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Since 1800 over 85% of heathland in the County of Dorset has been lost. With it went birds, animals and insects as well as many rare species of plant life. This makes it even nicer to be able to experience the country’s finest heathland along with the best golf courses in Dorset.
Dorset, despite its glorious beaches and some attractive market towns, has never been a venue that attracted overseas’ golfers. It’s often sadly overlooked for the attractions of bigger named and more expensive locations around London.
There are 39 golf clubs in Dorset. You can see the full interactive map of golf courses in Dorset here.
Our first of the two Dorset golf courses, is Parkstone Golf Club, some three miles away from the coastal resort of Poole. Like the heathland on which it sits, the course has undergone an invigorating renaissance. When it was originally laid out, the Luscombe Valley was dense with pine trees. That is until two-time Open champion Willie Park jr. and his men got to work with their axes in 1909.
The sandy soil found just inland from Poole harbour proved ideal for a golf course, but the site was considered too small. So that great golfer and course architect James Braid, added six more holes during the 1930s.
Sadly, after the Second World War there was insufficient labour to keep new trees and brambles from encroaching onto the heathland. By the 1990s Parkstone had lost much of its sparkle.
In 1997 however, another fine course architect, Donald Steel, gave the same advice Willie Park had some 90 years earlier. Namely chop down the pine trees and restore the lost heathland. It was fortunate then, that the course was designated as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). English Nature gave the instructions to restore the heathland. With that came a much needed injection of capital with which to do it. Golf courses in the region of Dorset have benefited ever since.
Challenging Greens and Serious Climbs
It was not only the flora and fauna of the heathland that improved but also the greens. Being able to enjoy more air circulation due to the absence of pines, they became so much better; slick, true and helping enormously to make up a serious test of golf in the most delightful surroundings.
The first hole does what every good opening hole does, namely builds confidence whilst not being overlong. What comes as a shock is having to play your second shot onto a raised green on this 354-yard/325 metres par four. This shows just how hilly Parkstone is.
The plus side of expending effort climbing, is that you’ll get some good sea air into your lungs. The wonderful views from various elevated tees over Poole Bay also help. Another big bonus is the superb walkways the club has installed, the general quality of course furniture and the tee boxes. Over £2m has been spent in improvements, and the seamless flow of holes in such a beautiful setting make playing here on a fine day a real joy.
A Fair Test, Not a Monster
The course is demanding without being terrifying at 6,282 yards/5,744 metres off the back tees but there are some outstanding holes to take on. Our group of four thoroughly enjoyed the par 5 third hole, where one tees off over a lake. Holes such as the 12th, conclusively prove that they do not have to be long to be a challenge. This short par four at 328 yards/300 metres combines a fine elevated tee box and the smallest green on the course (also elevated). Positioning, as it is so much at Parkstone, is key to a good score and big hitters may choose to keep their driver in the bag.
A Tough Finish
Without doubt the most fiendish hole is the par 5 seventeenth. It is like playing down a narrow corridor with horrors waiting both right and left. If you pull your second shot then you are down with the dead men playing from the bottom of a steep slope with no idea where the flag is. Out right and you are in the heather or the pine trees where simply finding your ball is every bit as difficult as the shot you have left yourself with. A par here is cause for some modest celebration.
End in Sight
Our group are not normally fans of courses that start or end with a par three as we like the closing holes to be the climax to a round where you are hanging on to a good score. So we were unprepared for quite how good the par three, 18th is at Parkstone. At 201 yards/184 metres off the back tee, bunkers protect the green with a bank at the front and spitefully thick heather at the right and back.
Again from a raised tee box, one launches a drive into the sky and simply hope that it is enough. Being slightly short here is far better than being long. We can now look across at the first hole where we began but also, and more satisfyingly, up to the large and welcoming clubhouse. This is where we will sit and enjoy the view down over the last, from the balcony and hopefully talk about the good pars we have just made.
Parkstone is a special place with another cracker just 20 minutes away to the north. It is a course with history, atmosphere and quality and should be on any keen golfer’s wish list of places to play. And more importantly, enjoy.
Take the Broadstone Challenge
Having said goodbye to the well manicured beauty of Parkstone, our small group of four took on our next challenge. Rated as the county’s finest, Broadstone Golf Club only narrowly shades the recognized top spot from its near neighbour. The simple answer is to play both and make your own mind up.
The first golf course at Broadstone was founded by Ivor Guest, the first Lord of Wimborne on his Cranford estate. The much travelled Scottish golfer Tom Dunn, designed the course. He also created Sheringham in Norfolk, and the Richmond golf club in south-west London. Dunn’s design was like the curate’s egg: only parts of it were quite excellent.
That doyen of early golf writers, Bernard Darwin, had this to say about the place: ‘Broadstone is, I think, rather an easy course to remember, although I have seen the holes but once. I can play them all quite clearly in my mind’s eye, save only the park holes, which truth to tell are not much worth remembering.’
In 1914, Harry Colt was called in to improve the layout. Colt is also the designer of courses at Sunningdale, Royal St George’s, and the King’s and Queen’s at Gleneagles. He cut 11 new holes on the heath rather than the parkland with which Darwin was so unimpressed. This created what we play today, between the fifth and 16th holes.
Dutch architect, Frank Pont has since been brought in to regenerate the Broadstone course. He has specialised in Colt’s golf courses over the years and has the task of bringing some energy back to the Dorset gem.
Before teeing off it is important to say that Broadstone is an extremely welcoming place. We received a cheery good morning from the general manager Ed Richardson, when we arrived. The bar staff are equally friendly. Having fortified ourselves with adult refreshment in preparation, we were in an extremely relaxed frame of mind teeing off at the 490 yard/448 metre par 5 first.
There is a sinuous stretch of water that runs diagonally from right to left across the bulk of the fairway that forces us left towards two lurking bunkers. The hole, like the course itself is not long, but can prove extremely awkward. That is one of its many strengths. You do not need to hit the ball miles to be able to score well here, but you do need to be accurate. And be on your game or else heather and sand awaits in abundance!
Challenging Holes and Challenging Climbs
The course is primarily laid out in a large anti-clockwise loop. Although we faced a number of steep climbs that led us up to raised tee boxes, they offer some terrific views over the golf courses and the surrounding Dorset countryside. The mature deciduous and pine trees blow with the sea air coming in from the nearby English Channel.
The first real test of our legs however, comes when we scramble up to the par 4, third. This hole sums up pretty much everything that Broadstone is all about. It is not long at 374 yards/342 metres, but we do need to be on the left hand side of the fairway for the best second shot. This is in, over a pond that sits in front of a two-tiered green, that runs back towards it. It is a truly subtle golf hole and we shall meet more of them.
Taking on The Brute
We also took on an absolute brute of a hole at seven. It didn’t help that the wind was in our faces either. We have to drive to a plateau at the top of a slope on this 422 yard/386 metre par 4, making sure that we do not go left. Otherwise, we’ll disappear down a steep slope covered in thick heather. If we drive too far we’ll also get tangled up in some nasty stuff that gives us no chance of going for the green.
The sensible option, provided we land on the fairway, is to simply drop the second shot down into the valley. This would ensure that we leave ourselves short of a gigantic cross bunker. All we have to do then, is play almost blindly onto the green that rolls back towards us and the sandy vastness. For most golfers a five should be greeted with relief and a four with unalloyed delight. Small wonder it is designated as the hardest hole on the course.
A short walk from the green is a halfway house that will come as a welcome respite to many. Very sadly, on the day that we played it was closed, so three of us marked sixes on our card and moved on. A tough par 3 and the longest hole on the course on the course complete our front nine, and we may well need a pause to get our breath back.
The Back Nine
The spirits lift at the start of the back nine as there is a sense that we are coming down from the summit. We are sadly disabused of that feeling when we roll through a quick switchback of par 4s from twelve to fourteen. Thirteen was another cracking hole however. It was another serious test with a raised green protected by four bunkers and that falls away right to left. This is most likely where our second, or even third, shot is coming from on this 442 yard/404 metre hole.
We are now on the homeward stretch. My one note of minor disappointment is that the 18th is far from the most dramatic hole on the property. Although, the green is far longer and more difficult than it looks on the approach. At 373 yards/341 metres, a course of this stature really deserves something more dramatic given the quality of what has gone before.
However, that is a minor quibble. Broadstone may not be long enough to host professional tournaments, but it is a grand test for the amateur and one that is as satisfying as it is challenging. This heathland beauty is one that our party all wanted to get back and play again and again. With Parkstone so close golf lovers should take the time to enjoy the delights of both as often as possible.
Golf Courses in Dorset
It is safe to say that I will be back to Dorset, even if it is just for these two golf courses. However, as I have alluded to above, there are some beautiful seaside towns along the coastline, stunning views and a range of nice country pubs to enjoy a drink along with your round.
If you have already played one or both of these courses, we’d love to know how the experience was for you. Don’t forget to leave a review on Leadingcourses.com and give other golfers the ability to share these beautiful courses!