Merrist Wood

Merrist Wood - course

Welcome: We are travelling a bit further afield to find courses where leads are not required as Rusty and Grace like to stretch their legs a bit. While Surrey’s Merrist Wood does allow off-lead, they are very keen on keeping dogs “under control”. They reiterated that concern a couple of times and they have a marshal that patrols the grounds (he passed us twice) to ensure that everyone is keeping to the club protocols. We always start Rusty and Grace on lead for the first couple holes to get them oriented, settled down and to burn a bit of energy. We kept them on lead a bit longer this time not just because of concern about tight control, but also there is quite a bit a wildlife which was all too tempting – a big flock of Egyptian geese, plenty of pheasants and of course the ubiquitous rabbits.

Walk: Probably the flattest course we have played in the UK. Only a few minor hillocks to climb. But it what it lacks in elevation is makes up for in sheer distance at nearly 7,000 yards.   The hazards do rise above the ground, but rather sink deeply into it.  Merrist Wood has 80 sand bunkers (yes, I counted).  That’s more bunkers than par.  Many of them with quite steep exits.

Water:  All that sand doesn’t mean that Merrist Wood is a desert.  There’s plenty of water for the dogs.  But you can have too much of a good thing. Water hazards are generally a good thing for the dogs. A chance for a drink (see photo below) and they always enjoy exploring the reeds which directs their curiosity away from the course and other golfers. Rusty and Grace might have gotten their fill of drinking and cooling off a bit, but it did impose a few extra challenges for Lori’s and my precision (and we did lose a few balls into the drink). 14 of the 18 holes have water hazards including 5 holes with lakes (Hole 17 is 100 metres across directly in front of the green).

Wind Down: We are finding out that a bit of advance research is required for finding an accompanying doggie pub after our rounds. We like to golf late on a Sunday when the courses are less crowded (so fewer people to be bothered by having dogs around). But that means finishing around sunset between 7 and 8. Well, lots of pub kitchens close at 7:00 pm on a Sunday. So finding a pub that (a) is dog friendly, (b) has a kitchen open to 8:00 or later, and (c) is close to the course can be a bit of a confining filter. Fortunately, Ye Old Ship Inn in Guildford ticked the boxes and we had a lovely meal. Their main event is their homemade pizzas baked in their brick oven which are as good as you will find anywhere (and Grace loves the pizza crusts). Lori opted for the lasagna which was a sizeable serving, very juicy (I hate dry lasagna), cheesy (I love cheesy lasagna) and meaty. The pub has lots of casual table spread around and the dogs are welcome everywhere so you don’t have to be confined to a limited area (some pubs have a couple tables by the bar or outside where dogs are welcome, but the bulk of their dining area tables are off limits to pups).

Merrist Wood - stream

Kirtlington

Kirtlington - dog golf

The biggest divide between dog-friendly golf courses is whether leads are required or not. About 2/3rd of the courses that allow dogs do require a lead. The others simply require that they be “under control”. Kirtlington Golf Club’s policy occupies a curious middle ground where leads are “preferable”.

Even though Rusty and Grace are extremely well behaved and very biddable (voice, whistle and hand commands), we still tend to start all our outings on leads (even where they are not required). One good reason for Kirtington’s recommendation is the fact that between Holes 1 and 2 lies a field with sheep and goats protected by an electric fence. We know from past experience that Rusty’ inquisitive nature would certainly have earned her a zap on the nose if we hadn’t had her on the lead there.

Later on in the round, since there weren’t many players on the course, we let them off to stretch their legs a bit in the wide open fairways of Kirtlington. Hole 7 comes back to the sheep pen so back Rusty went on the lead.

Welcome:  The course has a very dog friendly demeanor. A number of folks commented that one of the course managers has her own dog who accompanies her to the clubhouse (but not on the course).

Walk: Kirtlington had probably the most best [sic] views we’ve ever enjoyed on a golf course. And we didn’t have to climb arduous hills to get them. Instead, the course sort of sits like a table top at the edge of the Cotswolds with nearly broad vistas overlooking the Oxford Plain on nearly every hole.

Water: A couple of water hazards on the 7th and 12th were maintaining their water levels even in the heat of August (most appear to be lined to keep the water in place).

Wind Down: The doggie pub for the day was The Boat Inn in Thrupp (5 stars on DoggiePubs). They have a spacious enclosed garden as well as good sized bar area where dogs are very welcome. Our dogs got offered a biscuit by the barman before we had even ordered our drinks. A few other dogs joined us during our meal. And a hearty meal it was just perfect for an appetite worked up by 7+ kilometers of walking. The extensive menu filled two sides of an A4 sheet. The nachos with beef chili was superb (though a bit on the hot spicy side, be warned). Most of us had the “Hock and Cock” (ham hock and chicken) pies with chips and gravy, with our friend Ian (in photo below with wife Jenny) opting for the steak (perfectly cooked). And it turned out that Rusty and Grace’s food hadn’t thawed out thoroughly, but one of the other patrons was a canal boater moored up outside and they took the packets to their boat to zap them in the microwave for us.

Kirtlington - dog golf 2

Basildon

Basildon 1

Basildon isn’t polished around the edges (for examples, the sand hazards didn’t have rakes in them and their edges weren’t cleanly groomed), but its fundamentals (eg. green surfaces, fairways, layouts) are superb. Its more relaxed ambience combined with a very dog-friendly demeanor takes any stress out of the apprehension of dog walking even, off-lead.

Welcome:  While there were no fellow dog golfers, we did come upon dog walkers on the fairways a couple of times. When we stopped for a 9th hole drink, the shop/café/bar manager came out with a dog bowl of water for Rusty and Grace without being asked. In fact, dogs are allowed in the small clubhouse and its bar. When we stopped at the end of our round, several best friends were sitting there with their owners.

Water: No spigots on the course and the only water hazard is right next to the pro shop where a few feet away you can get fresh tap water.

Walk: The course topology is sort of giant parabolic humps. It was the total inversion of Manor of Groves. Sort of like its yoga counter pose (instead of down-and-up from one elevated ridge to another, it is up-and-down over a single ridge). If you can get your drive over the top of the looming hill, then you will get a decent bonus distance as it rolls down the other side. It gave Grace an opportunity for some ball-sniffing outside the rough even if they did go straight down the fairway. You are driving over the top of a ridge that once you clear, you have no idea where you have landed.  Lori’s most frequent questions of the day was “I wonder where the pin is” (often followed by “Grace, find the ball!”). At least a third of the holes are “blind” in this way.

Basildon 2

Manor of Groves

Manor of Groves 1

Go east young man’s best friend. Having done the vast majority of our golfing in the provinces just west of London, an annual social gathering got us to pack up our bags and head to Essex for the weekend. The event invites the whole family including the dogs so we figured we would take in a couple of rounds of dog golf – one en route there and one en route home.

Manor of Grove is a chance for those puppies to stretch their legs and the golfers to stretch their swings. The fairways are some of the widest I have seen. So unless your slice wouldn’t pass a European Union regulation for banana straightness, you have a chance to let loose with some real welly and the approach will be very forgiving to a moderate amount of veering. And just to boost your ego a bit more, the majority of holes run perpendicular to two long ridges. So you are going downhill on your drive. But be warned you will need to go *up* the other side. And naturally, water collects at the bottom of most valleys so most of these holes will have horizontal hazards running in front of you. Some of that water is feeding some very ‘healthy’ (ie. tall) growth that I swear has mutated tendril hands to grab your ball out of the air. If you will be tempted to go for the monster drive, but if you don’t think you can make it across, you could get sucked into the nadir of the abyss where the gravitational pull is strongest.

Welcome:  Everyone was very welcoming of Rusty and Grace though they did seem to be a bit of a novelty on the course to most.  As it turns out, they were a complete novelty because dogs are not actually allowed on the course.  We had previously received an email from the course confirming that they were allowed, but then after our visit, someone was so surprised to see them, that they checked the rules and told us that actually the rules prohibited dogs.  Oh well…an exclusive round of dog golf for Rusty and Grace.

Walk: As described above, the landscape is a bit of a Newton’s Cradle. Up and down, up and down. Nothing particularly steep. Just relentless. A variation of the Chumbawamba song (“I get to drive downhill, but then it goes up again…”).

Water: Quite a number of streams and water hazards, but in the mid-summer, they were all dried up. The 9th hole finishes across the big parking lot from the pro shop and bar, but it was worth the walk for us to load up on liquids.

Manor of Groves 2

Huntercombe

Huntercomb - 1

Going a bit upscale with our dog golfing now. As relatively novice golfers (average in the 30s and Lori average in the 40s), we haven’t made the investment into joining a club. On a good day, Lori and I will shoot under the maximum handicap (36 and 28 respectively), so we do need to think about joining a club so we can get our handicap cards (especially as some of the nicer clubs require them and the nicer clubs also tend to be more dog-friendly). We also tend to play the value priced courses (ie. under £30 per round) to get our practice and wayward shots out of our system. So our visit to Huntercombe Golf Club was a bit of an upgrade for us. They charge £90/round, though we still opted for the more economical evening (after 5:00 pm) rate of £50.

We were inspired by their off-lead policy. Much as the Rusty and Grace seem to do fine on lead, as Vizslas they really do prefer to be free to trot about more. As a result, we are pretty compelled to try every no-lead course within an hour’s drive of us in Marlow.

Huntercombe is more than just lead-free, but definitely puts the “friendly” into “dog-friendly”. With the strict etiquette in golf about not disturbing people while they are taking their shots, dog golfers like us are always extra worried that the dogs might let out a yelp or dash up to a player when they shouldn’t. As noted previously, some people are not dog fans (evidenced by the vast majority of clubs that do not welcome them), so one is naturally apprehensive about bothering them. When there are more dogs about in general, you feel like less of an anomaly. At Huntercombe, I would estimate that about a third of the fellow golfers on the day had dogs with them (see photo below). But it wasn’t just the dog golfers who made us feel at home. Every golfer we came up to, made a friendly comment about Rusty and Grace.

The course itself is a real curiosity. Like something designed by Dr. Seuss. No water hazards and only a few sand bunkers, but countless knolls and grass bunkers. Not gentle depressions in the landscape, but some plummeting abysses where the rest of the fairway is over your head. It felt more like Cherborg than the Chilterns. Maybe good for dodging machine-gun strafing, but not so great for stray shots. Sort of a version of 3D golf where you have to consider the elevation of hazards, not just their X/Y coordinates on the hole.

This topology leads to some quite surreal layouts. Like the Dali-esque 4th green or the 17th hole which resembles some medieval torture chamber. That said, Hole 2 is one of the favourite I have ever played. You tee off onto a gigantic downhill fairway that seems as forgivingly wide as it is long. And once you leave the tee past the surrounding trees, the view on the left opens up to this spectacular vista looking for miles over the Oxford Plain. To avoid a number of players, we had started our round on the 6th hole and so we got to Hole 2 quite late in the day when the sun was low on the horizon and igniting the summer clouds with colour. The only thing that can ruin this gem is a monstrously long serpentine gully running perpendicular to the hole two-thirds of the way through the green so beware!

Welcome:  Huntercombe is more than just lead-free, but definitely puts the “friendly” into “dog-friendly”. With the strict etiquette in golf about not disturbing people while they are taking their shots, dog golfers like us are always extra worried that the dogs might let out a yelp or dash up to a player when they shouldn’t. As noted previously, some people are not dog fans (evidenced by the vast majority of clubs that do not welcome them), so one is naturally apprehensive about bothering them. When there are more dogs about in general, you feel like less of an anomaly. At Huntercombe, I would estimate that about a third of the fellow golfers on the day had dogs with them (see photo below). But it wasn’t just the dog golfers who made us feel at home. Every golfer we came up to, made a friendly comment about Rusty and Grace.

Walk: Huntercombe is one of the flatter courses we have walked making the 6100 length more comfortable (mind you, you do need grappling hooks and crampons to scale out of some of their hazards).

Water: A water spigot with a dog water dish by the 7th hole as well as by the clubhouse (1st hole and 5th hole are there).

Huntercombe 2

Huntercombe 4

Huntercombe 3

Huntswood

Huntswood 1

We have probably played Huntswood course in Taplow more than any other course in our brief golfing career. It is a favourite of our neighbors with who we golf with as a foursome more than all of our other golf buddies combined. Researching DogGolf, we found out they welcome dogs (though with a strict lead policy – in fact one of the staff came around on the course and stopped by us to remind us that they must be kept on the leads). So the 6 of us went out on our first Huntswood round dog golfing.

Rusty and Grace are getting ever more used to the drill and routine so they were pretty comfortable on the leads. Probably a good thing that they were so confined sincea resident fox on the 5th/12th was wondering around the fairway throughout the day and a throng of young bunnies were quite nonchalantly munching grass on the 7th (both of which inspired *extreme* interest by Rusty and Grace). Grace continued her ball finding prowess though now I think she is rooting for us to hit our drives into the rough so she can get a treat.

Walk: While the course is a moderately sized 5188 metres, the layout is such that there a number of ambles between holes making the walk a bit longer. It is mostly flat except for a bit of a climb up the 17th hole.

Water: No water on the course except at the clubhouse. Fortunately, the clubhouse is right next to the 9th hole so you can detour in for a quick drink stop (where you can wet your whistle at the bar as well). Also, adjacent is a big water hazard, but it is an artificial pond so it dries out in the warmer months of summer.

Huntswood 2

Huntswood 3

Course Map

Map of dog courses - wide

One of most powerful features of DogGolf.info is the Google Map of dog friendly golf courses. This capability allows you to find the closest clubs to where you are (home) or where you might be (holiday). It has been vital for us planning some upcoming golf vacations to Cornwall and Scotland (both very dog friendly part of the world where golfing is concerned. But it is also helpful for short trips. We are visiting friends for a weekend in Suffolk and used the map to plot a course where we could play a doggie round en route on the Saturday and another coming back on Sunday.

The map also makes two colour-coded distinctions:

  • Blue = lead required
  • Green = off lead under control allowed

In the future, I might add “layers” for price ranges or other variables if I see there is and interest.

Map of dog courses - zoom

Harleyford

Harleyford 1

This is where it all began.   Our first golf lesson.  Our first golf game.  Our first round of dog golf.  Our first companion dog golfing.  Harleyford Golf Club.

Harleyford is our “local”.  The only golf course in our home town of Marlow.  Many of our friends play there.  And it was the logical place to start when Lori decided that, with all the invitations to golf days back in my corporate life, I should know how to make my way around a course (so she bought me a set of golf lessons there).  I did indeed enjoy the game and thought Lori would, too.  So the following Christmas, I bought her the same set of lessons at Harleyford, as well.  We had played there a couple of times as guests of friends, but it wasn’t until we joined black lab, Bella, for a round that our eyes opened to the possibilities of dog golf.

Bella is, in many ways, the perfect golfing dog.  Quiet and calm, she ambles from hole to hole with Jane and Stewart plopping, herself down on the side of the greens or fairways while they take their shots.  She even impressed us with her in-the-ruff ball sniffing skills (which sparked our imagination…more to come).

So once DogGolf.info got set up, it was just a matter of (short) time before we got Rusty and Grace out onto this elegant course.  The reasonably wide fairways are framed with relatively long grass.  So plenty of opportunity for Grace to practice her ball sniffing skills.  Stewart was impressed with her going 4 for 4 in finding balls hit deep in the rough.  They did have their patience tested (as did we) having to sit off to the side while Lori and I wrestled with the sloping, undulating greens, taking extra time trying to line up the tricky reads and far too many 3 putts.

Harleyford was our first and definitely won’t be our last time there.

Walk:  The course is perched atop the Thames-side Chiltern Hills so you get some significant inclines to traipse at various points.  The literal “upside” is that there are some pretty spectacular vistas to enjoy overlooking the Thames Valley.

Water:  No water hazards and being on a hill, not a lot of standing water.  The 9th hole has a rest building with toilets and vending machines, so you can get water for the dogs there.

Harleyford dog golf 2

Harleyford dog golf 3

Pennyhill Park

Pennyhill Park - hole 1

Pennyhill Park is the trustfarian of golf courses – a pint-sized progeny of rich, elegant parents rebelling with a dishevelled coif which can’t hide the natural, inherited good looks underneath.

Pennyhill Park is a gem of a hotel and spa. We have visited there a number of times. The facilities are top flight, but they actually have pretty affordable pricing. Especially, since they regularly run promotions which offer even better value. The food in the restaurants is delicious gourmet quality. And the spa features these heated gel beds that we have never seen anywhere else. Talk about turbo-charged relaxation. A while back, Lori settled into this “nap room” for a kindergarten-like decadently midday snooze, and what a sleep. Face-creasing, leg-twitching, drool on the pillow lack of consciousness.

The golf course is not quite up to these 5-star standards. Sort of the renegade black sheep of the family. The setting is just as charming as the rest of the property, but the course is simply not maintained rigorously. The fairways are a bit grown out (so don’t count on any bonus forward rolling from your drives), and the greens are downright shaggy. The green is more the length of a fringe. Even the bunkers are more grass than sand.

If Pennyhill Park were closer and the green maintained a bit better, I think we would highly consider a membership at Pennyhill. Not just for the dog golfing, but for the whole collection of facilities and luxury amenities. The range on offer is just one of the reasons to look at Pennyhill for a round of dog golfing…

  • Apprehensive Novice Dog Golfers – If you are new to dog golfing and are worried about how your pups will fare on the fairway, then Pennyhill is a great maiden outing. Especially, if you prefer to try the off-lead experience. It has an extremely casual vibe (they don’t even have the typical dress codes of golf clubs so you can wear what you like). People playing the course will be out for a bit of relaxation and fun so a stray bark from your canine companion won’t be putting them off any tournament quality play.
  • Neglected Golf Widow(er) – While your other-half might forgive you a bit for taking hours out of the day indulging your passion because you are also taking care of walking Fido, they still might feel a bit neglected from losing out on such prime time hours. If so, invite them along for a treatment and then meet up after your round and their spa for a charming lunch on the veranda.
  • · Risk Aversion – The round cost is modest and I get the sense that if you are staying at the hotel or buying other services at the hotel, you can possibly get a discount (like I said, Pennyhill does a number of promotions so it is worth asking).
  • Complete Package – As we sat on the garden deck sipping our elegant cocktails (finer than any we would find at a local doggie pub), we thought of a fantasy get-away: Arrive in evening, have a lovely dinner outside (with the dogs at our feet), spend the night in luxury (for all 4 of us as Pennyhill Park’s hotel is also dog friendly), wake up to an al fresco breakfast, hit 9 holes, have a garden lunch, and finish putting the pups in the room while we have a spa treatment (arrange for late check out). Very few places in the UK can provide such a dog-friendly, luxury weekend.
  • Engish Rugby Fan – Pennyhill Park has a long standing partnership with England Rugby. Over the years when I have visited there, I have often bumped into renowned ruggers (like Will Carling) roaming the grounds. Recently, England Rugby built a training facility on the grounds so even more props and backs will be running around the property

Despite being only 9 holes, the course is considerably more than your executive pitch-and-putt. The average length is over 200 yards. And the holes ain’t easy. In addition to the ball-halting hirsute landscape, many of the holes (especially the deceptively close Par 3s) are placed at the end of unforgivingly claustrophobic couloirs of towering trees.

So plenty of opportunity for ball hunting by the hounds. In fact, Grace displayed a bit of a milestone for her ball-in-the-rough-finding skills. Lori hit a ball into some long grass so we walked Grace to the edge and said “find the ball, Grace”. We could see a bit of white poking under a leaf and Grace walked right up to it a sniffed it. But she left it there! She now knows that she gets treats if she finds a ball and if very enthusiastic when we play the find-the-ball game. Thinking she had had a heat-induced concentration gap, we went up to the ball and pointed at it directly. She sniffed again and left it. Then we noticed that it wasn’t actually Lori’s ball. A few seconds later, Grace was pointing at something a few feet away quite eagerly. THAT was Lori’s ball. Good girl!

Walk: Modest length (especially if you just play the 9 holes once) with several hilly bits.

Water: Small pond by the 7th hole green. Not to mention the water dish offered and served on a silver plater by our fine waiter at the outdoor restaurant (See photo below).

Pennyhill Park - hole 9

Pennyhill Park - 19 hole

Temple

Temple dog golf

We may have found our new dog golfing home – Temple Golf Club. We think we might just join Temple Golf Club in Temple, Berkshire for the following reasons:

  • Proximity – It is right across the Thames River from our home in Marlow.
  • Value – They have a range of membership packages that are scaled to your use. For us it’s not just the affordability, but just the practicality since we do a lot of golfing at assorted courses either as guests of friends or investigating other dog-friendly courses.
  • Dog-Friendliness – At first we were a bit worried about Temple being in the “Lead Required” group of dog-friendly clubs as our dogs do enjoy an off-lead romp, but Rusty and Grace fared very well on our outing there and were quite happy to just be along with us even if tethered throughout.

One thing that has sold us was the pro in the pro-shop who really exuded dog-friendliness. He himself has a dog and he noted that several of the board members for the club golf with their dogs too. Some clubs do allow dogs, but you get the sense that it is a rarely exploited courtesy and the members aren’t really that accustomed to canine companions on the fairways. But the pro noted that golfers with dogs were quite regular at Temple (we didn’t see any during our round, but the weather was a bit questionable and there weren’t many golfers out full stop).

Walk:  The course is a modest length (5700 yards) but does have quite a bit of hilliness which will give your walk a bit of effort.

Water:  There are 3 water fountains along the course including one equipped with a dog bowl on the 17th hole (see below).

For our post-pins provender took us back across the river to our home town of Marlow and the popular Prince of Wales pub. It has a very fine Thai restaurant, the Thai Princess, attached to it. Dogs aren’t allowed in the restaurant, but they are very welcome in the main bar area which has ample and comfortable seating with tables and the restaurant is happy to serve you there. The “POW” also has a special “Gin Bar” with a wide selection of premium gins if you are looking for the special G&T to celebrate (or console) your round.

Temple - dog fountain