The Most Dog-Friendly Golfing in the UK

Dog-friendly golfing in the UK

Dog-friendliness lies at the extremes of the UK’s geography and socio-economic landscape. The most dog friendly clubs in the land are found in the extreme north of Scotland or the extreme south of the south coast. Similarly, they are found in the most posh, most elite clubs or conversely the least expensive, casual rock-up 9-hole courses on common land. The more to the middle of the price range or the land mass, the less dog-friendly the courses become.

I asked all 2633 courses in the UK “Are dogs allowed to accompany players on the course?”

384 of UK’s 2633 (15%) golf courses allow dogs in some capacity.

Here are the headliner stats on dog-friendliness in the United Kingdom…

  • Most Dog-Friendly Areas – Scotland, South Coast and Greater London all have a dog-friendly rate of around 22%
  • Most Dog-Friendly Counties – Suffolk (36%), Highlands (32%), Cornwall (32%)
  • Most Dog-Friendly Cities – Edinburgh (6 courses), Woking (4 courses) followed by Cambridge, Saint Andrews, Brighton, Bournemouth, Ashford, Alton, Guildford all with 3.
  • Least Dog-Friendly Areas – North Ireland (4%), North England (7%), Wales (10%)
  • Least Dog-Friendly Counties – A number of counties don’t have any (identified as yet). Counties Leicestershire, Cheshire and Warwickshire all have a single dog-friendly course putting them in the low single digits.
  • Most Lead-Optional (Under Control) Counties – Kent (12 courses), Surrey (10), Suffolk (8)

Dog Friendly Golf Courses UK heat map

Golfing with dogs not just more prevalent at the geographical extremes, but also the economic extremes. The most prestigious and expensive clubs welcome dogs and so do the most basic inexpensive parkland 9-hole par-3 courses. The exclusive clubs that welcome dogs include Wentworth, Sunningdale, The Berkshire, St. Andrews, Muirfield, Turnberry, Swinley Forest and Loch Lomond. Their legacy stems from decades ago when gentlemen members would often go hunting in winter months, but want to do something with the dogs in the summertime. And the lower end courses tend to be more relaxed about all policies and often have open-access covenants so dog-walkers are on the courses regularly any way.

A couple of the most dog friendly courses include the following…

  • Sunningdale Golf Club – The clubhouse restaurant has a special menu for the dogs dining there.
  • Goodwood Golf Club – The club has a special “Kennels Dog Membership” for dogs (the proceeds of which go to benefit the charity “Hounds for Heroes”) with special benefits of special treats, ‘clean up’ bags, walk maps and a personalised dog bowl kept at the club.

In the process of doing the research, I also uncovered some other curiosities about UK golf in general…

  • Response Rate – Despite making direct and personal contact through whatever means directed by their website (contact form, email, telephone), the response rate to my simple question was 45%. If this was a general survey, that would be a great response rate. But as a potential visitor/member asking a specific question, more than half of the UK golf courses can be bothered to respond.
  • Percent No Contact – I’m not sure what is worse…not responding or not providing any way for a member/visitor to contact you. 51 courses (2%) provided no contact details whatsoever (or the advertised website was down, email bounced or telephone disconnected).
  • Percent Closed – The list of courses pulled from Wikipedia is not a definitive list and not sure how well it is maintained, but I was still surprised to find 116 courses (5%) permanently closed.

The wording of the dog policies varies tremendously. Some are quite simple (“Dogs are allowed under control”), but some are a bit more fun…

  • Dogs are welcome! As long as they wear proper golf shoes.” – Langlands Golf Club
  • 2 rules – Clear up after them and they are not allowed to steal other players balls!!” – Machrie Bay
  • Dogs are mandatory. If you don’t have one, you can probably hire one from one of the other members” – New Zealand Golf Club

Waterstock

Waterstock 1

Waterstock Golf Club might not put the stock in the water, but it certainly does put the legs in the dog legs. Five of the holes have some sort of dog-leg and holes 4 and 10 are virtually perpendicular.

The course is a power-hitters paradise. Five 500 yard par 5s, but at least the fairways are broad and open providing a bit of leeway so you can let rip a bit. Ladies tees are a quite generous amount forward (often over 50 yards and whopping 93 yards on hole 12)

Welcome: The pro shop manager was very amiable when we mentioned our dogs. He said that 8-20 members bring their dogs. He said that one member comes every Thursday with his dog, the dog picks a ball out of the lake-balls basket in the shop at the start of the round, carries it around with him during the entire round and then deposits it back in the basket at the end of the round. He also told an amusing tale of playing a links course (Scotland is notoriously dog-friendly in golf) when he saw out of the corner of his eye a trolley scudding along the fairway being pulled by a dog attached to it like some sort of Alaskan sled dog who had obviously gotten inspired for a bit of a run despite his owner’s attempt at anchoring his lead.

Walk: Like most of the courses on the Oxford Plain, hills are the least of your worries with hardly an incline to tackle. It was a fairly conventional 6500 yards, but its openness makes it seem bigger.

Water: Its name notwithstanding, there is not actually any water on the course. No spigots and no water hazards (though there is a little lake between the driving range and Hole10, you never come close to it). Fortunately, the bar manager was very gracious and brought out fresh cold water from the bar when we made our pit stop there after the 9th hole.

Wind Down: With the days getting shorter, we were fighting daylight a bit. But at least we were blessed with a lovely moon rise over our last few holes. Instead of the caricature of howling, Rusty and Grace decided that was their cue for a bit of a lie down on the penultimate hole (see photo below). We packed up and went over to The James Figg in Thame (about 4 miles from the course). Some of the tastier food we have had at a dog-friendly pub (I had the pulled pork sandwich and Lori the chicken Caesar salad). But they do put the “friendly” into dog-friendly. We arrived a smidgeon past the 8:30 pm kitchen closing, but the manager went back to re-open it for us. Dogs are welcome in the entire pub (dining tables and bar area including an outdoor seating area out back) and just about all the patrons made a fuss over Rusty and Grace to their delight.

  

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Chorleywood

Chorleywood 1

Welcome: Chorleywood is one of the doggiest golf courses we have been to. There was almost a 1:2 ratio of dogs to people. Actually, we were the only dog golfers, but the course is on public land at Chorleywood Common which is a hugely popular dog walking area. The dogs were off lead all over the place. But it wasn’t mayhem. The golfers looked out for the dogs and their walkers, and the walkers looked out for the golfers. And everyone must be very responsible as I didn’t spot a single dropping anywhere (also the park has two dog poo-bag bins at the entrance car park). Rusty and Grace even made a new friend, Tia (see photo at bottom).

Walk: A very flat course making for a leisurely walk. Due to being on public land, the course is not allowed to put up a bunch of directional signs, but the scorecards include a course map with red arrows pointing to the exit for each hole.

Water: No real water hazards on the course aside from a dried up pond on the 1st hole (and the dogs weren’t thirsty at that point).

Chorleywood is a truly relaxed course. People are chill about the dogs. The walk is easy. There are no sand bunkers and only the one small “water” hazard. The putting greens are flat with low fringe. The par is a modest 68.

Wind Down: For post-puppy round dinner, we went to a very nearby doggie pub nearly as “doggy” as the course was – The Black Horse. Appropriately situated on “Dog Kennel Lane”. There were a similar ratio of dogs to patrons there and the dogs were welcome throughout the establishment (at the bar or at the table seating toward the back). A basket of dog treats is prominently displayed on a shelf by the bar. They do ask that the dogs be kept on a lead (which is not much of a problem since they were just curled up by our table on the floor). The food is hearty and tasty with a pretty extensive menu. I struggled to finish my Chicken and Mushroom Stroganoff (because the serving was so big), but that didn’t stop us from going for the Treacle Sponge with extra Custard (yum).

Chorleywood 2

Chorleywood 3

Merrist Wood

Merrist Wood - course

Welcome: We are travelling a bit further afield to find courses where leads are not required as Rusty and Grace like to stretch their legs a bit. While Surrey’s Merrist Wood does allow off-lead, they are very keen on keeping dogs “under control”. They reiterated that concern a couple of times and they have a marshal that patrols the grounds (he passed us twice) to ensure that everyone is keeping to the club protocols. We always start Rusty and Grace on lead for the first couple holes to get them oriented, settled down and to burn a bit of energy.

Wildlife:  We kept them on lead a bit longer this time not just because of concern about tight control, but also there is quite a bit a wildlife which was all too tempting – a big flock of Egyptian geese, plenty of pheasants and of course the ubiquitous rabbits.

Walk: Probably the flattest course we have played in the UK. Only a few minor hillocks to climb. But it what it lacks in elevation is makes up for in sheer distance at nearly 7,000 yards.   The hazards do rise above the ground, but rather sink deeply into it.  Merrist Wood has 80 sand bunkers (yes, I counted).  That’s more bunkers than par.  Many of them with quite steep exits.

Water:  All that sand doesn’t mean that Merrist Wood is a desert.  There’s plenty of water for the dogs.  But you can have too much of a good thing. Water hazards are generally a good thing for the dogs. A chance for a drink (see photo below) and they always enjoy exploring the reeds which directs their curiosity away from the course and other golfers. Rusty and Grace might have gotten their fill of drinking and cooling off a bit, but it did impose a few extra challenges for Lori’s and my precision (and we did lose a few balls into the drink). 14 of the 18 holes have water hazards including 5 holes with lakes (Hole 17 is 100 metres across directly in front of the green).

Wind Down: We are finding out that a bit of advance research is required for finding an accompanying doggie pub after our rounds. We like to golf late on a Sunday when the courses are less crowded (so fewer people to be bothered by having dogs around). But that means finishing around sunset between 7 and 8. Well, lots of pub kitchens close at 7:00 pm on a Sunday. So finding a pub that (a) is dog friendly, (b) has a kitchen open to 8:00 or later, and (c) is close to the course can be a bit of a confining filter. Fortunately, Ye Old Ship Inn in Guildford ticked the boxes and we had a lovely meal. Their main event is their homemade pizzas baked in their brick oven which are as good as you will find anywhere (and Grace loves the pizza crusts). Lori opted for the lasagna which was a sizeable serving, very juicy (I hate dry lasagna), cheesy (I love cheesy lasagna) and meaty. The pub has lots of casual table spread around and the dogs are welcome everywhere so you don’t have to be confined to a limited area (some pubs have a couple tables by the bar or outside where dogs are welcome, but the bulk of their dining area tables are off limits to pups).

Merrist Wood - stream