Surrey National

Surrey National 1

Welcome – Throughout our round at Surrey National we encountered dog-walkers on the bridleways and rambling paths which crisscross the course, and every member we came upon was quite enchanted by Gracie-girl.

Walk – While much of Surrey is low-lying downs, Surrey National is in the western Surrey Hills. Located in Caterham, the first clue was in the town sign welcoming us to “Caterham on the Hill”. At times, the fairways seemed like something out of the film “Inception”. On one hand the they were exceptionally forgiving being some of the widest fairways we have played (much to Grace’s disappointment as we didn’t hit a single drive into the rough all day). On the other hand, if you didn’t drive with some degree of precision, you would find yourself rolling to all sorts of inconvenient lies. The verticality does make the course exceptionally photogenic with dramatic vistas at every bend (we gave Grace treats for posing for the extra photos we were taking since she was missing out on ball-finding rewards).

Water – Two sizeable water hazards were reasonably accessible and fresh, and the course swings back around to the clubhouse for water if needed.

Wildlife – Despite the two ponds, we didn’t come across any water fowl, but curiously we encountered pheasants on the course several times. Our house is crawling with the game birds (and English partridge) so Grace was completely non-plussed.

Wind Down – Another week before pubs open properly, but the bar at the Surrey National clubhouse was selling bottled drinks and snacks. We joined quite a few golfers grabbing a drink and sitting on the large knoll overlooking the 18th green for a bit of a wind-down at the end (see photos at top and bottom).

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Milford

Milford 1

Welcome – With the sunny weather and coronavirus furloughs packing the courses, we chatted for a bit with a foursome of some very friendly members who were most enchanted by Grace. They were particular admiring of her ball sniffing abilities to find stray shots. So I maintain that my subsequent drive into the rough off the tee was simply to show off Grace’s party trick.

Walk – With our midday tee time on the hottest day of the year so far, the broad, open fairways were less appealing than they otherwise would have been. A few more trees (aka “slice magnets”) would have actually been more welcome for some much needed shade.

Water – The course features two sizeable water hazards – on the 7th and 11th – which are fairly accessible and seem fresh enough that Grace was able to wade in, cool her legs, and get a few sips. The 8th hole returns to the club house so you can refill your water supply there.

Wildlife – The two lakes are obviously inviting homes to waterfowl and the first one was graced with a lovely family of ducks with seven ducklings trailing along behind mommy. And the other lake had a sizeable flock of Canadian geese. Both sets of birds made their way to the middle of the lake whenever ever a golfer strolled by so they never really were much of a distraction for Grace.

Wind Down – Coronavirus continues to limit the options for post-round wind-downs. I looked again on the Doggie Pubs site for pubs that be at least be offering take-away but after going down the list of the ten closest establishments – none of them open at all – I gave up.

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Greys Green

Greys Green 1

WelcomeGreys Green public course’s welcome was a warm as the heat wave hitting the country especially with our late afternoon tee time. Many signs at the reception make clear that dogs are welcome. We passed a number of dog walkers using the paths which cross through the course, and we even happened upon a fellow dog-golfer with an ever so alert border collie in tow.

Walk – The course does undulate like It Zwibble’s Mount Lumpy Bumpy all way onto the greens which have more curves than a Ruben’s pinup. But other than the roly-poly terrain, it is all a relatively flat walk. Except for the 16th hole which plummets from the tee and then climbs steeply to the green after the most severely angled dog-leg I have ever seen (putting the dog-leg into dog-golf). At 6000+ metres, the course provides a plenty long walk, but that measurement understates the true length of perambulation. Many of the holes have a 100+ yard walk from pin to tee. The walk from reception to the 1st tee is longer than many par 4s. Fortunately, with the sunny day, all these traipsing transfers are nearly all shaded in a lovely canopy of trees. Another bonus to the walk was the exceedingly well marked signs to the next hole at every green. Being habitual visitors to new courses, our walks are often inadvertently extended by getting misdirected along the course so we were particularly appreciative of this feature.

Water – A number of artificial rain-water catcher ponds were pretty much dried up, but the 9th hole does return to the reception where you can buy bottled water.

Wildlife – Given the rough-and-ready aesthetic of the course, it was no surprise to come upon all manner of wildlife including rabbits and even a herd of cattle in an adjacent field. But the biggest surprise (perhaps of all out outings) was the fly-by of a micro-light down the 18th hole fairway (see photo at bottom).

Wind Down – Coronavirus is still keeping the pubs shut and a scan of dog-friendly pubs did not uncover any in the area offering even take-away in the lock-down. However, the day of our game the government did make the announcement about pubs opening on 4th July so soon we will be able to resume our post-dog-golfing wind downs.

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Abbey Hill

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Welcome – The Abbey Hill golf course is part of an elaborate complex which Includes:

  • 18 Hole course
  • Par-3 course
  • Foot golf course
  • “Pirate Adventure” “crazy golf course (or “miniature golf” as the USA northerners call it, or “putt-putt golf as the USA southerners call it).

So, the place has a very relaxed vibe where a canine in tow did not seem out of place at all. In fact, we did happen upon a couple of dog walkers strolling on the paths flanking the course.

Walk – Again, in the upper reaches of Buckinghamshire levels out so the entire course is laid on largely flat terrain.

Wildlife – Only a few random birds and squirrels.

Water – With a deluge of rain the week before, a number of bunkers had become their own beachy water hazards on the day. The course features a few proper water hazards in back nine, but even with the recent rainfall, they were mostly stagnant and wouldn’t have been much refreshment for Grace. Fortunately, the 10th hole returns to the main building where you can refill your water bottle.

Wind Down – We found a pub nearby offering take-away, but we couldn’t finish our round before they closed the kitchen for the day (at 5:30 pm…go figure). During non-COVID times, the main Abbey Hill Golf Centre features a Café Bar & Grill with a specious outdoor terrace that would seem to suit nicely.

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I’m Only Thinking of Fido

One dividend of the lock-down has been a chance to invest a bit more time into finding dog-friendly courses in the UK. A big help has been the rise of social media. Now most courses have Facebook pages and they appear to be more responsive to Facebook messages than they were to emails when I conducted my initial research a few years ago (stay tuned for updates).

In the process of enquiring about course policies, I got the following answer:

  • As much as we love dogs unfortunately we cannot permit them at the course for their safety. It’s our club’s policy for the safety of players and their treasured pets. We wouldn’t wish to risk a dog to come loose and get hit by a golf cart or a car, or get lost on the course.”

If a golf club does not want to have dogs on their course, then that is their prerogative. But I do object to this faux-righteous justification that it is for the sake of the dogs.

There is zero evidence that dogs on golf courses represent any substantive dangers above and beyond just being dog. And the standard policies of having a dog “under control” or “on a lead” dramatically reduces the risk any dog faces to any hazard (golf related or not).

Dogs have been an integral part of the golfing since its beginning. The oldest and most prestigious golf clubs in the world are also the most dog-friendly – eg. St. Andrews, Sunningdale, Wentworth, Muirfield, Turnberry. In the UK, over 500 courses welcome dogs and yet there are virtually no cases of dogs being seriously hurt by their presence.

If you Google “dog hit by golf ball”, you come up with 2 instances – one in Winnipeg, Canada in 1926, and one questionable account (very few details and unsubstantiated in any other reports) in Rossendale in 2010. In both cases, the dogs were running freely and out of control so the obvious safety measure would be to insist on control or a lead which all courses who allow dogs do.

The bizarre extremity of the course’s excuse reminded me of the song from the musical “Man of La Mancha” called “I’m Only Thinking of Him”. Two relatives embarrassed by Don Quixote’s behavior seek to get him committed to an insane asylum to alleviate their discomfort:

But or what he’s done to me
I would like to take and lock him up
And throw away the key!
But if I do… but if I do
There is one thing
That I swear will still be true
I’m only thinking of him.

Feel free to abandon the tradition of golfing with dogs  (as old as the sport itself), but don’t blame it on the dogs or credit yourself as caring for the dogs’ welfare.

 

Lee Valley

Lee Valley 1

WelcomeLee Valley golf course’s slightly scruffy appearance does make it less fussy and more relaxed so you don’t feel self-conscious with Fido in tow. You enter the course through a caravan park which shares a reception with the course. In the window, a prominent sign says “No dogs except guide dogs”, but it is referring to dogs staying in the caravan park.

Water – The biggest fresh water feature I have ever seen at a golf course (obviously excluding the ocean at various seaside resorts). The front nine simply takes you in a circular route around a 5 acre lake. Furthermore, the middle nine flanks the eponymous River Lee. Neither bodies of water are readily accessible for your dog to grab a sip (except lake can be accessed from the 7th). The 10th does take you round back to the entrance where you can go to the caravan park for some water (a couple hundred yards walk though).

Wildlife – The play through the front nine is a bit reminiscent of the Hitchcock classic “The Birds”. I have never seen so many and so many different birds at a golf course. Especially lots of seabirds like gulls and terns who were collected on the little patch of land in the middle of the lake squawking loudly like some sort of political rally. Swans, ducks, coots, grebes. Also, the adjacent William Griling Reservoir, several times even bigger than the course lake, also drew many waterfowl flying overhead throughout the game.

Walk – The walk is a leisurely stroll on very flat terrain with plenty of visual interest especially in the first half with the lake on your right shoulder.

Wind Down – Lee Valley is situated in quite an urban part of east London amidst industrial parks and roadways. So the pubs nearby are in pretty limited supply regardless of coronavirus restrictions. However, the course is part of the larger Lee Valley Park complex which also includes the ODEAN Luxe Lee Valley and Lee Valley Leisure Centre both of which offer a variety of refreshments. And the surrounding park area provides plenty of places to consume them with your dog by your side at your bench or table. Due to the lockdown, all the establishments were shut for business (however, side note, another recent addition to the facility is a COVID19 mobile testing area in the parking lot).

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Windmill Hill

Windmill Hill 1

Welcome – We are venturing into the northern part of our very own home county, Buckinghamshire, to try a few of the Milton Keynes area course the welcome dogs. First stop was Windmill Hill golf course. A well-appointed course with well-groomed fairways, and a relaxed ambiance to it. We didn’t see any fellow dog golfers, but we did come across a local dog-walker passing through.

Walk – Another long walk with the yellow tees measuring 6,385 yards. Until the mid-1980s, the course was one of the longest in Europe. But, resting on the table of Aylesbury Vale, it is all very level ground making the hike a bit easier. That includes 5 par 5 holes! One thing that Lori appreciated was that on 7 holes the Ladies tees were around 100 yards ahead (the 16th hole was a 117 yard advantage) of the yellow tees which took the sting out of the long fairways for her drive (and yet perversely, there were 3 holes where the Ladies reds were behind the yellows). So I had to be extra careful of my duff shots for fear of elevated risk of “willy rule” penalty!

Water – Water on the course itself is quite unavailable. It has a couple of water features that have been created, but they are not naturally fed and early in the season they were quite dried out. However, for the first time in what seems like ages, the course does return to the clubhouse on the 9th hole (so you can get water there).

Wildlife – Nothing much of interest (to us or Grace) aside from a few pigeons (flying rats) and squirrels (rats with fluffy tails).

Wind Down – Once again we thought we would give a try to supporting a nearby dog-friendly pub with ordering some take-away. However, going through the DoggiePubs list in the area, we extended to a nearly ten mile radius and still couldn’t find an establishment advertising take-away food or drink. But, as we were driving to the course we passed a sign advertising The Lowndes Arms pub just a couple miles away that also noted being dog friendly. When we arrived, it was buzzing. It was serving a limited range of drinks (mostly beer and cider) as take-away, but it did have a large beer garden where people were consuming their beverages in a socially distant manner. The food was limited to crisps, but they do a Sunday roast take-away you can book in advance. Despite the limitations, it was encouraging and refreshing to sit down to a post-round pint, or any pub pint, for the first time in months.

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West Berkshire

West Berkshire 1

Welcome – Well into the dog golfing season now with extra opportunity to catch up on lost fairway time from their closure as Lori and I are both on furlough (Grace is always on furlough). Having explored the dog-friendly courses near our West Wycombe home, we now have to venture out a bit further (about an hour’s drive) to find new courses to check out. Fortunately, the reduced work schedule and long summer days are giving us plenty of time for such forays. Our latest took us to the exquisite course of West Berkshire.

Walk –The course is lengthy at 7+ km (blue tees), but meanders along fairly flat ground with a number of lovely vistas as a backdrop. Manicured expansive fairways surrounded by the most picturesque plantation of trees. Unfortunately, the flanking woods made retrieval of sliced drives harder than in conventional grassy rough. Still, we were still dusting off enough cobwebs from our form that Grace had plenty of opportunity to find stray balls (much to her delight).

Water – The course has a few small and stagnant pools of water around the course. And the clubhouse features a striking water feature, but it the steep sides keep it from being accessible for a few laps of water. But the generous supply of water is at the clubhouse and half-way hut. The course is designed that more holes return to the clubhouse than any course I have played. Conventional layout would have the 9th hole returning to the clubhouse either for a mid-round break or to facilitate playing a half-course. But at West Berkshire, the 2nd, 5th, 8th (as well as obviously the 18th) all arrive at the clubhouse. Also, there is a half-way hut that in normal times would provide a loo, food, and water (but it is closed now due to the coronavirus protocols) that sits at the end of the 4th, 9th, and 16th. So over a third of the holes finish near a place to get some water.

Wildlife – Quite a number of squirrels (the bane of many a dog’s focus) darted about teasingly in front of Grace, but she’s too much of an old dog to pay them much heed.

Wind Down – The pubs are still on lock-down, but we thought that we would try again to support one of the dog-friendly pubs nearby who were carrying on with carry-out. Scrolling through the DoggiePubs website, it wasn’t until we came to The Castle Inn in Cold Ash until we found someone advertising take-away in the area. It was a full 7 miles away from the course, but most of that was on our way home. They served up a tasty burger and some okay cod and chips topped off by a lovely syrup sponge (with lots of custard!). Truly good pub grub and just what we needed after such a long course and an hour drive home. The service was impeccable and they commented that they are truly dog-friendly as dogs typically outnumber humans during normal times.

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Guildford

Guildford 1

Welcome  – Dog golfing is back! The eased UK lock-down restrictions now allow for golfing with a number of provisos to impede virus transmission (eg. parties limited to two-somes, all green flags to be left in place to eliminate touching, golf-carts sanitised after every use, number of people limited in pro-shops, social distancing practiced on course, etc). And Guildford Golf Club was a superbly relaxing way to ease back into dog golfing. A relaxed course with mostly expansive fairways (except for a needle threading Hole 2) and gentle slopes, and a relaxed welcome to canine caddies. It is a parkland course so people are walking their dogs everywhere. In fact, when we set out, we met Lola (photo above) just coming off the course who plays the course regularly. You will also find courtesy doggie bag depositories and water bowls along the course. Sadly, it was our first outing since the lost of Grace’s energetic companion, Rusty, but Grace was happy to be out traipsing along side the trolleys.

Walk – The course features a couple of inclines, but mostly undulates gently with a number of striking views of the Surrey countryside in the distance.

Water – The bad news is that the course layout is “out and back” so it never swings back by the clubhouse (to get water) until the very end. The good news is that the course has water fountains with dog bowls!) at a couple places around the course (we saw one at the 12th hole). The bad news is that these weren’t operational when we tried them (maybe turned off for fear of spreading COVID19).

Wildlife – Actually, the course had very few critters that we came across. There are no water hazards to lure water fowl. And the course is in a more open area (rather than a wooded area). The profusion of dog-walkers with their dogs passing regularly through the area probably plays a major role in keeping wildlife at bay. So relatively few distractions for Grace through the play.

Wind Down – Dog golfing might be back, but doggie pubs are still pretty much off line. We went through DoggiePubs.org.uk looking for any nearby pubs offering take-away service and they were mostly completely closed with the lockdown. We finally came upon, the Send Inn in Guildford who had arranged a full take-away menu to keep their kitchen going during the lock down, but when we called to order it turned out that there was a nearly 2 hour wait for booking a pickup slot. So our wind down turned out to be sunset cocktail in our backyard…like so many days these past few months.

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