Golf Club Review: Rufford Park (Nov 2021)

It’s been a while I know… Every so often I’ve been hacking around at my local course at Edwalton, trying to find my balls in the leaves fallen from the trees, but post October I admit I rarely get out, too cold, too wet, too muddy, too dark, too damn hard to find my balls in between those pesky leaves…

My last review was at the fabulous Nottinghamshire Golf Club (which you can read here) in July where there wasn’t even a leaf on the ground, although I’ve played a few other local courses since, my golf playing has slightly dwindled due to the deteriorating condition of the British summer into a chilling Autumn before the Winter we have of today, but I was swayed out of seasonal semi-retirement a couple of weeks back, when a playing partner of mine who’d just gone thirty over par at the £60,000 a year membership JCB course in Staffordshire, asked me if I fancied having a bash at Rufford Park Golf & Country Club as he had a few holiday days to use before the end of December?

Never one to turn down an opportunity (plus he owed me a few rounds from paying for him at my place) I pencilled in a Friday late November and set off from my house that day at 7:30am to reach Rufford for an 8:40am tee time.

All was going well, the frost filtering through the sunrise upon my travels listening in to Talk Sport radio and the hilarious Alan Brazil, taking in the hills of Shelford past Radcliffe-on-Trent, over Gunthorpe Bridge and a calm picturesque but chilling looking River Trent, down the Epperstone and Oxton Bypass and into Robin Hood territory, I’m coming up to Center Parcs (less than a mile away from the course) when my mate calls me to say the road which takes me to the golf club, Rufford Lane, is closed.

Now those of you in the know, will note Rufford Lane has a ‘ford’ that you need to get across as a stream to the north of the road runs into Rufford Lake to its south. Spending many a childhood summer at the stunning Rufford Abbey Park I used to watch cars splashing through, having seen many turn around at full tide too, I was told to avoid at all costs, which I did, before putting my foot down to get up to Ollerton and re-calibrate my sat nav.

Somehow, ten minutes later and after a near-miss with a tractor down a single path country road, I arrive at a lush woodland within the golf club grounds, park up, ahead of my friend who was supposed to be ahead of me… Before we walk down together from the car park and into the complex, a 1990’s style red brick venue clubhouse, bar and shop, it sits all modern, overlooking the first and last holes, from my initial view I get the impression the course is quite hilly, I’m mildly surprised the further I get round.

As I walk down to the first hole I’m taken back how good a condition the tees are in for this time of year. Hole number one is stunning, teeing off into a valley you are elevated for a big smash at a wide fairway which doglegs hill up slightly left. Only 388 yards from the whites, it’s a nice starter which gives you chance for a low score beginning your round.

Not a leaf on track, greens slightly sticky with a bit of due, but in fairness that’s just how I like them too.

The second is a 526 yard par five (under 500 off the yellows) and is a nice flat hole that doglegs right and then back left up to the flag. Everything is perfectly manicured, room for error with big wide fairways cut finely with stripes at angles, I’m astounded when my friend tells me it’s only £20 a round… In comparison to those more expensive in the region, pound for pound it’s certainly up there as one of the best to play.

Hole three is little over 300 yards, a short par four which gives you good chance at birdy. I really enjoyed hole four, probably because I played it well, a 412 yard par four with a nice wide fairway and all going well a short chip on to the dancefloor which is surrounded by trees which gives it a stunning backdrop of former Sherwood Forest.

The next hole, number five again is surrounded by trees, a short par three at 187 yards, relatively troublesome and nice and flat with a large green that drops down at the back.

By this time we’ve encountered a bit of traffic, some in front, some behind in a buggy, adding that bit more pressure on our tee shots, we’re later told the only problem with Fridays, and weekends in particular, is that the Center Parcs holidaymakers (from across the road) also get discount to play the course, which means it can be busier especially if the sun is out.

It’s honestly blazing, 9:30am in the morning (yes in November!!) and we’re already contemplating taking off our top layers… The sixth hole is again a par four, just over 400 yards, the fairway drops down into danger to the left but is fairly trouble free from the right, a slightly elevated tee provides a nice approach shot although it feels like a smaller, tighter green, so try not to miss it.

Onto seven, another par three but a tricky one into death valley… Only 150 yards but looks much longer as you start highly elevated with stunning views but still hitting upwards despite a huge dip of land in between. I swear it’s nearer 200… Taking clearly the wrong club, I end up short and have to take my second shot at what feels like a 45 degree angle to get it back up to the green.

Number eight is much more my cup of tea, big wide fairways again into play, plenty of room for anything hooked, it actually suits my natural fade more as it doglegs right, before straightening left, which gave me a shot at the green which has a little bit of the wet stuff, not too much to try and avoid, on the left hand side.

Once eight is done I notice a sign on the walk to the ninth tee which states ‘order your hot food by calling here’ thinking ‘what a great touch that is had I not already eaten breakfast’..

Hole number nine was a tricky one for me to work out playing first time as I couldn’t see past the brow of the hill on my second shot after falling short with my driver. It’s 440 yards in total but after hitting my first around the 200 mark, I laid up blind my second with 100 to spare, after your tee shot, you then hit a big valley which you might not be able to see into, it is however really open before an elevated tee right in front of the clubhouse, in theory, just hit straight and you’ll be ok.

The walk up from the ninth to tenth is a minute or two, my mate, on his official works holiday of course then decides to get the hot toddy out. Bringing out two plastic cups and a flask of hot whiskey, honey and lemon juice, it worked well for us playing in the cold at Christmas last year and is now a staple diet of any winter golf we play… Problem is, it’s around 20 degrees out there and I’m playing quite well… One sip of that stuff usually knocks me for six.

The tenth tees off high up with the idea to aim as left as possible as there’s a huge lake to the right at the 200-250 marker. I end up safely on the fringe of the green and lake (ie two feet from water), chip to the front of the green and make par, maybe this hot toddy stuff isn’t too bad after all.

Full of confidence, I walk over a stunning looking but huge cantilever bridge, which I think is a bit overkill for taking the weight of a few old golf carts across the slenderest of brooks, and take a couple of pictures of the beautiful North Nottinghamshire scenery as the sun beams down onto the glistening water and green rolling fairways.

The eleventh is a short par four of 331 yards but by now, the hot toddy has kicked in. I’m in the trees on the right before hacking out to safety just short of the green, it’s only then I notice I’ve played the wrong ball… In reality a simple enough flat hole but with a much narrower fairway than most of the others, I go back to try and rescue my original ball, no luck, my head has now gone to pot, confused, and full of hot toddy.

I aim to shake it off, regroup, start again, on number twelve, it’s actually a lovely hole and I drive it well, a 390 yard par four slightly uphill dog legging to the right, there’s a stream named Rainworth Water that runs the full length to its left, that same stream which runs through the ford on Rufford Road to Rufford Lake in fact.

Crossing the bridge, hole thirteen is only the second of two par fives on the course, quite long at 589 yards it is flat, with a brook to your right which should be far enough away from danger, on the left the fourteenth high up above.

Although long, the fairway is quite narrow and due to it’s stroke index one rating, can certainly be considered by many as the trickiest on the course, just sheer distance and lack of margin for error makes this a real tough and grueling hole.

Fourteen can be just as tough for different reasons, par four, 393 yards straight(ish), with the flag uphill on the right, partly hidden by a huge steep bank, the fairway is wide enough to hit, but go left and you’re hitting upwards in the rough, go right and you’re hitting downwards in the rough.

By this time you probably need a breather, which is nice, because a solid tickle downwards on the short par three fifteen will give you that, don’t tickle too soft as you’ll be short in thicker grass than usual, don’t tickle too hard as you’ll completely over hit and end up with a difficult up hill shot in some of the real nasty uncut stuff, tickle just right, then move on to sixteen.

This is a nice hole again as the tee is slightly elevated but has the stream running down the left and it could potentially come into play for anything hooked, however, the fairway is wide enough for you to avoid it before kicking back up towards the hill where the flag sits proudly elevated, a 391 yard par four, most of the par fours on this course are similar distance, but what makes this course great, is that no two par fours are that similar in approach. Each hole feels very different.

And the most different of all? The one we’ve all come to enjoy… Enter hole number 17.

I actually didn’t even know this existed, which enthralled me even more when I saw it for the first time, because let me tell you, this is probably the best hole (at least in Nottinghamshire) that I have ever played.

The JCB course which I mentioned earlier was discussed frequently during our round, my friend having played it only a few days previous, the seventeenth on that course, modelled on the TPC Sawgrass number but around 120 yards further in distance, well Rufford Park Golf and Country Club has it’s own delightful seventeenth and it is very much on par with both (I imagine).

Highly elevated with trees either side, I look down the hill towards a huge body of water 150 yards away running left to right in front of a green sitting in front of a steep bank. The old boys behind have caught us up and are members, I tell them “the only way I’m getting over this is if I hit the bridge” they say “we have seen that happen plenty enough”

The hole is actually ‘only’ 175 yards away from the white tees, but as the crow flies, there’s plenty of land (and water) in between, and the green looks so small from up here, all the way down there blazoned in the sun. My playing partner goes first, hooks to the left and somehow manages to get over the water, but onto the thirteenth tee for a tricky second, I go next, with the audience sitting comfortably, I take out the driver (not irons), smash it as hard as I can in the know I just need to get over to be safe, groans of ‘go on son’ and ‘it’s going’ from the Members who probably wanted to have a laugh at my expense… It was over, comfortably, rolled onto the green and up onto the bank, I didn’t see it… “Was it ok??” I ask “Well it’s over, that’s the main thing” one of the Members said.

We walk down the hill with our trolleys before parking them at the waters fringe, then each taking out a wedge and putter, we walk over the most stunning bridge I’ve ever walked over on a golf course, soaking up the atmosphere, imagining we were in a Major Championships or Ryder Cup with full house of golf fanatics applauding us on.. Only half a job for me, I still needed to make par. A little stab down with the wedge to within inches of the hole gave me a par put which I sank and took pride and time in doing so… I played some good holes that day, some pretty bad ones too, but none was more satisfying then the three shots I played on the seventeenth at Rufford Park. A truly delightful hole, which next time I play, I 100% guarantee, I’ll be in the drink.

Spurred on from the penultimate, as I waved the watching members behind us to play through before grabbing our trolleys to the last, I then smashed my best drive of the day on the eighteenth 318 yard par four to leave a short uphill to the green elevated, like the ninth, in front of the clubhouse.

The beauty of golf however, is it rarely seems to go as straight forward as you planned it, you hit good shots when you’re down, bad shots when you’re up, stunning rescuers from the rough, horrendous approach shots when you’re in the middle of the fairway. Little more than 100 yards away I smash my second straight into the bunker. Not the middle bit of the bunker, the bit right on the edge of the lip, the grass is about one and a half metres above my ball… In front of me, a terrace of golfers, all having a drink on the nineteenth, watching, thinking, ‘look at this idiot’, as I hack my next three shots trying to get out the sand.

Eventually I’m out, and I somehow manage to close the round with a seven, to my frustration, but despite getting it horribly wrong with the checkered flag in sight, and despite my mid-round black out due to drinking too much hot toddy on 10,11 and 12, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the course, the courses condition, the quality of the holes, the stunning scenery and the fantastic warm sunny weather on the day, the drink up on the terrace where you overlook the ninth and eighteenth as well as the first tee is a stunning end to a fabulous day. And all for £20…. Will I be back??? Without a doubt. If it wasn’t so bloody far away I would join as a member tomorrow.

Take a look at some of my recent local Golf Club reviews here and look out for more to come in 2022.

  • Course Looks: 9 out of 10
  • Course Quality: 10 out of 10
  • Course Difficulty: 8 out of 10

*Article provided by Daniel Peacock (Editor).

*Main image @dannypea the seventeenth at Rufford Park is a magnificent par three.

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