Manor of Groves

Manor of Groves 1

Go east young man’s best friend. Having done the vast majority of our golfing in the provinces just west of London, an annual social gathering got us to pack up our bags and head to Essex for the weekend. The event invites the whole family including the dogs so we figured we would take in a couple of rounds of dog golf – one en route there and one en route home.

Manor of Grove is a chance for those puppies to stretch their legs and the golfers to stretch their swings. The fairways are some of the widest I have seen. So unless your slice wouldn’t pass a European Union regulation for banana straightness, you have a chance to let loose with some real welly and the approach will be very forgiving to a moderate amount of veering. And just to boost your ego a bit more, the majority of holes run perpendicular to two long ridges. So you are going downhill on your drive. But be warned you will need to go *up* the other side. And naturally, water collects at the bottom of most valleys so most of these holes will have horizontal hazards running in front of you. Some of that water is feeding some very ‘healthy’ (ie. tall) growth that I swear has mutated tendril hands to grab your ball out of the air. If you will be tempted to go for the monster drive, but if you don’t think you can make it across, you could get sucked into the nadir of the abyss where the gravitational pull is strongest.

Welcome:  Everyone was very welcoming of Rusty and Grace though they did seem to be a bit of a novelty on the course to most.  As it turns out, they were a complete novelty because dogs are not actually allowed on the course.  We had previously received an email from the course confirming that they were allowed, but then after our visit, someone was so surprised to see them, that they checked the rules and told us that actually the rules prohibited dogs.  Oh well…an exclusive round of dog golf for Rusty and Grace.

Walk: As described above, the landscape is a bit of a Newton’s Cradle. Up and down, up and down. Nothing particularly steep. Just relentless. A variation of the Chumbawamba song (“I get to drive downhill, but then it goes up again…”).

Water: Quite a number of streams and water hazards, but in the mid-summer, they were all dried up. The 9th hole finishes across the big parking lot from the pro shop and bar, but it was worth the walk for us to load up on liquids.

Manor of Groves 2

Huntercombe

Huntercomb - 1

Going a bit upscale with our dog golfing now. As relatively novice golfers (average in the 30s and Lori average in the 40s), we haven’t made the investment into joining a club. On a good day, Lori and I will shoot under the maximum handicap (36 and 28 respectively), so we do need to think about joining a club so we can get our handicap cards (especially as some of the nicer clubs require them and the nicer clubs also tend to be more dog-friendly). We also tend to play the value priced courses (ie. under £30 per round) to get our practice and wayward shots out of our system. So our visit to Huntercombe Golf Club was a bit of an upgrade for us. They charge £90/round, though we still opted for the more economical evening (after 5:00 pm) rate of £50.

We were inspired by their off-lead policy. Much as the Rusty and Grace seem to do fine on lead, as Vizslas they really do prefer to be free to trot about more. As a result, we are pretty compelled to try every no-lead course within an hour’s drive of us in Marlow.

Huntercombe is more than just lead-free, but definitely puts the “friendly” into “dog-friendly”. With the strict etiquette in golf about not disturbing people while they are taking their shots, dog golfers like us are always extra worried that the dogs might let out a yelp or dash up to a player when they shouldn’t. As noted previously, some people are not dog fans (evidenced by the vast majority of clubs that do not welcome them), so one is naturally apprehensive about bothering them. When there are more dogs about in general, you feel like less of an anomaly. At Huntercombe, I would estimate that about a third of the fellow golfers on the day had dogs with them (see photo below). But it wasn’t just the dog golfers who made us feel at home. Every golfer we came up to, made a friendly comment about Rusty and Grace.

The course itself is a real curiosity. Like something designed by Dr. Seuss. No water hazards and only a few sand bunkers, but countless knolls and grass bunkers. Not gentle depressions in the landscape, but some plummeting abysses where the rest of the fairway is over your head. It felt more like Cherborg than the Chilterns. Maybe good for dodging machine-gun strafing, but not so great for stray shots. Sort of a version of 3D golf where you have to consider the elevation of hazards, not just their X/Y coordinates on the hole.

This topology leads to some quite surreal layouts. Like the Dali-esque 4th green or the 17th hole which resembles some medieval torture chamber. That said, Hole 2 is one of the favourite I have ever played. You tee off onto a gigantic downhill fairway that seems as forgivingly wide as it is long. And once you leave the tee past the surrounding trees, the view on the left opens up to this spectacular vista looking for miles over the Oxford Plain. To avoid a number of players, we had started our round on the 6th hole and so we got to Hole 2 quite late in the day when the sun was low on the horizon and igniting the summer clouds with colour. The only thing that can ruin this gem is a monstrously long serpentine gully running perpendicular to the hole two-thirds of the way through the green so beware!

Welcome:  Huntercombe is more than just lead-free, but definitely puts the “friendly” into “dog-friendly”. With the strict etiquette in golf about not disturbing people while they are taking their shots, dog golfers like us are always extra worried that the dogs might let out a yelp or dash up to a player when they shouldn’t. As noted previously, some people are not dog fans (evidenced by the vast majority of clubs that do not welcome them), so one is naturally apprehensive about bothering them. When there are more dogs about in general, you feel like less of an anomaly. At Huntercombe, I would estimate that about a third of the fellow golfers on the day had dogs with them (see photo below). But it wasn’t just the dog golfers who made us feel at home. Every golfer we came up to, made a friendly comment about Rusty and Grace.

Walk: Huntercombe is one of the flatter courses we have walked making the 6100 length more comfortable (mind you, you do need grappling hooks and crampons to scale out of some of their hazards).

Water: A water spigot with a dog water dish by the 7th hole as well as by the clubhouse (1st hole and 5th hole are there).

Huntercombe 2

Huntercombe 4

Huntercombe 3

Huntswood

Huntswood 1

We have probably played Huntswood course in Taplow more than any other course in our brief golfing career. It is a favourite of our neighbors with who we golf with as a foursome more than all of our other golf buddies combined. Researching DogGolf, we found out they welcome dogs (though with a strict lead policy – in fact one of the staff came around on the course and stopped by us to remind us that they must be kept on the leads). So the 6 of us went out on our first Huntswood round dog golfing.

Rusty and Grace are getting ever more used to the drill and routine so they were pretty comfortable on the leads. Probably a good thing that they were so confined sincea resident fox on the 5th/12th was wondering around the fairway throughout the day and a throng of young bunnies were quite nonchalantly munching grass on the 7th (both of which inspired *extreme* interest by Rusty and Grace). Grace continued her ball finding prowess though now I think she is rooting for us to hit our drives into the rough so she can get a treat.

Walk: While the course is a moderately sized 5188 metres, the layout is such that there a number of ambles between holes making the walk a bit longer. It is mostly flat except for a bit of a climb up the 17th hole.

Water: No water on the course except at the clubhouse. Fortunately, the clubhouse is right next to the 9th hole so you can detour in for a quick drink stop (where you can wet your whistle at the bar as well). Also, adjacent is a big water hazard, but it is an artificial pond so it dries out in the warmer months of summer.

Huntswood 2

Huntswood 3

Course Map

Map of dog courses - wide

One of most powerful features of DogGolf.info is the Google Map of dog friendly golf courses. This capability allows you to find the closest clubs to where you are (home) or where you might be (holiday). It has been vital for us planning some upcoming golf vacations to Cornwall and Scotland (both very dog friendly part of the world where golfing is concerned. But it is also helpful for short trips. We are visiting friends for a weekend in Suffolk and used the map to plot a course where we could play a doggie round en route on the Saturday and another coming back on Sunday.

The map also makes two colour-coded distinctions:

  • Blue = lead required
  • Green = off lead under control allowed

In the future, I might add “layers” for price ranges or other variables if I see there is and interest.

Map of dog courses - zoom

Harleyford

Harleyford 1

This is where it all began.   Our first golf lesson.  Our first golf game.  Our first round of dog golf.  Our first companion dog golfing.  Harleyford Golf Club.

Harleyford is our “local”.  The only golf course in our home town of Marlow.  Many of our friends play there.  And it was the logical place to start when Lori decided that, with all the invitations to golf days back in my corporate life, I should know how to make my way around a course (so she bought me a set of golf lessons there).  I did indeed enjoy the game and thought Lori would, too.  So the following Christmas, I bought her the same set of lessons at Harleyford, as well.  We had played there a couple of times as guests of friends, but it wasn’t until we joined black lab, Bella, for a round that our eyes opened to the possibilities of dog golf.

Bella is, in many ways, the perfect golfing dog.  Quiet and calm, she ambles from hole to hole with Jane and Stewart plopping, herself down on the side of the greens or fairways while they take their shots.  She even impressed us with her in-the-ruff ball sniffing skills (which sparked our imagination…more to come).

So once DogGolf.info got set up, it was just a matter of (short) time before we got Rusty and Grace out onto this elegant course.  The reasonably wide fairways are framed with relatively long grass.  So plenty of opportunity for Grace to practice her ball sniffing skills.  Stewart was impressed with her going 4 for 4 in finding balls hit deep in the rough.  They did have their patience tested (as did we) having to sit off to the side while Lori and I wrestled with the sloping, undulating greens, taking extra time trying to line up the tricky reads and far too many 3 putts.

Harleyford was our first and definitely won’t be our last time there.

Walk:  The course is perched atop the Thames-side Chiltern Hills so you get some significant inclines to traipse at various points.  The literal “upside” is that there are some pretty spectacular vistas to enjoy overlooking the Thames Valley.

Water:  No water hazards and being on a hill, not a lot of standing water.  The 9th hole has a rest building with toilets and vending machines, so you can get water for the dogs there.

Harleyford dog golf 2

Harleyford dog golf 3

Pennyhill Park

Pennyhill Park - hole 1

Pennyhill Park is the trustfarian of golf courses – a pint-sized progeny of rich, elegant parents rebelling with a dishevelled coif which can’t hide the natural, inherited good looks underneath.

Pennyhill Park is a gem of a hotel and spa. We have visited there a number of times. The facilities are top flight, but they actually have pretty affordable pricing. Especially, since they regularly run promotions which offer even better value. The food in the restaurants is delicious gourmet quality. And the spa features these heated gel beds that we have never seen anywhere else. Talk about turbo-charged relaxation. A while back, Lori settled into this “nap room” for a kindergarten-like decadently midday snooze, and what a sleep. Face-creasing, leg-twitching, drool on the pillow lack of consciousness.

The golf course is not quite up to these 5-star standards. Sort of the renegade black sheep of the family. The setting is just as charming as the rest of the property, but the course is simply not maintained rigorously. The fairways are a bit grown out (so don’t count on any bonus forward rolling from your drives), and the greens are downright shaggy. The green is more the length of a fringe. Even the bunkers are more grass than sand.

If Pennyhill Park were closer and the green maintained a bit better, I think we would highly consider a membership at Pennyhill. Not just for the dog golfing, but for the whole collection of facilities and luxury amenities. The range on offer is just one of the reasons to look at Pennyhill for a round of dog golfing…

  • Apprehensive Novice Dog Golfers – If you are new to dog golfing and are worried about how your pups will fare on the fairway, then Pennyhill is a great maiden outing. Especially, if you prefer to try the off-lead experience. It has an extremely casual vibe (they don’t even have the typical dress codes of golf clubs so you can wear what you like). People playing the course will be out for a bit of relaxation and fun so a stray bark from your canine companion won’t be putting them off any tournament quality play.
  • Neglected Golf Widow(er) – While your other-half might forgive you a bit for taking hours out of the day indulging your passion because you are also taking care of walking Fido, they still might feel a bit neglected from losing out on such prime time hours. If so, invite them along for a treatment and then meet up after your round and their spa for a charming lunch on the veranda.
  • · Risk Aversion – The round cost is modest and I get the sense that if you are staying at the hotel or buying other services at the hotel, you can possibly get a discount (like I said, Pennyhill does a number of promotions so it is worth asking).
  • Complete Package – As we sat on the garden deck sipping our elegant cocktails (finer than any we would find at a local doggie pub), we thought of a fantasy get-away: Arrive in evening, have a lovely dinner outside (with the dogs at our feet), spend the night in luxury (for all 4 of us as Pennyhill Park’s hotel is also dog friendly), wake up to an al fresco breakfast, hit 9 holes, have a garden lunch, and finish putting the pups in the room while we have a spa treatment (arrange for late check out). Very few places in the UK can provide such a dog-friendly, luxury weekend.
  • Engish Rugby Fan – Pennyhill Park has a long standing partnership with England Rugby. Over the years when I have visited there, I have often bumped into renowned ruggers (like Will Carling) roaming the grounds. Recently, England Rugby built a training facility on the grounds so even more props and backs will be running around the property

Despite being only 9 holes, the course is considerably more than your executive pitch-and-putt. The average length is over 200 yards. And the holes ain’t easy. In addition to the ball-halting hirsute landscape, many of the holes (especially the deceptively close Par 3s) are placed at the end of unforgivingly claustrophobic couloirs of towering trees.

So plenty of opportunity for ball hunting by the hounds. In fact, Grace displayed a bit of a milestone for her ball-in-the-rough-finding skills. Lori hit a ball into some long grass so we walked Grace to the edge and said “find the ball, Grace”. We could see a bit of white poking under a leaf and Grace walked right up to it a sniffed it. But she left it there! She now knows that she gets treats if she finds a ball and if very enthusiastic when we play the find-the-ball game. Thinking she had had a heat-induced concentration gap, we went up to the ball and pointed at it directly. She sniffed again and left it. Then we noticed that it wasn’t actually Lori’s ball. A few seconds later, Grace was pointing at something a few feet away quite eagerly. THAT was Lori’s ball. Good girl!

Walk: Modest length (especially if you just play the 9 holes once) with several hilly bits.

Water: Small pond by the 7th hole green. Not to mention the water dish offered and served on a silver plater by our fine waiter at the outdoor restaurant (See photo below).

Pennyhill Park - hole 9

Pennyhill Park - 19 hole

Temple

Temple dog golf

We may have found our new dog golfing home – Temple Golf Club. We think we might just join Temple Golf Club in Temple, Berkshire for the following reasons:

  • Proximity – It is right across the Thames River from our home in Marlow.
  • Value – They have a range of membership packages that are scaled to your use. For us it’s not just the affordability, but just the practicality since we do a lot of golfing at assorted courses either as guests of friends or investigating other dog-friendly courses.
  • Dog-Friendliness – At first we were a bit worried about Temple being in the “Lead Required” group of dog-friendly clubs as our dogs do enjoy an off-lead romp, but Rusty and Grace fared very well on our outing there and were quite happy to just be along with us even if tethered throughout.

One thing that has sold us was the pro in the pro-shop who really exuded dog-friendliness. He himself has a dog and he noted that several of the board members for the club golf with their dogs too. Some clubs do allow dogs, but you get the sense that it is a rarely exploited courtesy and the members aren’t really that accustomed to canine companions on the fairways. But the pro noted that golfers with dogs were quite regular at Temple (we didn’t see any during our round, but the weather was a bit questionable and there weren’t many golfers out full stop).

Walk:  The course is a modest length (5700 yards) but does have quite a bit of hilliness which will give your walk a bit of effort.

Water:  There are 3 water fountains along the course including one equipped with a dog bowl on the 17th hole (see below).

For our post-pins provender took us back across the river to our home town of Marlow and the popular Prince of Wales pub. It has a very fine Thai restaurant, the Thai Princess, attached to it. Dogs aren’t allowed in the restaurant, but they are very welcome in the main bar area which has ample and comfortable seating with tables and the restaurant is happy to serve you there. The “POW” also has a special “Gin Bar” with a wide selection of premium gins if you are looking for the special G&T to celebrate (or console) your round.

Temple - dog fountain

Rusty and Grace

Rusty and Grace

Allow me to introduce Rusty and Grace.  Our canine partners in doggolf.info and pretty much its inspiration. 

Rusty and Grace are Hungarian Vizslas. The breed is known for being very affectionate which is how they first stole our hearts.  Our Vizslas will turn away from food to get affection.  They are also known for enjoying and needing LOTS of exercise.  Even more than their fellow Hunt-Point-Retrieve (HPR) breeds.  If you ever watch Cesar Milan’s “Dog Whisperer” TV show and there is a Vizsla involved, before he has walked through the door, he anticipates the root problem will be lack of sufficient exercise.  The owners often think they are doing fine with an amble around the block on lead, but the Vizslas really need to cut loose off lead and fully stretch their legs for at least an hour every day.  Cesar has prescribed skateboarding, obstacle courses, biking (we have taken them on 20 mile bike rides and they came back with more energy than we had), and weights in an effort to discharge a bit of their boundless energy.  You can see how we thought of them when we were enjoying our 3 hour walks on the golf course.  Mind you, we still have to take them for a mini-walk before hitting the links just to take the edge off their energy.

Many people ask if Rusty and Grace are sisters.  Actually, they’re not even the same breed, officially.  Rusty is a straight haired while Grace was born to wire-haired parents (but her hair came out straight).  We had Rusty first, but a breeder (knowing we had been looking for a Vizsla puppy) called us the day after we got Rusty and told us about a rescue situation with this other puppy (born four days before Rusty) called Grace.  I still remember the portent of destiny in the form of a text message from my wife about Grace, saying, “I’m just going to go look at the puppy…”

Grace is definitely the dominant one.  Bigger and more assertive.  Always rounding up “the pack” and making sure she moves along (one of the things we have to be attentive to is if we stop to talk to other people or dogs, she gets quite vocal with the whining that we should be moving on now…in general it’s fine, but on the golf course, we don’t want her laments to distract other golfers).  Rusty is less biddable, but despite running faster and farther than Grace, she is also content with being on lead.  Grace loves to chase sticks and balls, but Rusty is happy to chase Grace.

With Grace’s leadership, biddability and ball skills, it made sense to make her the front-dog for Dog Golf.  If we ever succeed in devising a golf-ball-finding competition, she is our best hope for a competitive entry (we are now working on converting her highly honed stick and tennis ball skills into Top Flight ones).

Whitney Lakes

Whitney Lakes - start

A bit of water only enhanced this expansive course a few miles to the northwest of Oxford. We went up to Whitney Lakes this weekend despite calls for some periodic showers. The showers did come, but it didn’t really impinge on our game too much. After getting a bit damp on the 4th hole, we absconded to one of the shelters on the course by the tee on the 5th to enjoy some snacks while the darkest clouds blew over. In a few minutes, the weather had cleared and we not only enjoy bright sunshine, but a last afternoon rainbow (see below).

Welcome:  Whitney recommends and prefers that dogs be kept on leads, but if the dogs are very biddable and well-behaved and the course has light usage (like it did when we played due to the inclement weather), they are happy for the dogs to be let off for a well-controlled freer amble.

Water:  Even on dry days there is plenty of water on the Whitney course with 3 big ponds on the grounds. Fortunately, only one stands between you and the tee on hole #8, but the other sit tauntingly adjacent to the fairways eager to swallow up stray slicing shots. Rusty and Grace enjoyed a cooling romp and tasty drink in one (until a huge, resident swan in one decided he wasn’t in the mood for visitors and chased them out).

Walk:  Whitney offers a good, long walk. There are three Par 5s (mercifully all followed by Par 3s) as well as mostly 350+ yard Par 4s adding up to a longish 6460 yard ramble. It might be a long walk, but it sits virtually all flat on the Oxford Plain. Good for the guys – long, wide, open fairways. Good for gals – red tees are 50-100 years in front of yellow.

Wind Down:  On the way home, we stopped for dinner at The Butchers Arms in Headington. Not just a dog-friendly pub, but simply one of the most all around friendly pubs we have been to. The owners are gregarious and welcoming as are the two resident cats who wander around (completely unfazed by any of the visiting canine customers). The food is superbly well-prepared and it is a great post-round water hole between Whitney Lakes and the M40.

Whitney Lakes - rainbow

Whitney Lakes - rest

DogGolf Database

Doggolf database

The database of dog-friendly golf courses is really the heart of DogGolf.info. Everything else is just gravy on the bone. The database is about having a complete list of possible courses, but also an interactive one that you can interrogate to find the one just right for your pack whether for a weekend outing, an extended holiday or even a long term membership.

At the outset, the information will be more thorough within a 25 miles radius of our home in Marlow because (a) our network is deepest there, and (b) I am doing more in depth research in that area (out of self-interest obviously). That means Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Oxfordshire will have more comprehensive information with a bit of Surrey, Hertfordshire, and Greater London as well.

The index of the whole dataset is the Course Name. We use the short name, not the full on “East Wimblebottom Golf & Spa Resort” (so don’t set your brand police in your marcom department on me to ‘correct’ it).

Several fields in the database you can filter on…

  • County – So you can get a short list of places close to you.
  • Postcode – For alternative geo-search
  • Green Fees – Highest listed for peak times. Vary by times and promotions so just approximate. $0 means no visitors, members only.
  • Lead required? – Well-trained and biddable dogs might find such courses a bit confining.
  • Handicap Certificate required? – Many of the finer courses allow dogs, but they do insist on handicap level playing standard.

When you get a listing of courses, you can click on the club name to take you to a Profile snapshot of basic course information. The profile is limited to details that would be of greatest interest to dog-owners. It is expected that if you needed further details, you would click on the link to their website (included in the profile) to find those things out.

  • Picture – I include one picture of the course just to provide a small sense of the nature of the property (a picture worth a thousand words), but I suspect most people looking to get a feel for the grounds will go through to the course website itself.
  • Notes – The “dog policy” of the course in their own words (usually from their website, an enquiry response or some other reference)
  • Members Constraints – Sometimes dogs are only allowed for members or when playing with members. I kept in the “Members Only” clubs because (a) people might be searching for a club to join.
  • Time Constraints – A some courses dogs are not allowed during specific times, most commonly (a) competitions, and (b) peak busy times.

If anyone has any suggestions of other details we should research and track, please forward them to grace@doggolf.info.