Harpenden Common

Harpenden Common - dog golf 1

Welcome: Another “Common” course on the same weekend this time travelling north a bit to Harpenden Common. We had to wait a few minutes for a scheduled event to finish up before we started our round. So we sat outside the clubhouse to have drink Dogs are welcome on the course , but not in the clubhouse…in fact, no golf shoes of any type are allowed in the clubhouse either. Not a problem since one of the bar staff came down to greet us and offered to bring us drinks. Without even asking, our beer and prosecco was accompanied by a big dog dish of fresh water. A number of members greeted us through the day and complimented Rusty and Grace’s fine behavior and chatted a bit making us all feel very welcome.

Half of the course is on common land which gets lots of dog walkers anyway and there were plenty about during our round. There is handy poo-bag bin on the 3rd hole (by the walking path).

Walk: At £30 (twilight fee, peak fee is £40), Harpenden Common is one of the more expensive common land courses we have come across. What you get for that are well-tended, lovely grounds (grounds maintenance is one of the biggest expenses for a course) rambling over a relative flat stretch.

What you do have to navigate are some roads. They are small byways, but cars do go down them periodically. They don’t just run along the course, but they run through it. In fact two holes, 2 and 8, cross the road. Signs warn you to be on the look out for cars before playing, but dog golfers will also need to take special care with that their canine companions don’t wander across.

Water: The is one water hazard by the 7th green and the 16th tee, but it is artificial and relatively stagnant. I don’t think even Rusty or Grace fancied a drink from it. So bring your own water and the 9th does finish by the clubhouse where a fresh dish of water is always waiting.

Wind Down: We made our way over to the Elephant and Castle pub on the other side of the Harpenden Common. Another DoggiePubs 5-star pub with the clientele to match (5 dogs when we arrived). Tasty, hearty food at a reasonable price in a warm, friendly ambience.

Harpenden Common - dog golf 2

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

Kirtlington

Kirtlington - dog golf

The biggest divide between dog-friendly golf courses is whether leads are required or not. About 2/3rd of the courses that allow dogs do require a lead. The others simply require that they be “under control”. Kirtlington Golf Club’s policy occupies a curious middle ground where leads are “preferable”.

Even though Rusty and Grace are extremely well behaved and very biddable (voice, whistle and hand commands), we still tend to start all our outings on leads (even where they are not required). One good reason for Kirtington’s recommendation is the fact that between Holes 1 and 2 lies a field with sheep and goats protected by an electric fence. We know from past experience that Rusty’ inquisitive nature would certainly have earned her a zap on the nose if we hadn’t had her on the lead there.

Later on in the round, since there weren’t many players on the course, we let them off to stretch their legs a bit in the wide open fairways of Kirtlington. Hole 7 comes back to the sheep pen so back Rusty went on the lead.

Welcome:  The course has a very dog friendly demeanor. A number of folks commented that one of the course managers has her own dog who accompanies her to the clubhouse (but not on the course).

Walk: Kirtlington had probably the most best [sic] views we’ve ever enjoyed on a golf course. And we didn’t have to climb arduous hills to get them. Instead, the course sort of sits like a table top at the edge of the Cotswolds with nearly broad vistas overlooking the Oxford Plain on nearly every hole.

Water: A couple of water hazards on the 7th and 12th were maintaining their water levels even in the heat of August (most appear to be lined to keep the water in place).

Wind Down: The doggie pub for the day was The Boat Inn in Thrupp (5 stars on DoggiePubs). They have a spacious enclosed garden as well as good sized bar area where dogs are very welcome. Our dogs got offered a biscuit by the barman before we had even ordered our drinks. A few other dogs joined us during our meal. And a hearty meal it was just perfect for an appetite worked up by 7+ kilometers of walking. The extensive menu filled two sides of an A4 sheet. The nachos with beef chili was superb (though a bit on the hot spicy side, be warned). Most of us had the “Hock and Cock” (ham hock and chicken) pies with chips and gravy, with our friend Ian (in photo below with wife Jenny) opting for the steak (perfectly cooked). And it turned out that Rusty and Grace’s food hadn’t thawed out thoroughly, but one of the other patrons was a canal boater moored up outside and they took the packets to their boat to zap them in the microwave for us.

Kirtlington - dog golf 2

Basildon

Basildon 1

Basildon isn’t polished around the edges (for examples, the sand hazards didn’t have rakes in them and their edges weren’t cleanly groomed), but its fundamentals (eg. green surfaces, fairways, layouts) are superb. Its more relaxed ambience combined with a very dog-friendly demeanor takes any stress out of the apprehension of dog walking even, off-lead.

Welcome:  While there were no fellow dog golfers, we did come upon dog walkers on the fairways a couple of times. When we stopped for a 9th hole drink, the shop/café/bar manager came out with a dog bowl of water for Rusty and Grace without being asked. In fact, dogs are allowed in the small clubhouse and its bar. When we stopped at the end of our round, several best friends were sitting there with their owners.

Water: No spigots on the course and the only water hazard is right next to the pro shop where a few feet away you can get fresh tap water.

Walk: The course topology is sort of giant parabolic humps. It was the total inversion of Manor of Groves. Sort of like its yoga counter pose (instead of down-and-up from one elevated ridge to another, it is up-and-down over a single ridge). If you can get your drive over the top of the looming hill, then you will get a decent bonus distance as it rolls down the other side. It gave Grace an opportunity for some ball-sniffing outside the rough even if they did go straight down the fairway. You are driving over the top of a ridge that once you clear, you have no idea where you have landed.  Lori’s most frequent questions of the day was “I wonder where the pin is” (often followed by “Grace, find the ball!”). At least a third of the holes are “blind” in this way.

Basildon 2

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