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Notts

Yardage
7200
Par
72
SSS
76
Built
1887 / 1900
Architect(s)
Willie Park Jnr, Tom Williamson, Frank Pennink
Nature:
A national championship heathland course. Fine grasses, heather, gorse and the famous Hollinwell.
Location/Address:
4 miles along the A611, east of Jn 27 on the M1 (postcode: NG17 7QR)
http://www.nottsgolfclub.co.uk
Secretary
Martyn Bonner MBE
Telephone
01623 753225
Professional
Mike Bradley
Green Keeper
Philip Stain
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Access Policy:
Visitors welcome except Saturdays.
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
Hollinwell Trophy- Oct
Fees in 1960s
50p
Fees today
£85

Review

The Notts Golf Club was formed in 1887 and moved to Hollinwell in 1900, when the twice Open champion, Willie Park junior was invited to lay out a new 18-hole course.

The Park routing creates one of the greatest GB&I inland courses.

In the same way that he maximised the use of height in the ground at Sunningdale Old, here he used the natural contours of the Valley of Kirkby Forest, creating a course of just short of 6000 yards which was  long in those days using gutta percha balls and hickory clubs. The strength of challenge continues today exemplified by a Par of 72 and SSS 76 and the championship tees measure over 7200 yards.

It is wonderful news that this great club is showing the ambition to return to the finest icing layer of the FineGolf cake and by taking a long-term attitude is now investing in its most important asset, the heathland and fine grass nature of its ‘running’ course.

Put alongside the flat Woodhall Spa, this course vies to be the finest golf challenge in the Midlands. When Ganton is added, only a little further north, we have the finest trio of inland courses in the British Isles, certainly competing with, if not fully putting into the shade, the wonderful heathland courses on the Surrey and Berkshire sand belt and the MacKenzie courses north of Leeds.

Jim Arthur was the consultant agronomist here 25 years ago and it is good news that Gordon Irvine, who has been nicknamed “Jim’s heir”, is now retained as golf course consultant. The predominantly flat greens that were previously dominated by annual meadow grass (Poa annua) are now high in browntop bent and fescues, giving firm, true surfaces again, with ever improving smooth run-offs. Gordon (after his brilliant work at Deal, Hunstanton and Luffenham Heath and others) has been welcomed by the membership after giving an evening presentation of the vision that could lie ahead (do read HERE about the importance of greenkeeper communication). The club’s leadership has shown commendable good sense in it’s committment to backing him in helping the local greenkeeping team led by Phil Stain. Alistair Beggs, the leading agronomist is also retained with the STRI measurement programme and everybody is driving forward the initiative to put in place the final pieces of the jigsaw that is returning this outstanding course to one of heathland, fine grasses and ‘running-golf ‘.

Tom Williamson & Harry Vardon, notts golf club, finest courses

Tom Williamson & Harry Vardon

The Club was lucky to boast Tom Williamson, their favourite son, and Harry Vardon’s foursomes partner, as a servant. He created a double world record here by being the professional for 54 years from 1896 and playing in every Open championship for 50 years. Tom was a Methodist, a tee-totaller and  non-smoker and the Club’s head greenkeeper for 50 years, while also a golf course architect to some 60 other courses.

He made many changes to Hollinwell over the years as well as creating the first three starting holes to the west of the attractive entrance drive to the traditionally-equipped, imposing clubhouse. A map of the course of 1936 shows the layout essentially as it is today and while the original routing

18th green & clubhouse notts, notts golf club, finest courses

18th green & clubhouse

is still largely as Park laid out, the current sequence of holes is different.

Creating the first three holes on newly acquired land in 1912, Tom Williamson completely re-organised the original course.  A striking example of the changes is the short 13th, which is a spectacular downhill par three of 247 yds, but was originally a par four of 380 yds played from the opposite direction and was then the 9th hole.

Some re-bunkering by the more famous J H Taylor, a member of the great triumvirate with Braid and Vardon, has naturally been given greater emphasis in the Club’s marketing but the outstanding contribution that Tom Williamson made cannot be over-emphasised.

The par three 13th, notts golf club, finest courses

The par three 13th

One historical fact I have read is that there were in the Edwardian era some 11,000 train tickets sold to golfers travelling to the club’s own railway station and 10,000 caddy rounds per annum. The station closed as the car became popular and the number of caddy rounds is less than 500 these days.

The course has hosted many top amateur and professional championships over the years and Brian Waites, the successful tournament pro, was also the Club’s professional.

During the 1960s and 1970s the Club invited Frank Pennink to advise on various changes to holes 3,5,10,11,12 and 18 and the course attracted the professionals’ then largest money tournament (£25,000) in 1970, the John Player Classic, (won by that great Irishman Christie O’Connor Senior).

This was before the fashion for ‘target-golf ‘ took the professional game towards the bull-dozered, conurbation-based, hotel-associated courses, created around the golf boom of the 1980/1990s and so loved by those in charge of golf on television.

More recently discussions have taken place with The R&A to bring the Walker Cup here and perhaps if the Club can develop its ‘fine-grasses’ profile, we might see the course on television in the future. The Brabazon was hosted in 2016 and it will become one of the four final qualifying courses for The Open Championship from 2017.

There are only three short holes (the thirteenth is a picture, always playing longer than it looks and will stay in the memory for many years), which helps explain why the yellow tee yardage is 6,619 and the backs are over 7,200. Nevertheless, with also only three par fives and four short par fours, there are still plenty of long par fours to stretch the expert.

An iron could be a sensible play off the first tee to keep out of trouble on this simple, straight opener, as the ‘fps’ on the right, in the form of pink wavy grass (Deschampsia), abundant at Hollinwell, looks frightening from a distance, though when close-up the ball usually shows itself.

Robin Hood's chair behind 2nd, notts golf club, finest courses

Robin Hood’s chair behind 2nd

The three drive bunkers, with newly tufted tops, on the dogleg second is strategically placed on the scratch player’s line, as is the green bunker. It is a fine hole and there are many ways of playing it for different classes of player, while Robin Hood looks down on you from ‘his chair’ behind the green.

Many trees are being taken out across the course to increase air movement on the  greens and a good example is at the back of the second green opening up a backward valley vista.

The third is reachable in two when this naturally dry course is running fast, if you can keep your drive on the hump-backed fairway, while the testing 450 yard fourth, on rising ground with a devilish cross bunker, that the high handicapper must avoid, also gives advantage to the longer hitter.

The long sixth and the seventh with its green in a wooded setting, have interesting undulations in the ground which makes judging the distance difficult.

The Hollinwell hole, notts golf club, finest courses

The Hollinwell hole

The eighth, 360 yards from the yellows, is worth making into a dogleg by playing from the whites over a pond into which the Hollinwell spring flows, and from which a cool drink can be taken. Do not be short in your approach to this green and be advised to come in from the left that will often give a ‘members’ bounce’.

After refreshment at the halfway house, we enter the more famous second nine that uses the ridge to the north, to such stunning effect.

The tenth, where Pennink recommended the green be extended to the rear, and the sixteenth with its side shelf green, are both only 350 yard, right-hand doglegs, tempting the long hitter but members know to be conservative off the tee! The sixteenth green long front bunker has recently been re-shaped into three with better drainage.

The valley 11th, notts golf club, finest courses

The valley 11th

The eleventh plays longer than its 360 yards up a narrow, winding valley with a green nestled in one of the defiles of the high ridge and similar in green contour to the fifteenth where it is also advised to be not above the hole for your putt.

The twelfth, with two blind shots along the top of the ridge, and the thirteenth, where we descend to the valley floor ‘at one fell swoop’ are both into the prevailing wind and give magnificent views across this wooded countryside.

An enlightened policy of acquiring nearby land over the years has assured Hollinwell’s members and visitors many peaceful and undisturbed rounds into the future, though it is a shame that dogs are completely banned.

A heathland regeneration plan was started soon after 2000 and much effort has been put into retaining the heathland characteristics and stemming the woodland/parkland encroachment. Along with the enormous number of trees that have been taken out (for each one, another is planted away from the course) and the heather is now expanding and really coming into play on some holes. 

Nevertheless to my mind there are still too many self-seeded oaks in ‘pretty places’, I imagine protected by the misinformed ‘green tree huggers’  and clear communication is needed with the membership backed up by the local environmental groups to explain that the heather does not like being fertilised by oak leaves mulching down having been blown under the heather.

Jim Arthur at Notts, notts golf club, finest courses

Jim Arthur at Notts

There was a fire across the 55 acres on the side of the ridge within the course in 1976 and catastrophically the club ignored Jim Arthur’s advice and allowed the area to revert to scrubland. It has now been cleared of the sapling silver birches (the weed of the forest) and a flock of Hebridean sheep are in residence to naturally promote the heather by grazing the plants that would compete with it. The tremendous views with hardly a house in sight for miles are now opened up.

The fifteenth, already mentioned, is on rising ground and your long shot to the green, through a narrow valley entrance, is better played from the flat ground than from a hanging lie a little further on. This is one of those great 440 yard holes (like Foxy and Achinchanter at Royal Dornoch) where one is satisfied with a bogey five!

The round finishes with two fine long holes both hittable in two strokes on a good, still day and where two fours are likely to bring one victory over most competition as I unfortunately discovered when playing with their redoubtable Chairman of Green recently.

It is wonderful that this course has been brought back from a complacent parkland existence since the millenium and FineGolf awards it a five star rating in the ‘joy to be alive’ feeling it gives.

The club hosted the FineGolf ‘Running-Golf Day’ 0n September 4th 2017.

See: ‘1887 t0 1987, 100 years at Notts golf club’ by Valerie Collins.
Review by Lorne Smith, 2010 and updated in 2017.

Reader Comments

On March 17th, 2010 Douglas Neave Said:

A wonderful experience which starts when you drive through the stand of pines and the clubhouse and course first comes into view. A magnificent course which demands every shot in the book and a sure touch on subtle greens. Very friendly staff.

On May 1st, 2010 Peter w Wood MC FCA Said:

I was a member from 1936 -46 before moving to Canada.
Fellow members – Richard Holloway, Bob Blackburn and Bill Price frequently played in the evenings during the summer months, often not seeing anyone anywhere on the course other than ourselves.
I doubt that would be the case today.
I seem to remember my annual membership fee was £6