The green has another false front and peril awaits to the left or over the back.

The sixth tee looks down on a well bunkered plateau green which if missed will require a delicate pitch. Nevertheless the greenkeeping team here keep all the aprons and run-offs in good firm order and the bump-and-run is the rewarding percentage shot, despite many players from ‘target-golf’ courses having forgotten how to play it!

After another short par five, the drive at the eighth (421 yards) is best kept left over a chasm and away from a series of bunkers down the right but this is a high risk strategy. It was on this hole with wind behind that George Johnson drove the green in 1972 at a time when the Club continued to refuse to put in automatic watering, something it did again in the 1990s.

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The eigth green

The short par four (331 yards) ninth might be thought to give some respite in the longer front nine but, as usual with Fowler, we are presented with a choice. Either a long drive over the plateau fairway and down into a deep valley requiring a pitch to a high plateau green with a cliff at the back, played from an uncertain hanging lie, or to take less club from the tee and leave a full wedge shot across the valley.

The testing tenth drive from under the windows of the clubhouse to a domed fairway throws the ball off to either side. A faded ball might be ideal, as the approach uphill to the green is easier from the right but a gorse covered slope will catch any weakness in the tee-shot.

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The eleventh green from 12th tee.

The eleventh is now much improved with a new back tee giving more of a dog leg with angled bunkers and though 500 yards with an uphill second over a hill, there is a significant right-to-left down slope to the green and it is possible for your ball to chase on and be lying innocently in the bowl of the green as one appears over the top!

The twelfth tee has been raised on this uphill 149 yard par three to give better sight of this sharply sloping green that should not be missed on the higher left-hand side.

At the next three holes ensure you leave your driver in your bag. The thirteenth might be called a ‘fill-in’ hole though in firm conditions thoughtful play is still required to keep your ball from running off the steep slope at the back of the green.

The fourteenth drive is tight and undulating, giving a glorious second to a green nestling beneath you and we then arrive at Delamere’s most controversial hole, with a blind tee shot over a hill to a valley that suffers from a high water table, from which one pitches to a high shelf green tucked round to the left.

All three short par fours should be birdie chances but only if you leave yourself uphill putts!

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The 17th green from behind

The last three holes give a testing finish beating back into the prevailing wind, the sixteenth being a long par three to a two-tier green which is all carry. The slightly domed seventeenth green is probably the fastest green on the course, high and exposed and the approach no easier if downwind.

The eighteenth tee shot offers fun from a high tee best held across the corner of the wood as there is more forward momentum on the right side of the fairway. An unusual marshy area has to be flown shy of the green if one is down the left hand side of the fairway.

The final qualifying for The Open was held here when Hoylake had the Championship in 1967 and Maurice Bembridge set the course record at 63. The recreational player will be looking to pick up shots on the par fives to counteract those lost on the testing par threes.

Andy Ralphs, the Course Manager, has a copy of Jim Arthur’s ‘Practical Greenkeeping’ in pride of place in his office and this is reflected out on the course.

Though this is the sort of club that sees its priority in the course, where the men’s locker room has character rather than expensive, swish pale oak, nevertheless the clubhouse has been substantially improved in the last twenty years. There is an attractive sitting out area, unfortunately not overlooking the eighteenth green as the high ninth green obscures it from the clubhouse.

Throughout its history Delamere has consistently adopted a conservative approach, but this underplays the bold steps taken by the Club over the years. From its foundation with a deliberately small membership in a distinctly rural area, to the selection of Herbert Fowler as the course architect, and ultimately the successful negotiation to purchase the land from the Crown, Delamere has never been afraid to take positive action when circumstances required it.

The result is a quiet club at ease with itself and proud of its very fine ‘running-golf’ course that gives a high four-star ‘joy-to-be-alive’ feeling.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2015

 

Reader Comments

On April 24th, 2015 Cass Casson Said:

Lorne
Having grown up in this neck of the woods I think this is a great review of Delamere. Not sure I would go as OTT as I always thought Sandiway was a slightly (very marginal) better test of golf.
If anyone is in that part of the world play both you will not be disappointed.
Dear Cass, Thank you for your comment and I consider that both have developed over the years. The major advantage to Delamere as a course is its fine grasses agronomy. I look forward to seeing you in October if not before. Many thanks Lorne

On April 25th, 2015 Bill McBride Said:

In 2006 I was lucky enough to play Hoylake, Wallasey, Delamere Forest and Beau Desert in that order. Delamere Forest held up very well in that group. It would be a wonderful home course. Loved the clubhouse, my favorite ever, and the secretary was terrific, loaned me the last copy of the Strokesaver!

On April 26th, 2015 Roger Yates Said:

Played Delamere with my sons a few weeks ago. Very good course, though greens were slow-ish. Very friendly members particularly the chap we met on the practice putting green who told us to play off the back tees!
Dear Roger, Browntop Bent grassed greens cut at 4mm with likely a light top dressing when you played, will putt when dry about 10′ and will be slower than the 2mm cut Poa annua you are used to around London! The difference is Delamere’s greens will maintain trueness all year round and will not bounce about on the surface unlike the soft Poa greens outside the summer!
Speed as a determinant of good greens is the bain of good greenkeepers. Best wishes Lorne