Hard to believe given the number of golf courses I’ve played in the UK but I had yet to play a course designed by Harry S. Colt. My Friday morning round at Ringway Golf Club was the first. Mark Rowlinson’s excellent write-up on GolfClubAtlas thoroughly describes the course and its history (including the 17th and 18th holes being due James Braid, Jr.) so I won’t attempt to recapitulate all the details.
I’ll concentrate instead on my own experience of the course. My Friday started off quite early as I had arranged to meet one of Ringway’s Honorary Members for an 8:30am game and did not want to be late. For once I did not have any wrong turns or traffic delays so I arrived just before 8:00am to find the pro shop and clubhouse still closed.
After just a couple minutes I was greeted by Mr. Tom Williams whose introduction was “You must be Brent Hutto” followed immediately by “Are you ready to play?”. I knew at once I was in the company of a fellow spirit, no need for warmup, smalltalk or other distractions. Just tee it up! After a momentary delay for me to enter the clubhouse and change shoes we were off to the first tee as the initial “dew sweepers” on what was going to be a very busy day at Ringway with a large Am-Am competition beginning around lunch time.
Unlike the other four courses I played during the week, the modestly rolling terrain and supremely compact routing made for a relaxing and easy walk. This is a course where you glide along hole after hole without feeling as though a single step is wasted.There are OB stakes in quite a few spots but there always seemed to be room to play away from the boundary on the other side if an errant swing was a concern (always for me!). Holes tend to be separated by trees but these buffers between fairways were maintained so that few low limbs impeded recovery shots and the rough was of playable length.
My overall impression was that the Par 4 holes offer the full range of lengths from short enough for me to play driver-wedge all the way up to longer than I’m ever going to reach with two shots. The Par 5 were definitely three-shotters with only one of them likely to allow a short club even for my third. And the Par 3’s are tough. Generally to perched greens and the greens tend to have a lot of tilt or slope. Bunkering throughout the course wasn’t especially penal (no pot bunkers for instance) but neither were they always easy. There was often a bit of slope on the bunker floors and I had to elevate the ball quite a bit a couple of times due to a tall lip and or playing to a raised green.
Here’s what I like most about Ringway. It has a lot of variety in hole lengths, green complexes, and shot difficulty. But all things in moderation. Only a few of the greens have extreme tilts yet none of them are totally flat or uninteresting. There are no Par 5’s masquerading as Par 4’s nor are there “drivable Par 4’s” that are so easy as to play basically like Par 3’s to the stronger player. I felt like it was a course any player could definitely score well on (relative to his/her own game) but there are also plenty of places to court disaster with a poorly thought out or executed shot (trying to cut off doglegs by driving over OB areas, playing to sucker pins on Par 3’s). And I did not lose a golf ball because the club perfectly maintains (in my opinion) the rough so that it affects shots without swallowing golf balls whole.
The clubhouse, dining room and pro shop were really bustling places on the day I played. Partly due to the upcoming Am-Am competition but I suspect on any given day it’s the kind of club with lots of play. Everyone I met seemed to have an infectious enthusiasm for the game and that goes double for my host! The club has a very healthy ladies section and I can understand why. It’s back to that “moderation” comment. This is not a course where lady golfers are going to struggle with an endless succession of daunting, uphill holes with forced carries over large areas of knee-deep rough.
For a handicap golfer like myself, there’s a lot to love about Ringway and it certainly checks most of my personal boxes for desirability. Variety, immaculate conditioning, compact routing, fine turf and the sort of greens where I suspect one can make a lot of putts especially if putting from the sensible side of the hole on the more sloped ones. All at a friendly and enthusiastic club located right smack in the middle of an upscale residential area. Oh and the sandwich I had for lunch in the clubhouse was really excellent as well!