I had played Hindhead before when I worked for the PGA but that was 30 years ago. My first boss in the golf industry, Jerry Kilby, was a member and he kindly invited me to play on several occasions.
As circumstances worked out Neil Gray, one of my fellow panellists who I was meant to play with, had to pull out so who better to ask than Mr. Kilby to join me.
The Inside Story
The first task for a panellist is to find someone at the club to chat through any changes to the course, Chris Donavan the Secretary, was in the pro shop when I arrived which was handy as I had forgotten my golf shoes (not a great start as a panellist !!) Ian Benson the club pro was also in the shop and kindly lent me some shoes. They went through the changes and the on-going work they were still carrying out and were confident that I would be pleasantly surprised by the changes.
The last review of England courses by National Club Golfer was back in 2017 and Hindhead was placed at 44th.
As Jerry and I walked to the first tee I already saw a massive difference from the last time I had played as the first impression to the course had been dramatically enhanced. The first tee looked so inviting nicely presented with a new notice board and the pathways clean and tidy I was excited to hit my tee shot.
Jerry past CEO of The Club Manager’s Association of Europe and who had followed me as GM at Nad al Sheba in Dubai had always been competitive as I think most of the people, I will be playing with in the blog will be. Both off a similar 9 handicap we agreed to a scratch game.
Top Gear created a guest leader board for the quickest time around their race track, so I have come up with a leader board to see who beats me by the most holes. In other words, we don’t just pick up when we get to the normal matchplay result we keep going until 18.
From the first hole you could see that the course manager and his team had worked hard through lockdown and the 10-year course maintenance programme, which is coming to an end has been well executed to date. The view from the middle of the first fairway was totally different from what I remember and the view over the Surrey countryside was spectacular.
From the 2nd hole to the 5th the course runs through a beautiful valley. As part of the course masterplan all the bunkers have been altered and a few new ones installed by the club’s architect Mackenzie Ebert. The bunkers have made a huge difference to the definition and presentation of the course.
Despite the cold dry Spring, the course was in good condition and the greens downwind were very quick and I found myself 2 down by the time we got to the long walk from 5th green to 6th tee which, as a warning to anyone who hasn’t been before gets the heart pumping and you need a few deep breaths before you hit your tee shot at the 6th.
Chris and Ian had told me that 8th tee complex had completely altered moving it from the right side of the 7th green to the left-hand side cleverly designed into the bank of the valley. The project is not quite completed but will be in play probably for next month and will make a very positive addition to both holes.
We continued through the valley and at the turn I was 3 down. Another change was the impressive halfway house which was closed but again such an improvement on the old hut that served some of the worst Bovril I have ever had the last time I played.
The back nine is on top of the hill and overlooks the valley. The tree maintenance and the clearing of the under growth has transformed the back nine aesthetically. The only change that I question, was moving the 12th tee from the left to the right of the 11th green. I believe this was for safety reasons, but it made the dog leg too severe in my opinion.
The game ebbed and flowed Jerry holed a downhill left to right snake of a putt on the 13th to go 5up I won a couple of holes back but by the time we shock hands on the 18th Jerry had placed his mark on the leader board at 2up. 37 years of course knowledge and my short game played a big part in the result, but I will be back to fight another day with another interesting guest.
I loved my return to Hindhead the improvements to the course have been first class and great to see that the club is continuing to look at ways to improve and invest in their core product. Since the pandemic like so many courses membership is now full and the waiting list is getting longer. All bodes well for the future, and I highly recommend you a take up an invite if you get the chance.
Until next time