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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Feldon Valley

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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

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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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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

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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

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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).

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Berkhampsted

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WelcomeBerkhampsted GC is one of the poshest (£70 per round on weekends) parkland courses we have played. Typically, parkland courses are at the lower end of the price and exclusivity spectrums. But the considerable number of dog-walkers passing through does amplify the dog-friendliness vibe.

Walk – Talk about a “ruff” landscape. The terrain is flat mostly (a bit of a climb to the final hole) and there are no bunkers. But more than making up for these concessions is a battery of shrubbery moats (see picture below) and bracken laden ramparts (never flanking, but always crossing the “fairway” at the most inconvenient locations). I think they hired the set designer for The Game of Thrones to plot layout this course.  This epic landscape, of course, delighted Grace who enjoyed a big uptick in the number of stray balls to sniff out.

Water – The late summer date meant that the few water hazards around were completely dried up. But the halfway house after the 8th (also near the clubhouse) has a fountain (off for COVID), and is open, serving drinks (and a few other packaged refreshments) and able to fill water bowls or bottles.

Wildlife – Curiously devoid of critters aside from a few loitering crows.

Wind Down – We had booked the top recommendation for area on Doggie Pubs – The Boat. It is a lovely canal-side establishment (but you can’t book an outdoor table, it’s first come first served). But we weren’t feeling well so we wound down with a simple cuppa at home this outing.

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Dulwich and Sydenham

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Welcome – Today’s dog golfing venture we had planned for a long time since it is in the neighbourhood where our son lives – Dulwich and Sydenham. All of the members we happened upon greeted us warmly (in a socially distant manner) and one in particular noted that he was always pleased to see dogs out with their owners on the course. But there is nothing more welcoming than a fellow golfing dog and we happened upon a most charming one named Alfie (see photo below) who was ever so sweet to Grace and thoroughly enjoy his day out with his human.

Walk – I never thought of southeast London as the mountainous region of the metropolis, but I guess nearby areas such as Tulse Hill, Herne Hill, Streatham Hill, Dog Kennel Hill (!), Brixton Hill, Pollards Hill and Forest Hill should have provided a clue. Several holes did require some quite orthogonal traverses.

Wildlife – This course has more Canadian Geese than a Mountie’s Molson beer fest at a moose ranch (see photo below). Geese are to D&S what ponies are to the New Forest. At times it seemed that either we were being stalked by a flock of them, or else each hole had its own resident flock.

Water – In wetter times, the many water hazards – a ratio pretty of much a little pond or stream for every hole – might have provided some handy on course refreshment for Grace, but in the late summer when we played last week, they were all dried out. There is a halfway hut at the 8th hole and though the café is not operating, the toilets are available and have running water. Also, the 7 and 15 pass by the clubhouse if you wanted to make a quick detour in a pinch, but may be difficult in all but the most empty days. The course also has water fountains at the 3rd and 15th, but those are turned off due to COVID protocols.

Wind Down – We chose our wind down spot a little bit further than we had to (in the city there are plenty of pubs all around) albeit just over a mile away by foot – The Archie Parker. Full disclosure, The Archie Parker is a café where our son (one of Grace’s favourite humans), Chase, works and he has been a key part of setting it up and building it with his partner, Zoe. It turns out that “Archie Parker” is himself a dog (Zoe’s). Now since passed away, but the dog-friendly ethos remains. While it commands top reviews for the area, we were especially drawn to visit by the warm weather since they opened Forest Hill’s only café garden out back where we joined Chase, Zoe and our daughter (and her dog Joey) for lovely drinks (next door is their sister venue the Forest Hill Gin Club so G&Ts were the tipple of choice).

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Wessex

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Welcome – Our recent camping “stayUKation” gave us not only the opportunity to notch another dog-friendly course, but also a new county to our list of dog golfing experiences – Dorset. Wessex golf centre was minutes down the road from our camp site overlooking Chesil Beach in Weymouth.

Walk – Under 3,000 yards and all of them flat make this executive course a particularly light dog walk.

Water – With the course being so small, you are really never that far from the clubhouse you could scurry back to if in desperate need of a drink. The 5th hole does sit on the far end of the course and features a small pond which had some fresh water from a recent downpour to give Grace some mid-round refreshment.

Wildlife – A seagull or two passing by.

Wind Down – Instead of Doggie Pubs, we just asked the Wessex GC attendant for a pub recommendation and he proposed Marquis Of Granby just down the street. It appeared to be set in an industrial estate that you pass through, but it turns out to be just on the outside. The “pub” has more of a working man’s club feel, but the expanse of tables made it easier to accommodate many people in a social distant way. It did have some outdoor seating at the front and back, but we opted to stay in with the changeable weather. We only had a drink, but the menu was extensive. And one thing that did stand out was the speedy service. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten served my drink so quickly (and at a table no less) which was most welcome.

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Brickendon Grange

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Welcome – Admittedly, we were rolling the dice to play this day. The forecasts had called for “thundershowers” all week, but on the day of, it said showers in the morning and mostly sunny all day. We booked a late afternoon round. Curiously and considerately, the course called us shortly after to say that their forecasts had called for showers later in the day and so they wanted to confirm that we wanted to play and if we did they would provide a discount to our round. I thought that was all very kind and welcome, but the clouds were parting and we thought we were going to be on the winning side of this bet. On the second hole, we did get a passing “little black rain cloud” that sprinkled on us (you know, a rain cloud directly above and blue sky every where else). But other than that, the day just got better. When we stopped for some refreshment at the 9th hole, the skies above were 100% clear. We were musing about how we might do some stargazing that evening, but

Water – In the end, maybe a bit too much water this round. As we proceeded on the back nine, the skies did get cloudier and cloudier until the heavens opened completely on the 17th. With a fair hike to the car park, we were completely soaked by the time we arrived. At least we earned our discount.

Not just water falling from the clouds, but also considerable amounts from water fountains. The path to the 1st tee featured a drinking fountain (obviously disabled for COVID19 protocol) and more than one of the several water features included a spouting fountain in the center.

Ponds at the 5th, 8th, 17th and 18th all brimming from recent showers made for very accessible drinks and dips for Grace. Unfortunately, I had my own Jean van de Velde Carnoustie moment on the 5th when I insisted on using a pitching wedge to get over the pond with a lie on a downward slope when I should have (and eventually did) used a loft wedge.

Walk – Aside from the top and tail (1st and 2nd, and then the 17th and 18th) of a big drop hole followed by a big climb hole), the course was a pretty level. We often ask when we check in whether the course returns to the clubhouse at the 9th which allows us to restock on water (or use the facilities to dispose of some water ingested). Some courses set off and never return until the final hole, but Brickendon circles back at the 6th, 9th, 12th and of course the 18th. Not only does this layout make facilities accessible, but it also make the course one of the most scalable that we have come across. That is to say that if you don’t feel up to a full 18, you can play 6, 9, 12 or even 14 holes (as it is easy to clip the 15th and 16th by going from the 14th green to the 17th tee).

Wildlife – Squirrel! Saw quite a few scampering squirrels including one who boldly crept up to the terrace where we were enjoying a mid-round drink. Obviously, conditioned that dining patrons might drop or share some of their nibbles, but instead of crumbs from the table, Mr. Furry Rodent discovered Grace sitting there staking her claim to anything falling from the table. After a moment’s surprised hesitation, the squirrel decide to volte face to more inviting areas.

Wind Down – Apres la deluge…Just down the road from Essendon I had found Bakers Arms at the top of the Doggie Pubs in the area, but its website’s booking didn’t work properly so I skipped it and moved on to the next one (customer service rookie error). Back in the neighbourhood and the establishment even closer to Brickendon Grange, I decided to pick up the telephone and call for a booking which worked fine. Their service was impeccable as they brought towels out for us to remove water and brought out a drinking bowl for Grace for her to fill up on water. The food was tasty and the warm, homey atmosphere lifted our drenched spirits.

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