Set in the stunning surroundings of the New Forest, Bramshaw Golf Club boasts two memorable, but hugely contrasting courses, and a comfortable boutique hotel in which to rest up between rounds. Words by Nick Bayly
It didn’t take me long to discover that they do things differently in the New Forest when I turned a corner just a mile or so off the M27 near Lyndhurst, and came across a pig trotting nonchalantly across the road.
And then, around the very next bend, I had to slow down to pass two donkeys that were greedily chewing at the hedgerow, seemingly oblivious as I tried to give them a wide berth on what was a narrow stretch of road.
Such scenes are common for golfers at Bramshaw Golf Club, whose membership all but shares the land around and on which its two 18-hole golf courses are built. At the oldest golf club in Hampshire, the relationship between man and beast goes back many generations, with the Royal & Ancient game first having been played on Brook Common back in the 1860s.
Under the private ownership of the Crosthwaite Eyres family since 1953 (whose current generation lives on the estate), Bramshaw is a fine example of a club living in harmony with its surroundings. As it falls within the confines of the New Forest National Park, animals have the right to roam – and roam they do, even if it means ambling across a fairway while you’re in mid-backswing.
This is certainly the case on the club’s historic Forest Course, an 18-hole, 5,574-yard layout that is almost unique to these shores. Built on common land, it’s golf at its most natural, with only the tees and greens being managed, while the fairways are left to take nature’s course, barring a bi-annual cut to keep them playable. While the greens are partially fenced off in order to preserve the sanctity of the putting surfaces, grazing cattle, deer and ponies are left free to leave the odd loose impediment for golfers to contend with.
With stunning countryside views, and some challenging topography below your feet, it’s safe to say that a round on the Forest Course will linger long in the memory. And, at just £25 for a round, it’s an absolute bargain providing you enter into the spirit of it all.
And while the National Park is quite rightly very strict about changes that can be made, the club is planning to redesign the course next year, altering the order of the layout in order to better accommodate golfers and wildlife. The revamped configuration is set to be open on April 1, 2017 – when the new season officially gets under way.
While the Forest Course makes for a fun round, more serious golfers will focus their attentions on the 6,400-yard Manor Course, which opened for play in 1972, and occupies land on the other side of the Bell Inn, which was once home to the clubhouse, but now provides 26 comfortable bedrooms and a bar and restaurant for all to enjoy.
With over 40 years under its belt, the Manor Course has matured into a fine parkland layout, which, while not long by modern standards, features a significant number of tight, tree-lined holes, making it a challenge for all handicap levels. And although there are just 30 bunkers to navigate, they are particularly well placed, especially around the smaller-than-average greens, where only the slightest misjudgment can leave you reaching for your most-lofted club.
Highlights for me included the second, a 550-yard par 5, which requires two lusty blows to leave you a delicate approach shot over a stream to a green tucked into a clearing in the forest; while the fifth, a 500-yard par five is another typical Bramshaw challenge, requiring a long and accurate drive to the left-hand corner of a left-to-right dogleg to set up the chance of reaching the green in two.
There are four excellent par threes to contend with, the longest of which, the 7th, weighs in at a hefty 225 yards off the back tees, and presents a stern test for the less assured ball striker. The 273-yard 12th and 325-yard 14th offer a bit of respite on the back nine, with big hitters assured of a decent birdie chance ahead of the challenges of the 15th – a long par five that bends around the tree line – while final two holes require yet more accurate driving, with out of bounds all down the left on the 17th, and the 18th requiring a pin-point tee shot to a hole that doglegs left at a right angle to set up an approach to the final green, which looks like a very small target indeed from the fairway. All told, it makes for a thoroughly entertaining game, set amid extremely beautiful, yet easy-walking surroundings.
A friendly proprietary club, with a spacious two-storey clubhouse and a well-stocked pro shop, Bramshaw boasts a healthy competition scene, busy seniors’ and ladies’ sections, and a growing and active junior section.
With two courses to play, and lots of other things to see and do in the area, an overnight stay is all but essential for the visiting golfer, with the Bell Inn providing the perfect place in which to hole up between rounds. Under the same family ownership as the golf club, it offers 28 extremely comfortable rooms – and two more besides the clubhouse – all boasting en-suite facilities and offering the very essence of country house hotel chic. The spacious restaurant serves up an excellent range of home-cooked food, many of it sourced from the estate and other local farms, while there is a wide choice of locally brewed ales to sample from the bar during the inevitable post-round analysis.
So whether you’re looking to sign up as a member, book your next golfing break, or plan a society outing, Bramshaw Golf Club really does tick all the boxes – just watch out for those donkeys!
MEMBERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES Memberships are available across all categories, offering access to both courses, as well as host of other benefits, including 10% discounts on spend in the clubhouse; advance bookings; free guest green fees for family members under 10; and reciprocal playing rights at 13 local courses. For membership enquires, call Stuart James on 023 8081 3433 (opt 4).
BOOK YOUR BRAMSHAW BREAK Stay-and-play packages comprising one round on the Manor Course, one round on the Forest Course, and overnight accommodation in the Bell Inn, with dinner, bed and breakfast, start from just £109pp (Sundays), while two-night, two-rounds stays begin at £159 between Nov-March. There are special offers for groups, with one in 12 staying free. To book, call 023 8081 3433, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.bramshaw.co.uk.