Whilst we can enjoy the fact that having found our way to Kington in West Herefordshire, the car does most of the climbing up Bradnor Hill we must hope that we are also blessed with a relatively still, clear day because golf up here when the wind blows hard can prove well nigh impossible whilst the views are truly stupendous.
Some 21 miles northwest of the county town of Hereford and hard by the Welsh border, the Kington course opened in 1925. It was designed by London born and Eton educated, CK Hutchison, best known for Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire and assisting James Braid in the creation of the King’s Course at Gleneagles. Having driven, slowly just in case of meeting anyone coming down, up the steep winding drive to the hilltop clubhouse, the immediate thing that strikes first-time visitors is the stupendous view.
On a clear day the Brecon Beacons National Park, Black Mountains, the Radnorshire Hills, Hergest Ridge, the Malvern and Clee Hills all come into view, covering seven English and Welsh counties in all. Indeed that number, 1284, that you can see above the club crest on members’ pullovers is not the date of the small but charming local town but the number of feet we are above sea level.
Perhaps the most dramatic way to enjoy this is if we tee off in a mist that gently rises on the way round as I did when I played here first many years ago when the sun breaks through and the panorama unfolds there are few more spectacular places to play golf anywhere in England.
And there are no bunkers, the reason being that the powerful winds that sometimes whip across this hilltop would blow all the sand clean away. Hutchison, sensibly designed grass bunkers, then popular in Scotland. The land is owned by the National Trust and includes part of the 82-mile, Offa’s Dyke that was constructed over 1,300 years ago by the King of what was then known as Mercia to keep out the marauding raiding parties of Welsh. Despite being on the far side of the dyke, Kington is still located in England.
This is natural parkland golf, grazed by wandering sheep on springy turf that is great for walking, and we shall see many cagoule clad hikers with packs following the dyke trail. It also creates some favourable lies provided we are straight off the tee and some particular fast, closely mown greens. At 5,961 yards it is also quite short, where low handicap players may only be reaching for the driver once at the long par-four eighth, known as ‘Hill Top’, but sometimes a driver is needed far more often, particularly when heading straight in the wind that blows up from the south-west.
There are challenges right from the off as we climb up the steep first fairway where, if we are very unlucky, the ball could well come rolling back towards us from both our drive and second and, if the golfing gods are truly against us and the hole is cut at the front, it is even possible to putt clean off the green from behind the pin and see it disappearing back down the hill again. But do not be deterred because this is all part of the fun of playing here and fun is very much what golf at Kington is all about.
After the first steep climb we have a respite as we come to a plateau where we can see five golf holes stretching out before us. The second, where we sweep gently right around the hill with the par three third tee box a short step behind the green and to our left holes 15, 16 and 17.
Whilst we may be slightly breathless when we reach the fourth tee, as it is set steeply above the third green, we can take time to enjoy a wonderful view across this green country. Or, if we are feeling idle, we could always hire a buggy, although to fully appreciate this course it is best to walk it. But let’s take our time as the fourth is a tough, golf hole of 421 yards with ferns and heather waiting to ensnare us on either side. A firm two-tier green awaits and it is best to feed shots in from the left.
Highlights, apart from the views, include the fiercely tricky eighth, at 433 yards the toughest hole on the course, into a green that is well protected by grass bunkers and the short, par-3 ninth, where the course planner recommends we pause briefly to look down on Wales, something that may well strike a cord with any number of English golfers!
After the turn we come steadily back down the hill with the par-5 14th, at 554 yards the longest on the course, providing a chance to really open the shoulders and make use of the slope provided we can keep it straight. With the wind behind us, we can get home with a drive and a well-struck rescue club. With the sloping hillsides, placement is far more important than power at Kington although there are a number of risk and reward holes where we can ‘go for it’ provided the elements are in our favour.
If we have amassed a decent score then the short par four last provides the opportunity to bow out in a blaze of glory. Known as ‘The Quarry’ this par four is only 279 yards and slopes down left to right into a long narrow green from which we can see the members looking on with interest. I have had both triumph and disaster here.
The former came with a well-struck drive just to the left of the green that pitched perfectly and rolled the remaining 40 yards or so ending 14 feet past the pin only for my eagle putt to lip out. The latter came this year after a skied drive that left a 70-yard shot still to go from the left. With the ball below my feet, I managed to shank a wedge right into the undergrowth and disaster. I found my ball, unplayable, in deep foliage and skulked off trying very hard not to look up at those clubhouse windows.
However, for all that, I know that I will return to the blustery delights of this friendly and welcoming course both to play it and also enjoy sitting inside watching others take on the last with a glass of the delicious, locally produced cider in my hand.
Copyright © 2007-2023 — leadingcourses.com