I enjoyed a warm welcome at Hayling Golf Club recently and had the most tremendous day feasting on the changes there from my last visit of ten years ago and the wonderful running golf this links course provides.
The club on Hayling Island, near Portsmouth was founded in 1883 by members of the famous sherry and port importers family, the Sandemans, with help from the Scotsmen who founded Royal Liverpool at Hoylake.
The exact history of who was wholly responsible for designing the course is open to some debate and the club has retained Tom Mackenzie of Mackenzie & Ebert Ltd, who is experienced in the works of Tom Simpson (the well-respected golf architect 1877-1964), to conduct research and advise on the renovation of the links. His initial conclusions do not finalise the debate but suggest that it was Tom Dunn who laid out the links.
Dunn, after his death, was the target of much criticism that he had been guilty of designing in the mode of the penal school with the formulaic use of cross-hazards and flat, square greens on the many inland courses he designed, particularly around London. Nevertheless he did meet an expanding Victorian demand for golf courses before course-design became an intellectual art form after the turn of the twentieth century and we have courses like Royal Worlington for which to thank him.
JH Taylor (five times Open champion) was asked by Hayling to give changed design recommendations in 1905. At the time he was effectively a spokesman for the professional golfers who preferred the penal school of design, (though he was to change his views on golf architecture later) and Tom Mackenzie doesn’t think he changed much at Hayling.
Fascinatingly, Bernard Darwin (the greatest of golf writers) a close friend of Tom Simpson, alluded to Simpson in his 1921 Country Life article on Hayling where he said “Where there are big hills there will always be a contest between two schools of thought. I know that those people are right who deprecate blind shots, and yet it is a poor sort of rule that cannot have an exception to prove it. Personally I enjoyed Hayling so much that I should like it to remain the exception. This is a bold remark, because I believe that a learned friend of mine, whom I profoundly respect, has recently suggested that many of the big cross bunkers should become side bunkers and that in short the play should be along the valleys instead of across them. Of course he is absolutely right in principle, but I want to say to him quite simply ‘Oh, damn your principles’……. In fact (the hole known as) the Widow is the quintessence of old-fashioned beauty. A glorious slash over a mountain into space and then a pitch into a hidden dell”.
Much is talked historically about the Widow (the thirteenth hole) and its large bunker, at driver-distance, with comparisons being often made to St Enodoc and Royal St George’s mammoth bunkers.
To be fair to Tom Simpson it was not so much blind drives that he did not like, it was completely blind approaches to greens that did not fit with his design philosophy. He did in fact love to use visibility as a tool in the strategy of his holes as witnessed by the third hole at County Louth in Ireland.
Eventually in the 1930’s the club had the sense to ask Tom Simpson to weave his magic and, along with changes he made after the Second World War, he gave us the course we have today. It is fun to speculate which are his changes which perhaps covered about half of the course.
The short holes are of particular note. Seldom do we enjoy a par three as a first hole, as at Hayling, before we are sufficiently warmed up. Admittedly this is not a dramatic hole but most people will be running in their second shot, having failed to find the green, as might well be the case at both the fifth, to a thin narrow green with run-off either side, with some similarities to Tom Dunn’s famous fifth hole at
Royal Worlington and the sixteenth, described by the first ever woman golf architect Molly Gourlay thus:
“the putting green (will) appeal irresistibly with those low ridges and shallow straths and the glorious deep bunker on the right”.
Each of these three holes use typical subtle Simpson design, though the sixteenth is named ‘Wharram’ after Dr. Wharram.H.Lamplough who may or may not have designed the hole.
The green of the fourth par three, the picturesque eleventh, is a different matter altogether and must be hit first time, if a serious attempt at winning the hole is to be made.
400-yard dog-legs in different directions are fine holes at the third and fourth and the sixth requires a bold second to fly a cutting where I am told an experiment to let the high tide sea come in seems to combine well both ecology and golf.
Indeed at this point let me mention that there are low fences around many of the paths to stop trolleys being taken across areas of the course that are of special scientific interest and the Club has published a 30 page booklet about the natural delights and birds to be found on a hole-by-hole basis. The club has agreed a plan with Natural England aimed at returning the course to a more natural, open, links style with the removal of alien trees and scrub and stronger management of the gorse, heather and marram grass across the extensive dunes.
The dunes become more prominent as one weaves one’s way to the far end of the course where there used to be a unique second clubhouse for those arriving by boat from Eastney and wanting to use the fourteenth tee as their starting tee.
This clubhouse has now been converted to accommodation for the course manager, Lauchlan Millar, who comes from a family with a rich history in greenkeeping. His father and grandfather were in charge at Southerness and it is purely a coincidence that the run-in at Hayling from the fifteenth reminded me strongly of Southerness.
Returning to our round, the par five seventh green is hittable across the dog-leg for a birdie and is well named as “Death or glory”. And as long as one stays out of the dominating trap down the prevailing wind at the eighth another birdie, as also at the driveable par four tenth, could well be in your mind.
At this point in the round we reach the dunes proper and after negotiating the blind drive at the ninth, there is a deceiving knoll short of the green which makes judgement of distance difficult with the run-in.
As is so often the case with 440 yard holes on links courses, ‘Desert’, the twelfth is often viewed as the best hole.
A blind drive is required into a curving right-hand valley with a huge gathering bunker to the left of the Simpson green cut into the right-hand sand dune. To leave with a four here is very special.
The advent of machinery allowed Simpson to eventually get his own way and flatten off a new fairway on top of the dune on the ‘Widow’ thirteenth hole and move the green below and in front of the then second clubhouse thereby doing away with the original punchbowl green. It is not clear when the vast bunker returned to dune grass.
This also allowed a fine par five fourteenth to be created giving advantage to the longer drivers who can run their ball forward from the swale across the fairway. An interesting green here runs away from you and off the right.
The bottom half of the course was taken over by the Army during the second world war and concrete ‘pill boxes’ are still evident as are the grassed over bomb craters that for example are employed as part of the hazards between the ninth and fourteenth fairways.
It is so pleasing to report that Hayling is another course that has turned its back on the 1990’s fashion of fertiliser, overwatering and target golf and in the last few years sustainable green keeping has been practised. The greens now have over 75% fescue grass content and I found these were firm and true, with good roll-out, welcoming the running shot across good quality aprons.
The new Secretary is fully behind these developments and a turf iron and moisture metre have been invested in to measure, control and communicate performance to the membership in line with modern thinking as espoused by the R&A and the GTC.
We played Hayling unfortunately on a remarkably calm day and with all the work going on renewing the leggy gorse we were able to get away with a little more width to our play than is usual(!) but let me strongly recommend this course and its modern two-storey clubhouse with a wonderful viewing balcony.
It is much less well-known than it should be, or at least less visited in being a little out of the way, but all Fine golfers will be challenged by it and enjoy those ‘Joy to be alive’ feelings that a great ‘running’ course with a heritage of Tom Simpson design provides.
See ” 1883 to 1983, Hayling Golf Club Centenary ”
reviewed by Lorne Smith 2011
Tom mentions Hayling as one of his desings in an article in “Golf” in 1891 and also it gets listed in his Times Obituary in 1902.
Just to add weight to the debate.
WillieOn December 5th, 2011 Robin Brown Said:
Played Hayling today in a big wind.Course in much better condition than when I last played it and presented a severe test.A really good links challenge with a warm welcome.
Offers exceptional value for a winter green fee.
Having grown up as a member here and still as a regular visitor, I can happily say Hayling is currently in first class condition. Not a course for the beginner and, frankly, a waste of £60 if you’re not of a semi-reasonable standard, it’s a course which makes no apologies for being proper, rugged links golf at its best.
A lot of people who love the course still feel the opening two holes are a bit weak. Whilst seemingly in a minority, I’ve always felt the 180 yard par 3 first with well positioned bunkers followed by a not too taxing par 5, again, with well placed sand, is an excellent and pleasantly unusual way to get going.
From there the course meanders further and further into the dunes and between the fifth and the thirteenth it’s almost impossible to pick a favourite hole.
From fourteen to home the course becomes a little less robust and is probably a relief for those that haven’t really appreciated the full rugged nature of the previous holes. For me, whilst still being very good running golf, this final stretch to the clubhouse is the least exhilarating part of the course.
Having known the club to go through a stage in the 90’s of buying into the whole target golf philosophy it’s great to see it back to its former glory.
Also worth noting is that, whilst you’ll only get the full effect of the lightening quick contours in the summer, it’s a course which holds up better than just about anywhere when things get wet.
Played Hayling for the second time this year. Very challenging in a strong crosswind but course certainly offers Fine Golf as the only links course in the area. Very hospitable and good work going on improving bunkers.
Will continue to return for a links experience.