A round on the second oldest course in England
They've been playing golf at London Scottish Golf Club on Wimbledon Common since 1865 - the second oldest course in England still in play - and I went to see how the historic course measured up in 2010.
It's certainly still a place to get away from the hurly burly of London life and you're immediately reminded of its history as it's compulsory to wear a red top - something golfers at the club have been doing since 1892.
As soon as you approach the first tee you realise why the red tops are actually essential. There are walkers strolling across the Common throughout the course and they are well used to looking out for red-clad golfers about to strike their shots.
The course actually opens with an open, straight-forward, hole which is a par 3 231 yards for men, but par 4, and also 231 yards, for women.
When I arrived at the edge of the 1st green in two shots, there was a man sitting by the green watching the action. "You need to get that in for par", he said. As a lady golfer, I knew he was wrong, so I was pleased to eventually hole it in four.
So, as you can tell, anyone who plays at London Scottish will get occasional passers-by admiring their shots, or otherwise. But don't let this put you off at all - they seem to appreciate the golf and it really does add to the whole atmosphere.
The second hole - aptly named The Big Ravine - is the most challenging of all as the tee position is just what it says. To get your ball on the fairway you have to go straight across a ravine of trees, gorse and rough common. I didn't quite make it, but found my ball near the top and was able to pop it onto the fairway for a good third shot.
After the first two holes, and with the Big Ravine ticked off, you will really get into playing the course as you'll feel you're on the heart of the common. Each hole, as on traditional Scottish courses, has its own name and by the 4th hole, The Running Deer, the trees are becoming a feature in the fairway.
Although the 6th hole is named the Sand Pit, this is a course with no sand bunkers - handy if they are your bete noire! As I stood on this tee, it felt like a real crossroads of walkers and their dogs. There were no other golfers behind me, so I didn't feel pressurised as I waited for people to cross the fairway.
The hardest hole for ladies is aptly called 'Paradise' and with a bumpy commonland fairway and trees around, your tee shot on this 7th hole will need to be accurate as with many other holes on this course.
By the 8th you will feel like you're getting used to playing golf on the common with its natural hazards. This hole slopes down and if you overhit the ball you will end up on the next tee or the woods and gorse behind.
The longest hole on the course is the 11th at 464 yards for ladies and 479 yards for men. Here the course opens out of the woodland into a fabulous backdrop of Wimbledon Common surrounded by townhouses.
Another par 5 for ladies comes soon after with the 13th, although this is a par 4 for men. By now I was used to the fast-ish greens, which were in reasonable condition bearing in mind the open access to the course.
By the time I'd got back into the more wooded area and reached the par 3 15th hole - The Spinney - I had caught up with the members playing ahead of me. But Tom and Bob, the two-ball ahead of me, invited me to play with them.
They were having a tight friendly between themselves, but they made me feel very welcome and help make the closing holes of my round a pleasant finale.
Thankfully the course was coming to an end by the time I had to face the ravine again on the 17th hole. Tom and Bob did their best to encourage me, but I didn't quite make it again. However we found my ball and I was able to finish the hole in a respectable score of six.
The final hole, Windmill, is back in the more open land, with Wimbledon Common's historic windmill and the 113-year-old clubhouse in view.
So then it was off to the clubhouse, which has a members' bar as well as a room for non-members, plus outside tables. Once again, I was made to feel very welcome and the 19th hole prices are a real bargain.
Drinks include coffee at £1, tea at 50p and a pint at £3.04. There's a menu selling a range of food, with bacon and other sandwiches costing £2 and burger, chips and salad at £3.75.
Green fees for visitors are also good value at £20 on Mondays and £25 on Tuesday-Friday, with red tops being free to hire. They also offer a loyalty scheme where you get a sixth round free after you've played five times and there's a £15 summer twilight price. The weekends are for members and their guests only.
You can book tee-times with Club Pro Steve Barr on 0208-789-1207 and they have an informative website at: http://www.londonscottishgolfclub.co.uk/.
May 5, 2010