Donnington Valley

Donnington Valley 1 dog golf

Welcome – Everyone greeted Grace with a cheery smile.

Walk – “Donnington ValleyS” might be a better name. The course itself is cradled in a picturesque Berkshire dale made all the more so by the colourful foliage of the late year afternoon. Then the course itself had its share of sub-undulations along the holes. And then the fairways and approaches themselves were littered with towering mounds and plummeting indentions (many of which were elongated sand trenches masquerading as a sort of sadistic bunker). It was valleys within valleys within valleys.

Water – The most striking water feature we have come across exploited the verticality of the landscape with a multi-tiered waterfall trickling down from one water hazard above to another below. The course also featured a pond with a fountain by the clubhouse and another by the 4th hole. With the recent precipitation, these were all filled to the brim with crystal clear water. And all except the pond below the falls were easily accessible for plenty of drinking by Grace.

Wildlife – A number of waterfowl (especially at the two-tier feature) including Egyptian Geese and quite a large flock of moorhens.

Wind Down – The clubhouse bar closed exactly when we pulled up to the window (4:30 pm). But not to worry as just down the road was the extremely welcoming pub, The Castle. They not only brought a dog bowl full of water to the table, but also offered Grace doggie-sausage treats which she appreciated as much s I enjoyed my Guinness. Not surprising that every patron in the establishment had their own pup in tow.

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Dog Golf Hall of Fame

Dog Golf Hall of Fame

As I have become more acquainted with the dog golfing community over the years, it is clear that some dogs stand out for their quality as a course companion and their extensive experience on the fairways. I’ve wanted to showcase some of the special dogs, and then visiting a course recently I was struck by the various wooden honour boards (“Ladies Champion”, “Club Captain”, “Holes in One”). I thought Dog Golf should have its own honour board.

Big thanks to Steve Spalding at Gold Tree Bespoke who are leaders in the leaderboard business making many of these honour boards for golf clubs and elsewhere. Steve provided the customised digital board above onto which we could inscribe the names of our honourees.

For the inaugural induction, there really could be no other than the co-inspiration for the site in the first place – Rusty.

  • Rusty pioneered dog golfing in the UK as one of the Dog Golf UK poster pups visiting over 30 courses in her lifetime. Her love of the outdoors and her attentiveness compensated for her occasional over-enthusiasm for a passing woodland critter.

  Rusty dog golf hall of fame

Golf Dogs of Instagram

A great source of “golf dogs” is the social media site of the moment, Instagram. Unfortunately, it is not as great a site for identifying dog-friendly courses. I explored Instagram, especially the #doggolf tag with 820 posts (for some reason #golfdog has 19,087 posts!).

Of course there was over half of the pictures with hashtag grenades that only vaguely has anything to do with “doggolf”. Some were just dogs on indoor putting matts or sitting on a golf club at home. But a good number showed a dog actually on a golf course – just over 100. A dozen or so posts that were not geotagged, I DMed the post to ask which course they were on. Only 2 people got back to me (and they clarified that dogs were no actually allowed on the course for one of the reasons below).

Nearly 90 were actually geotagged with the name of the course so I simply contacted all of those courses. About a quarter (22) of the courses got back to me. 6 confirmed that they were dog friendly (so I added them to the Worldwide Dog Golfing Map). The other 18 told me that they did not allow dogs. Which did beg the follow-up reply of “Why does this Instagram post have a picture of a dog on your course?”

These false alarms tend to fall into the following groups:

  • Staff – Especially grounds keepers bringing their dogs to work.
  • Working – Scaring birds and some assistance dogs
  • Dog Walkers – Photos taken “by” the course.
  • Unauthorised – A few snuck rounds
  • Poseurs – Just there for the photo

Let me know by email or in the comments if you know any other courses in the world that welcome dogs.

Feldon Valley

Feldon Valley dog golf 1

Water – “Water” first on this write-up. If there is one place to find plenty of water, it is in a valley. And on this particular autumn day, the heavens bestowed all the more of it. We had booked an afternoon slot (with a very reasonable twilight rate) which was about the only break in the weather that week. And even then, the dark clouds decided to shake the last few drops from their loins onto us. Still, the late afternoon scattered showers meant one thing that we have come to appreciate and enjoy in the UK more than any other place we have visited…rainbows. On the way, passing through the rolling hills of the upper Cotswolds, we actually enjoyed a double rainbow (see bottom photo).

On the course itself, there were only a half dozen pure water hazards are sprinkled around the course, but slicing right down the middle is a significant flowing steam. Not just a little drainage ditch often found on courses, but an actually geographical feature properly named (Sutton Brook) and everything. It crosses the approaches of several holes that traverse it. The good news is that the stream is a free drop zone. The bad news is that when we were playing in rainy October, it was flowing so swiftly that by the time we got there to retrieve our stray ball, it had been washed away (and even if it wasn’t, the water was so turgid from the flow that there would be no finding it).

WalkFeldon Valley not only sits in a valley (good for views), but somehow has managed to incorporate the traversing of this trough with nearly a third of its holes. Another crossing the chasm course with 5 holes bisected with plummeting crevasses. At least, they had the foresight to construct staircases (yes, “staircases”) on several of these to make navigating them easier.

Welcome – We actually encountered another dog golfer during our round, Otter (see photo above). We had a very quick photo op greeting and Otter’s person waxed appreciative of how great it was to have a course where he could bring Otter.

Wildlife – Maybe the autumnal inclement weather has scared them into cover, but didn’t encounter much at all during our round.

Wind Down – The club looked like it had a quite impressive restaurant which it turns out is dog-friendly as well. In fact, the course is part of a hotel and the hotel welcomes dogs too! However, we had booked a recommended doggie pub down the road for dinner. The Red Lion was one of the most “gastro” of the gastro-pub we have visited recently. Truly tasty and superbly prepared food was just what we needed to take the chill off of our wet outing. Grace felt right at home with other dogs settled on the floor at every other table in our room.

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Alton

Alton dog golf 1

WelcomeAlton golf club is not only one of the most welcoming of dogs, but it is certainly the most welcoming club overall that we have ever played (having played over 70 different courses). On arrival, we met Millie, the resident dog who greeted us warmly (photo below). The members who welcomed us so kindly all knew the many members and their dogs who frequented the course. Mike “Hobbo” was especially kind enough to offer to take our picture which is the first shot we have of all 3 of us on a course (see above)! We stopped at the 9th hole (well, the course is a duplex setup with the “back 9” being variations on the 9 holes of the course) and could have just spent the rest of the day enjoying the affable camaraderie.

Walk – There is good news and bad news. The good news is that the course is a more modest length of 5627 yards. The bad news is that a good chunk of those yards are precipitous ascents. The course is bit like the final throes of a storm at sea being tossed up and down at the outset and eventually settling down to more flattened waters (with a bit of rocking back and forth at the ample number of dog-legs on the course). The silver lining to these high-altitude climbs is that you are treated to some amazing views of the Hampshire countryside at the summits (see below).

Water – Being on such a hilly terrain, it is no surprise that there were no water features (water spots tend to be at the bottom of hills, not the top), but there were water spigots at several places around the grounds. And the course obviously returns to the clubhouse at the 9th where there are dog bowls for Grace’s refreshment.

Wildlife – Not much on the course really, but a (fenced) field of sheep next to the 5th/14th hole (who took great interest in Grace as she passed by).

Wind Down – The “community-owned” White Hart was similarly welcoming to doggie patrons. Even before we had submitted our drink orders, the server had brought a bowl of water to our table for Grace. In fact, at one point in the evening, every single occupied table had a dog companion (and a water bowl on the floor). Unfortunately, the food didn’t quite live up to its trendy gastro-descriptions on the menu. The fancy names of the dishes on the menu didn’t match the pretty ordinary pub grub that came out of the kitchen (eg. the “triple cooked chips” are pretty much standard chips). The best part was the onion rings that had big pieces of onion with not too heavy batter.

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Good Dog Policy

Good dog policy golf

The primary motivation for created DogGolfUK was the inability for Google to identify which clubs allowed dogs and which didn’t. Most clubs simply don’t have dog protocols noted on their websites.

Actually, many courses don’t have a policy at all! A few times, my enquiries have led to questions being tabled at the subsequent course/club Board meetings in which they decided to allow dogs (often aided by the information on the website).

One club which did post their policy prominently is Niddry Castle (see above).I thought I would share it in the post as a model for any other clubs considering adopting similar dog-friendly stances.

[ADDENDUM] Here is another policy published by the Montecchia golf course in Italy which is quite comprehensive.

Best in Tow

Vintage dog golf

Who’s a good golf dog?

A common reaction we get to Grace on the golf course is, “I would love to take my own dog out on the course, but I know that he/she just wouldn’t behave.” After our last round, as we noted, we went to go see our son’s new pup, a retired greyhound named Bonbon. She was so calm and quiet, but obviously enjoys a bit of exercise, so we thought that she would make an exemplary golfing dog (and we hope to get her on the course some day). It made us a reflect on the question of “what are the key qualities to being a ‘good dog’ on the golf course?”

Many people ask about Grace’s breed thinking since she is such a fine golf partner that others of her type will be the same. Temperaments vary hugely even among dogs of the same breed. And temperament is paramount for being on your best canine behaviour on the course.

That said, Vizslas are great – clean (short-hair), intelligent, affectionate (they will often leave their food to get affection). Their biggest downside is that they require LOTS of exercise. A minimum of an hour off-lead running around and sniffing every day. It is their gluttony for particular desire which led us to dog golfing in the first place. The 7k+ walk just about starts to tire a Vizsla out.

If you are looking for a dog that you might consider taking out on the fairways with you, consider these qualities:

  • Volubility: Quiet Please! Probably the most important aspect of good behaviour is quiet. Golf courses are second only to libraries for their sensitivity to auditory distraction. So dog barking is definitely bang out of order. A few good-natured woofs to great someone, for example, are fine. But a dog who does not control their barking will be as unwelcome as a chatterbox at the tee-off. Frustratingly, how vocal a particular dog is seems to be very intrinsic to their individual nature and is very hard to train (you can train a dog to bark on command, but much hard to get them to *not* bark on command).
  • Energy: The more docile ambler is going to be easier than someone who likes to tear around (Grace definitely channels her inner Labrador in her more placid demeanour, but Rusty was a bit of a speed demon who liked to tear around). But a quite older or heavier dog, might not be up to managing an entire 18 holes.
  • Gregariousness: Golf is a social sport and even outside your playing foursome, golfers are generally congenial and cross paths on the course as balls stray near (or even into) each other’s fairway. A dog that is generally comfortable with strangers will be a much more content companion and also make such serendipitous encounters more enjoyable.
  • Biddability: It’s hard enough to get humans to behave according to the exacting protocol of the golf course, especially around minimising distractions with noise and eye line. Dogs need to follow all of these human rules. Even on a lead, the dog needs to be able to control all barking which would be a real course faux paw. And if you intend going around the “under control” courses without lead, exacting biddability is an imperative.
  • Scent: Of course, bonus fun for you and your pup is finding the ball in the rough. This will require (a) a good scent dog (like a Hunt/Point/Retrieve breed), and (b) extra training to find the scent and to point to it (don’t pick it up!).

You can see why Grace is the “face” of Dog Golf. But Rusty was just as central to our outings (when she was still with us) as she loved the outdoor adventure much more than Grace so she exemplifies the very spirit of dog golf.

Croham Hurst

Welcome – Summer is truly over and now we are getting into the “Winter Season.” That means wetter, colder and shorter days. We decided to make our way into Croham Hurst to take advantage of a forecasted break in the weather for a mid-afternoon round to squeeze in some holes since Storm Alex had kept us off the fairways for over a week now. The day started with promising glimpses of sunshine, but as we approached the course, the darker clouds enshrouded Surrey. The rounds were very reasonably priced (£20 on a weekend) so we figured we would tough out as many holes as we could in regardless of what inclement conditions welcomed us.

The most welcome part, for us and Grace, was renting a buggy. This round was the first ever time we have used a buggy in the UK. Buggies are much more common in the USA and nearly every time we have played across the pond we used one (in fact, some courses require their use). It must be either American impatience or laziness. A major dividend from a round for all of us including Grace is the exercise from a 7k+ walk. So a buggy never made sense. But this day, the last few rainclouds were scudding into the area dropping a decent dousings of rain periodically. As a result, we thought that a buggy would be a handy bit of cover to duck into during the rainy bits (which it very much was for the first half hour while the weather got its last few rain clouds out of its system). It also provided the added benefit that we could make it around the course a bit faster. Given the ever-shortening daylight (all the shorter with cloudy skies), we were able to squeeze in a few more holes with our motorized assistance and our late tee time.

Walk – The question was what to do with Grace? Have her ride with us? Have one of us walk with her while the other drove the buggy. Both of us ride the buggy while Grace ran along side? It turns out, “all of the above”. Check out our video below. On one hand, we did bring her along with us during wet spells, but she did get to run beside us otherwise. And she really enjoyed stretching her legs especially as Croham Hurst is a lead required course.

Water – As noted, there was no shortage of water on this particular day. Otherwise, though, the course has no water hazards or run-off streams. Fortunately, the 9th hole features a water fountain (off for COVID) and the 10th swings back by the clubhouse.

Wildlife – I’ve never thought of outer Croydon as a seaside resort, but the most prevalent creatures on the course were flocks of seagulls. Maybe driven inland by Storm Alex or maybe confused by where the seaside stopped and the land began after the recent drenching of the UK.

Wind Down – Another evening at the inimitable Archie Parker to meet its namesake successor, retired greyhound Bonbon. Any time we are in southeast London area we will typically be drawn to our favourite dog-friendly café in the area (now with one of our favourite dogs to visit).

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Drift

Drift dog golf 3

Welcome – One of our recently uncovered dog-friendly places here in the UK is Drift GC. Everyone seemed nonplussed by Grace’s presence, and one particularly friendly lady went out of her way to say hello to her which Grace particularly appreciated (and she isn’t usually as enthusiastic receiving too much attention from strangers).

Walk – While the walk was nicely level, it still seemed to be a bit more tiring than its fairly conventional 6k distance would imply. Plenty of conventional sand and surf hazards, with the bonus hazard of scattered mounds. These carbuncles of turf reminded me of the many fatty lumps and bumps popping up on Grace’s aging body (which were annoying to our approach shots are they sometime are to Grace who fusses with them).

Water – Half dozen sizeable water hazards. Water fountain at the 15th and 9th (shut down for COVID) and the 9th returns to the clubhouse. In fact. the 9th had the water trifecta of a water hazard, a fountain and a halfway hut. The course could go by the nickname the “Ditch” golf club for a long sequence of drainage ditches running along the course. Your slice won’t roll far off the fairway before it is gobbled up by one of these (but in wetter times a ready source of a drink for Grace).

Wildlife – SQUIRREL! Never seen so many squirrels on a golf course. Each hole seemed to have its own resident furry-tailed rodent.

Wind Down – We set down at the nearby The Black Swan which is a charming gastropub striving for cut-above fare. The spatch cock chicken and truffle mac and cheese exceeded expectations though the “tempura” broccoli was just fried in conventional batter that was too doughy. A lovely place with lovely food.

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Kilspindie

Kilspindie dog golf 1

Welcome – We had our first round on a dog-friendly course in another “country” – Scotland. Sadly (for her as much as us), Grace couldn’t join us for our weekend city break to Edinburgh, but that didn’t stop us from hitting the links for our first ever links round hosted by a dear friend, Lindsey in the land of dog friendly golf. Driving to Kilspindie we passed a number of other courses (as you do in Scotland) and on every one you could see several players with dogs. As soon as we arrived, we were greeted a member coming off the course with his spaniel in tow.

Unfortunately, we did happen upon any pups on the course itself during our round to provide a photo opp for this post, but I did find this Instagram post by Erik Anders Lang of resident golfing dog Zulu:

  • “You may know Zulu from our time with Malcolm Duck during the Un/Official Guide to Scotland. Malcolm, in his zest for life, is one of the greatest hosts in Scotland – an already highly hospitable country – telling stories and singing while his faithful Springer Spaniel Zulu jumped through the heather during our rounds at Kilspindie.”

Walk – The course is one of the shortest full courses we have played at just over 5k with no par 5s. And all flat coastal links. What energy was sapped by the bracing sea “breeze” (mini gale) was reinvigorated by the stunning 360 degree scenery in view at every step.

Water – The course features a fountain (turned off for COVID) at the end of the 10th. Otherwise, lots of “water, water everywhere” surrounded by the ocean.

Wildlife – Perhaps the most unusual wildlife creature spotted from a course (though not on the course itself) were the sea lions sunning themselves on the sand bars in the bay. While their namesake is feline, these intelligent and alert aquatic creatures have a personality and demeanor more like canines.

Wind Down – The hurried down the road to the Longniddry Inn for much needed a warming Spanish coffee (made properly) having had a big lunch at The Old Clubhouse in Gullane (which also welcomed plenty of canine companions).

Kilspindie dog golf 2