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Luffenham Heath

Yardage
6563
Par
70
SSS
72
Built
1911
Architect(s)
Harry Colt, Charles Alison, James Braid, Donald Steel, Martin Hawtree
Nature:
Fine, undulating, heathland course, founded in 1911. Delightful timeless club.
Location/Address:
On the A6121 near Stanford, Rutland. Post Code PE9 3UU
http://www.luffenhamheath.org
Secretary
Tim Stephens
Telephone
01780 720205
Professional
Ian Burnett
Green Keeper
Nick Nottingham
Luffenham heath golf club, finest courses
Luffenham heath golf club, finest courses
Luffenham heath golf club, finest running courses
Luffenham heath golf club, finest courses
Luffenham heath golf club, finest running courses
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Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
with members only
Open Meetings:
Mens pairs Open- Sept
Fees in 1960s
men75p, women50p!
Fees today
£50 either sex

Review

The high ‘joy to be alive’ quality of everything about Luffenham Heath Golf Club has been clear to me since first playing this undulating heathland course in the 1970s. 

Remarkably Frank Pennink, admittedly not a Midlands man, omitted LHGC from his 1962 Golfers Companion (a review of some of GB&I’s 128 finest courses). I say remarkably because not only has it always had the design and agronomy of a fine ‘running’ course but it used to have a membership, typified by the Earls of Ancaster (who owned the land and were the Club’s Presidents until the line died out in 1983) and Viscount Castlereagh/Marquess of Londonderry (later accused of appeasement of the Nazi regime and who brought Air-Marshall Goering to play at LHGC) who was an early Vice-President, who saw themselves as benefactors for the golfing generations to come. 

2nd Earl of Ancaster, luffenham heath golf club,

2nd Earl of Ancaster. Click to enlarge

The 2nd Earl of Ancaster engaged Harry Colt and Charles Alison to ‘amend’ a routing thought to have been laid out initially by William Barfoot in 1909 (the Club’s first professional up to 1914, returning in 1921 until 1944), set out upon an interesting geology of boulder clay sited along the top of the ridge where the present 11th, 12th and 13th holes lie. Lower down there is an exposure of sandy soil with heathland vegetation and the lower holes lie on an extensive band of easy-draining limestone. In all an oasis of good draining land ideal for a fine running course. 

During the Second World War three holes were lost permanently to the plough at the top of the course and the President came to the rescue and funded a restoration to eighteen holes.

Never a wealthy club, Luffenham has always been happy to be slow in keeping up with the outside world but this insular club has nevertheless repeatedly taken advice from the very best over the years and enjoyed good leadership. 

The course architects used here to update matters have included James Braid to re-arrange bunkers in the 1930s, and the less well-known but brilliant Ken Cotton (partnered with Pennink and Laurie) to reduce costs and make the course easier to maintain after the Second World War restoration. 

It often took the Club some years to implement their advice, for example Cotton’s suggested new tenth green that has transformed the previously only ordinary hole on the course, was again recommended by Donald Steel in the 1980s until Martin Hawtree eventually implemented the suggestion in the mid-‘noughties’ along with Cotton’s suggestion of a new eighth green. 

luffenham heath golf club,

The new eighth green

In the 1970s before the silver birch copse was planted, the old green on the short par four eighth hole was driveable. The hole now measures 320 yards with a row of bunkers down the right-hand-side approach that requires precision and is a far better looking hole but perhaps has lost some of its bravado! 

Hawtree’s major review (2004 – 06) has lengthened some back tees and led to some re-bunkering with sensible emphasis to tighten up where the tigers’ drives land, while filling in some of the bunkers that were, thanks to the advent of unregulated modern equipment and balls, only making the high handicappers’ life unnecessarily arduous. 

This recent course development programme was rewarded by The R&A holding their Regional Open qualifying here from 2013.

The only previous ‘national championship’ tournament hosted was that of the boys’ Carris Trophy in 1987. Third on that occasion was a young Lee Westwood, of whom the popular Club Pro Tony Lawrence (1967 to 1994) made a comment of some prescience: “Westwood is the one who will make it as a professional.” 

gordon irvine, luffenham heath golf club

Gordon Irvine

The Club retained the late Jim Arthur as their agronomist from 1950 and had the sense not to go down the fashionable ‘green is great’ target-golf route in the 1980/90s. The Club continues its history of retaining the very best and the new young, enthusiastic course manager Nick Nottingham has both Alistair Beggs (a leading agronomist) and Gordon Irvine (whom some call Jim Arthur’s heir) advising him (both of whom FineGolf is lucky enough to have on its Advisory Panel). 

Though a new reservoir was built following the droughts of 1995 and 1996 and new sprinklers put-in, there is every hope the course will continue to be developed as a ‘firm running’ course and will not be overwatered but rather be allowed to ‘brown-off’ during dry spells. 

Just as important as the fine grassed, trueness of the greens, is the condition of the aprons and approaches that encourage the confidence to run the ball in and that similarly bears testament to the present husbandry standards and aims of the club, giving much ‘running-game’ enjoyment to the membership and visitors alike. 

Informed by custom and tradition, Luffenham Heath (6563 yards, par 70, SSS 72) is moving with the times and has raised its game to be amongst the finest courses with a high ‘joy to be alive’ rating. 

The R&A’s recognition appropriately brings the Club alongside the other fine South Midlands club which is the finest golf challenge located between Notts (Hollinwell) and London and positioned on similar heathland/wooded land, viz Northamptonshire County. 

Both clubs have had hopes of acquiring the ‘Royal’ title, with LHGC’s claims allegedly damaged in mythology by a princely dalliance! 

LHGC has always had a close relationship with the RAF base at Wittering, North Luffenham and Cottesmore and with all the local public schools that play matches there, while reciprocal arrangements are now in place with Little Aston, Lindrick, Notts(Hollinwell) and Alwoodley in Leeds. 

luffenham heath golf club, finest running courses

The drive at the seventh

The first hole (360 yards) is defined by the bank that runs in echelon across the right hand dogleg, giving an early opportunity to punish the tiger who tries to cut too much off and like many before him, finds the shot blown by the prevailing wind over onto the Stamford-Uppingham road. 

Perhaps these days it is the renewed bunkering shy of the green and atop the left to right sloping green that protects the hole but they were irrelevant to me back in 1970s when trying to join the Club I was invited to play with three committee members one Saturday morning. 

My cheeks still redden when remembering that first hole. At that time, before the new Secretary’s office was built overlooking the first hole, there was a flower bed under the clubhouse to the left of the tee. I was allowed a free drop out of it, before promptly shanking my second under the bank!! 

I could imagine the thoughts going through these poor people’s minds who knew they had to endure a further three hours with me. Luckily I managed to guide my third onto the green and sank the putt. Some calming words from my partners then helped me to proceed to play immaculate golf for the next seventeen holes, well below my handicap and a most enjoyable relationship with the Club was underway. 

luffenham heath golf club, finest running courses

The second hole

The second hole is a tough challenge on rising ground with a long second over a gully to a severely sloping green. There is a quarry to the right of the tee and now that the Club has at last started to cut out trees and undergrowth along many of the holes to make some small semblance of a return to the original treeless heathland, this quarry has been opened up. 

The Club has been blessed over the years with many loyal and characterful members of staff and one was the head greenkeeper Dick Fogg (1967-2009) who has been supported by many helpful Chairmen of green of whom Stewart Ross was dictatorially notable (1970-1984). 

luffenham heath golf club, finest running courses

The 4th green

The fine second hole which, with its recent appropriate re-bunkering, might now be thought to need no further improvement. Nevertheless I agree with Dick Fogg that a new back tee down in the quarry behind the first green would add even more excitement to the hole. 

The third and fourth hole are polar opposites, both good short par fours requiring precise placement of drives; one to a severely sloping fairway before playing up to a green and at the fourth, to a plateau from which the green way below sits among the beautiful Rutland agricultural landscape. 

The first par three comes next, displaying one of the iconic Luffenham Heath thatched, round shelters behind which has, like so much at this Club, been refurbished recently. 

Luffenham heath golf club, finest running courses

Thatched hut behind 5th green

Jerry (‘The Judge’) Simmonds, with whom I played many games of Leicester Gents and MCC cricket moons ago, has used his lawyer’s expertise of exactness of detail, a strategic vision of argument, all liberally laced with numerous hilarious anecdotes, to express with clarity the ethos of the Club, which he feels is to be cherished, as he says in his book “One Hundred Years on the Heath”. 

There are some eminently readable centenary golf club history books of which Royal Worlington & Newmarket GC is perhaps my favourite to date, but Jerry’s book is certainly among the marzipan if not completely in the icing of that particular cake. 

Jerry enjoyably and openly describes without embarrassment: “The grand ones who enjoyed early membership did not seek to emulate the opulence of their domestic surroundings in the clubhouse and being sublimely assured of their position in the social milieu, they had nothing to prove.” This was the only clubhouse I know where the main door from the car park opened directly into the men’s locker room, as if to say we are here for golf, even if a touch misogynistic! 

luffenham heath golf club, finest running courses

The Clubhouse and 18th green

Having said that, the Club has now initiated a major refurbishment of the clubhouse which has improved the off-course facilities to rank alongside the progress made to the course, while preserving the ambiance and charm of the wonderfully characteristic building. 

Jerry believes the Club has practised the thrift of good husbandry while eschewing ostentation and that those outside the Club should continue to see ‘us’ as they always have done – as “private, modest, mannered and self-contained, while enjoying a golf course of distinction without striving to impress, remaining true to the Ancaster inheritance.” 

Luffenham heath golf club, finest running courses

The par three 17th hole

The fifteenth and seventeenth holes here are often regarded as the finest. It is obvious why the dramatic 200-yard seventeenth played down across a heathery bank is accorded this distinction, while the fifteenth is more subtle. 

A drive into the prevailing wind looks straight forward, leaving a long-iron approach suggesting entry from the left to a rising green but with bunkers gathering in any faded weakness in the shot. This is a reason why some good players elect to draw the ball into this green. For these reasons there is an unbalanced feeling to the shot and it requires, in a similar way to the wonderfully challenging seventh hole at Swinley Forest, a level of confidence not always forthcoming. 

Every hole has its own character that can be well remembered and the ridge-and- furrow fairways of the sixth and seventh holes provide some element of chance as to whether a hanging lie complicates your second shot, after two demanding drives, firstly across the dogleg and secondly over acres of gorse. 

The outstanding undulating design and high quality of this ‘running’ course allows me to be slightly critical of one aspect of Hawtree’s work at the eleventh hole; the hole has been unfortunately straightened with new left-hand bunkering placed on the drive. 

Though this stops having two right-hand doglegs on the trot, the hole has lost the simplicity of the struggle to keep your drive from being thrown left under the pines when over-anxious to avoid the trees in echelon on the right, while simultaneously trying not to be blocked out by the right-hand bunker 40 yards shy of the green as you run your ball in, ideally from the left of the fairway. 

I always thought this hole was one of Luffenham’s fine, strategic, longer par fours but now its straightness and those new bunkers give it the resemblance of a modern parkland non-entity. It might however be added that a new controversial grass bank across the fairway does add extra scenic character, though to my mind is more from the era of a 1890s penal hazard than the golden strategic period. The new tee is at least grassed with splendid fine red fescue grass. 

The sixth and thirteenth can be short par fives or long par fours (both around 500 yards) depending on the dryness of the running turf but even if ‘Pro’s hollow’ is attained on the eighteenth fairway, a hole of over 550 yards, the swaled green is unlikely to be reached in less than regulation. 

The whole 238 acres plot is a site of special scientific interest and wild life and flora are abundant. Nevertheless Stewart Ross oversaw much tree planting of non-heathland varieties which some members welcomed as ‘prettier’ and though resisted by conservationist groups, this highly respected and hard working chairman of green usually, albeit unfortunately on this occasion, got his way. 

It would not be appropriate to leave the review without a mention of the Betts/Rayson family who gave stewardship service in the clubhouse from 1916 to 1967, giving way to Mr Whatling who continued the fine service in a manner renowned far afield for its individuality. 

Little known Luffenham Heath is an oasis of timelessness.

It creates strong affection among those who often prefer to sensibly keep the secret to themselves! 

I luckily was introduced to it early after coming to live in the Midlands and it has given me countless days of ‘joy to be alive’ across its scampering turf. 

Do read One Hundred Years on the Heath by J.P.Simmonds. This well-illustrated volume may be obtained from the Pro’s shop. Alternatively, readers can purchase for £15 from Seddon Boxes, Unit 1, Bromley House, Pytchley Lodge Rd, Kettering, NN15 6JQ. Cheques payable to R.C.P.Seddon

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2014 and updated in 2016

 

 

Reader Comments

On June 6th, 2012 allan bunyan Said:

I was assisstant pro at this wonderful course. I too have very fond memories. nice to read your review. thanks for the memories.good luck