Time honoured tradition…..
Next stop on the England leg is Ganton which is currently ranked 74th in the list. Course was a two hour drive from our base in Belton Woods and it was hard to imagine a world class golf course was located there as we approached our destination. There is a longish drive down to the clubhouse from the turnoff and unknown to us then, passed through the 17th and 18th holes. We were welcomed by the caddie master and shown to the visitor’s dressing room and its then you really get a sense of what Ganton is about. The whole place is steeped in history, the locker rooms transported me back to my early days playing cricket in the old clubhouse at Reading. There are photos on the wall of the Ryder Cup event hosted there in 1949 as well as the club professionals down the years. The current head pro Gary Brown has held the position since 1988. Honours board boasts Jose Maria Olazabal and Nick Faldo amongst its junior victors so we were both looking forward to follow in their footsteps (albeit with many more strokes!). The assistant pro briefly got my hopes up for a free round when she found out I was visiting from Australia, as they have reciprocal rights with one of our clubs. Unfortunately though I didn’t qualify as I’m not a member of Royal Melbourne, maybe one day!
Ganton has seen many architects down the years add their vision to the course. Golf was first played at the site by Tom Chisholm of St Andrews and Robert Bird in 1891 when the course still formed part of Sir Charles Legard’s estate. Since then the course has undergone redesigns by greats Harry Vardon, James Braid, Ted Ray, JH Taylor, Harry Colt, Alistair MacKenzie, Tom Simpson and CK Cotton. As mentioned before Ganton is now one of three courses that has staged the Ryder, Walker and Curtis Cups, the others being Muirfield and Royal Birkdale. As one would expect with such an illustrious history, Ganton is touted as one of the world’s leading inland courses. This said, how did the experience match up?
Simple answer would be in spades. The course is understated brilliance with its world renowned bunkers and thick clag/heather protecting narrow fairways. There are a number of short Par 4s on the course with drivable greens, the risk/reward is high with wayward drives significantly punished. The Par 3s are very strong too ranging from the short Hole 5 to the longer Hole 17 played over the road leading to the clubhouse. I had a couple of cars waiting on my tee shot here and promptly found one of the bunkers. A number of tee shots are blind which adds to the excitement and we both would love to play the course again at some point armed with a better understanding of the layout. I guess I need to join Royal Melbourne then…
Quick word on the members who have to be the friendliest bunch I’ve met at a golf course. I hit (another) wayward tee shot at the Par 3 5th, was struggling to find my ball in the gorse and intruded upon 4 members making their way up the 4th. One of them came over, introduced himself and expressed pleasure that we had made the trip from Suffolk. That was a different group so I said I was travelling from Sydney which was met with some bemusement and Ashes quips (I’m still English you know!). He then decided to help me look for my ball and asked which club I used. 9 iron my reply. ‘Well, what are you doing up here then, this is 160 yards, come here’ and proceeded to find my ball in 10 seconds, then creamed his approach shot to the middle of the green. Understated brilliance indeed.
We sampled some more of the Ganton atmosphere on the 19th tee once the round had come to an end. There are only 350 members at Ganton and the ones playing today clearly had known each other for years. Familiar quips and sledges over a couple of Ales and Ganton cake before going home probably to do it all again the next day. Life doesn’t get much better eh?
Favourite hole – The 14th. Short Par 4 with breathtaking views of the Yorkshire countryside. The conundrum is whether to go for the green or hit a 7 iron and find the middle of the fairway. I chose the 7 iron option yet still found the gorse. Great risk\reward style hole.
Hardest hole – The 7th. Stroke Index 1 Par 4 sharp dogleg from left to right. Teeshot requires a carry of 240 or so yards to miss the well placed steep bunkers on the right and find the narrow fairway. Approach shot is then played up to a small elevated green protected by bunkers.