On a mild and sunny November day I got my first look at The Buckinghamshire, a well regarded complex near Denham and home of the Ladies European Tour. The clubhouse and surroundings were immediately impressive, yet I wasn’t sure what to expect with the course when I noted the venues ranked ahead of it in the county and my concern with the fact that I had no choice but to play from the forward yellow tees. The greens were in excellent nick, though the fairways were understandably soft and mucky due to recent heavy rains.
On the opening tee shot water is in play to the right of the par five 1st’s fairway. If I was a golf course designer, I think I would try to avoid this scenario, but nonetheless it makes for a challenging opening hole and the pick of the par fives for me (see below for my controversial opinion on the par five 18th). The 2nd is a birdie chance of a par four with no major punishment for a missed fairway as long as two bunkers are avoided. The 3rd is a flat but long par three with bunkers right and a hollow to the left of what is quite a big green. The 4th is a tough slight dogleg left par four with threatening fairway bunkers and a downward dip towards a slightly elevated green. The par five 5th is index 14 but I found it the easiest hole on the course, reachable in two and a great birdie chance notwithstanding the deep bunkers at the green. After five holes it struck me how open the course is, as apart from the obvious traps and hazard on the first, offline drives are not necessarily punished for the lower handicap players.
However, the next four holes change the theme and put a premium on hitting fairways off the tee. The par four 6th is straight and sub-400 yards, yet there is trouble all around by way of bunkers, vegetation and an ivy clad wall to the right of a tight green entrance. The following three hole stretch is one of the best you will play, starting with the strategic index 2 par four 7th, which features a fairway guarded by a creek crossing it and two bunkers on the right, then an approach to a green protected by a lake on three sides and tree trouble on the left. The 8th is the signature hole on the course, a par four that is driveable from the forward tees – mostly carry across the lake with a little bit of bail-out fairway space before the green, but the standard route for most players is around the lake with a tee shot to the right of the fairway and approach over the water. The outward nine concludes with the enclosed par three 9th in front of the clubhouse, its elevated green guarded by three bunkers. Whilst it is a nice hole, it struck me that the river just to the right of the green could have been brought more into play.
The 10th is a long and demanding dogleg right par four with imposing trees on the right side of the fairway to tangle with slightly pushed tee shots and a pond short right of the green, albeit not really in play for better ball-strikers. The narrow and elevated putting surface is tough to hold with a deep bunker hugging the right side. The par five 11th offers some respite, despite the strategic fairway bunkers it is not the longest and is also open enough to allow a chance to recover from any wayward tee-balls or second shots. The 12th and 13th are two strong par fours, both over 450 yards from the tips, the 12th more or less straightaway with a creek a few yards short of the green and a threatening lake to the right of the green. The 13th is a tight sweeping dogleg left with two nasty fairway bunkers on the left side amidst probably the most enclosed wooded setting on the course. On the par three 14th you find yourself at the outer reach of the course alongside the rail track, the primary complications being the slightly elevated green with one bunker in front and a fall-off to the right.
The homeward stretch begins with the dogleg right 15th, which I considered a birdie opportunity despite its index of 9. It is under 400 yards and the corner can be cut to leave a wedge to a large and receptive green. The par three 16th is nicely framed by trees on either side and is played marginally uphill. The 17th is a long and difficult uphill par four, veering around to the left, and requires two solid smacks to find the green in regulation.
And so to my controversial assessment of the par five 18th. I grew up playing on a course that has two huge trees bang smack in the middle of a fairway and a similar size tree middle-left of another green blocking the route to back hole locations. Perhaps I am scarred by this, but either way I am not in favour of trees existing in the middle of fairways. The 18th at The Buckinghamshire is a magnificent long par five with intrusive bunkering on the fairway and three more bunkers around an undulating green, with a dangerous pond on the left side of it. That all sounds great, but approximately 130 yards from the centre of the green is a huge old tree positioned in the middle of the fairway. Course designer John Jacobs might disagree with me – I would have moved the tree!
Overall the course has a flat and open feel to it for the most part and is not too difficult from the yellow tees. It is obviously a different story from the black tees at 7,100 yards, although big hitters will not always be punished for finding rough off the tees. 7-8-9 is a particularly enjoyable three hole stretch and 12-13 are two very solid par fours.
Pick of the holes: Par Three – 9th // Par Fours – 7th & 8th // Par Five – 1st
Photo: 8th hole