May 5th, 2022
GolfPunk on tour: Isle of Wight
Despite covid we crossed the water to find sun, fun and golf
The Isle of Wight is a fantastic destination for a golf break. Crossing the narrow stretch of water is like taking a step back in time; such is the pace of life on the island.
You are never more than fifteen minutes from the sea and the island is packed with plenty to do when not on the golf course. It was pure escapism for us, especially in covid times, and comes highly recommended.
The Isle of Wight boasts half a dozen golf courses which is not bad for the smallest county in England and with the assistance of the team at Isle of Wight Golfing Breaks, we arranged rounds at the best the county had to offer.
Our itinerary took in three courses:
The weather was set fair and so we dived into our wardrobes to retrieve our post lockdown shorts which offered a wee bit more give in the waist department.
The journey by car from south London to the Isle of Wight would be just a little over two hours which is nothing compared with the time it can take to get to other parts of the UK.
Where: Shanklin and Sandown Golf Club (via Portsmouth and Fishbourne)
Stats: 6,044 yards, par 70
Who’s responsible: Founded in 1900 a nine-hole course, the famous James Braid came on board a year later to improve the course and extend it to a full eighteen. Three holes were added in 1923, which along with a rejig produced the layout now played.
Famous for: A county championship course and its hospitality.
Killer Hole: The 13th. Standing on high with fantastic views, you fire down with a carry over the cabbage and back up to the green with everything running from left to right.
Our ferry from Portsmouth docked at Fishbourne and we punched into the SatNav of our first destination, Shanklin & Sandown Golf Club.
It was a short trip of some half an hour to the club and as we approached, the countryside closed in on us, literally. Meeting a queue of four cars head-on in a lane barely wide enough for one car certainly tests one's reversing skills. We recommend approaching the course from the Sandown direction!
Driving through the gates of Shanklin & Sandown Golf Club, the sun streamed down as we trundled our way past the ninth green and up to the clubhouse, which was perched up on high.
A bright open-plan bar welcomed us in, as did the staff behind the bar. We sat and ate lunch watching players take on the short ninth hole and if the lunch we had is representative of the food in general, it comes highly recommended.
After lunch, it was boots on and after a quick chat with the professional Peter Hammond, it was off to the sun-soaked first tee.
Shanklin & Sandown is an eclectic mix of heathland and parkland terrain over an undulating landscape. At just over 6,000 yards, it is not of any great length but requires accuracy and good course management.
After the long, fairly wide opening hole which requires a good drive, the course started to close in with tree-lined holes and thick rough defining the layout. On chatting with members, the thick American style rough was a recent addition and not one that was universally welcomed!
The course was beautifully set up and in good condition except for the odd patch of leatherjacket damage – a universal problem it seems!
It would be best to think your way around Shanklin & Sandown, which is not the GolfPunk's forte. There are only a few opportunities to let rip off the tee and as we quickly found out, there is a premium on accuracy rather than length.
All three par fives offer up the chance to go for the green in two with the classic risk versus reward – the result SSGC 3 – GolfPunk nil. The five par threes offer different challenges, with the only weak hole being the 17th which is long but somewhat uninspiring.
The signature hole thirteenth saw us standing on high, admiring the great view. The hole requires an accurate tee shot down over cabbage and well-placed bunkers to a sloping fairway. After sweeping down, the hole tilts back up to a raised green with the terrain throwing the ball from left to right.
There are a couple of points where holes cross that players need to be aware of. Fortunately, the members were very understanding when one of us blindly strolled down the 8th fairway into the path of an opening shot from the 1st tee!
With the sun still belting down, we stood on the final tee dreaming of that cold lager. The hole gently doglegs from left to right and at only 489 yards stood at our mercy. A huge drive followed by a well-struck iron to the heart of the green followed by two putts would finish the round off nicely.
A great plan on paper but we hadn't factored in the ditch and OB down the right and the need for that straight drive. We will get our revenge on the hole next time!
Suitably refreshed after that lager it was time to find our accommodation and a suitable hostelry for our evening meal. So we headed to the other side of the island, which was only a drive of some 25 minutes.
Our modest accommodation was by the beach but as the sunset over the sparkling mill pond that was the English Channel, we could have been anywhere in the world.
Where: Osborne Golf Club
Stats: 6,044 yards, par 70
Who's responsible: Set in the grounds of Osborne House the 7th Duke of Richmond first designed it as a two hole course in 1892. The course was expanded to nine holes in 1904. A significant amount of work was carried out on the course at the end of World War II; this was to repair bomb craters, mainly. Osborne House was the palatial holiday home on the Isle of Wight of Queen Victoria.
Interesting Hole: The 7th is a long par four with a dogleg to the right, requiring two good shots. However, its most curious feature is a bath made for Queen Victoria's elephant that sits just by the green.
"You're not on the list; you can't come in." Unfortunately, day two had not started well.
Having crossed the Island once more, we arrived at one of the gates to the grounds of Osborne House, home to Osborne Golf Club.
"It's GolfPunk, don't you realise who we are?" we replied indignantly into the metal box on the post by the barrier. Fortunately, they had the name of one of our party on the list and with papers finally approved and stamped we were allowed in.
Compared to the majestic Osborne House, the clubhouse at Osborne Golf Club is a touch underwhelming. Unfortunately, we visited during covid times and the club had lost its chef and so its food offering.
The welcome was a little subdued compared to the previous day. We sought out the secretary, bought a drink and hired a rather tired but functional trolley for the round ahead.
Osborne is a nine-hole course and, as we would find out, a wee bit quirky. The first nine was a warm-up for the fine golf that followed on the back nine. Although some alternative tees are available, Osborne is two laps of the same course.
After a tough but uninspiring opening two holes, the course starts to get a little more interesting and course knowledge becomes a real advantage. By way of example, the longish par three 3rd looks fairly straightforward until on arriving at the green, you realise anything right of the green is dead as the green slopes viciously from right to left.
The sun was shining down on us once again and although the views were not quite as good as the previous day they still are worthy of mention.
An obvious drawback of a nine-hole course is that you often have to filter in at the turn with groups starting their game. The dice didn't fall our way on this occasion and the second nine tested our patience a little. A group giving each other lessons on the tee as we putted out on the hole behind them was a new experience for us.
The best hole is the par four 7th (16th). So good they named it twice (I think you'll find they all have two names – Ed), Squirrel's Leap or Badger's Sett dog legs right with a fairway that rises with an adverse camber to the left. A well-struck drive at the marker provides sight of the green for the downhill second. The trees await anything that ventures slightly left off the tee.
As we headed back towards the clubhouse, Queen Victoria's old gaff came into view through the trees. A rather impressive structure and well worth a visit apparently if you are into that kind of thing.
Satisfied with our second nine performance and with the travails of the front nine erased from the memory banks, we agreed that Osborne had been worth the visit, particularly given the price point.
It was now a toss-up between visiting Queen Vic's old pad and the hostelry calling our name back in Freshwater Bay. No prizes for guessing which one won!
Where: Freshwater Bay Golf Club
Stats: 5,725 yards, par 69
Overview: Located on Afton Down and Compton Down above Freshwater Bay, it is a classic out and back with a steady climb to the turn and journey back to base. Depending on how the wind blows you can play a different course on each visit.
Famous for: Spectacular views of the Solent and English Channel.
Killer Hole: The par three 14th is only 179 yards in length but drops some 100 feet to a small green below. Depending on the wind direction, you could need any of the clubs in your bag!
Blessed once again with spectacular weather, we trundle down the hill from our base to Freshwater Bay. The Isle of Wight is such a relaxing place. It's almost like taking a step back in time; such is the pace of life on the island.
Freshwater Bay Golf Club is perched upon the cliffs above the English Channel and it will be no surprise that the wind was starting to get up. However, as we would find out the length of the course was irrelevant as the battle to come would not be about the yardage!
Freshwater Bay is a refreshing no, thrills members club about golf rather than fluffy towels in the changing rooms. Its modest clubhouse provides the essentials and has a great feel about it.
For a second time on our tour the welcome we received was fantastic. Thomas the secretary went out of his way to showcase the club to us and even laid on a buggy that was rather handy given the changes in elevation on the course.
As we walked to the first tee, the wind started to kick up and the opening hole, a short uphill par three, took on a whole new complexion. Was it a two or three-club wind into our faces we mused as we selected our weapons?
With one ball off to the left and the other coming up well short we knew we were set for the most difficult test of the tour. The front nine gradually climbs to the highest point on the course and on this day, it was pretty much all into the wind.
It was like one of those old rollercoasters which clicks the cars slowly up a steep track before releasing them to speed down the other side. We had to hold on and keep our game together as we battled the mighty headwind. Once we reached the turn, we could throw our hands in the air and ride the wind home!
A combination of raised and sloping greens surrounded by thick rough and well-placed bunkers just rubbed salt into the wounds and it nearly broke one of us. His spirit was fading fast and we had to keep talking lest we lose him.
Finally reaching the 10th tee, the sun beat down on us but more importantly, we felt the wind on our backs. So out came the big dog and we launched our balls gleefully down the hill towards the green below. The colour returned to our man's cheeks and life was good again – well, almost!
The short par four followed by two par fives that were reachable in two for the bigger hitter returned some respectability to the scorecard. However, downwind holes offer their challenges if one strays off the tee and Freshwater has plenty of rough to add complexity to that second shot.
The 14th is a case in point. An innocuous mid-length par three on the card looks oh so different on arriving at the tee. Perched way up on high a small green lurks way down below, poking into view beyond the small nature reserve that will catch any nurdle off the tee.
Short irons were the order of the day at the 14th, but we know when we visited Freshwater Bay many moons ago, some had wood in their hands!
Freshwater Bay is a very natural course and uses open grasslands, flora, and fauna to provide an enjoyable challenge. Like many courses, it has struggled with a leatherjacket problem and was a little rough around the edges in places.
But any scruffy looking areas of the course pale into insignificance when you look at the views from the course. Few courses boast such stunning panorama, with the only one springing to mind being Turnberry.
Playing at Freshwater is golf in its purest form. Throw away the rangefinders just feel the shot and go for it!
We agreed that we would be back but would make an offering to the gods to have a tailwind on that opening nine!
Isle of Wight Golfing Breaks can help you plan your golf trip to the island with accommodation and golf to fit all budgets. For further information call 01822 618181 or visit the website.