Not far off the River Thames and just beyond Marlow in Buckinghamshire, you will find the charming Harleyford Golf Club. On arrival as you enter through the gates onto the estate, you get the feeling you have arrived in a special place. Harleyford is classy yet not imposing, with an impressive and friendly clubhouse which welcomes visitors.
The course winds its way through a stunning parkland setting and measures a healthy 6,714 yards off the back tees and plays to a par of 72. The greens are built to USGA specification and were rolling nice and true on my visit. What strikes me about this course is how mature it seems for its age. Designed by Donald Steel’s design company in the early 1990s, the tree lined fairways wouldn’t look out of place on a golf course decades older. Despite this, it does widen in places on the course allowing you to open the shoulders a little.
The course gets off to a relatively gentle start with a pair of short par 4s with a feel reminiscent of the nearby Lambourne club – also designed by Donald Steel around the same time Harleyford came to be. The 3rd hole is the first of a series of challenging par 3s on the course; coming up just shy of 200 yards, as a solid long iron is required to hit the green, which feeds off at every side with bunkers further protecting the hole. The course kicks into gear on the strong par 5 5th. Only reachable in two to the longest hitters, the tee shot favours a right to left shape to a fairway that dog legs slightly to the left. Get your tee shot away and a birdie could be on the cards, although the hole can as easily give away bogeys as birdies. The 6th hole follows with another tough par 3 playing slightly uphill to a shallow but wide green well defended by bunkers, par here is a good score. Another notable hole on the front 9 is the 7th, playing 467 yards this hole is rated the toughest on the front 9, the severe dog leg to the right takes you downhill towards the treacherous green that commands respect. Anything above the hole will be lightning quick. A respite does come, though, to both finish the front 9 and start the back with two par 5s very capable of offering up birdies and maybe even the odd eagle. Take in the stunning views across the Thames Valley whilst walking the first few holes on the back 9.
Other notable holes include the signature 12th hole aptly named “Chalkpit”. The 176 yard par 3 sticks in the memory. The hole plays over the valley to the severely sloped green framed by the prominent chalk bank around the back and bunkers to the front at either side. The most important thing here is to not go long as it will be near impossible to keep it short of the hole during the summer months – a very strong hole. Following the uphill par 4 13th, come the short par 4 14th and 15th holes. The 14th is a fun hole that shouldn’t prove too problematic, whilst the 15th ‘Temple’ is a gem, this hole is all about the tee shot with trees down either side and a dog leg to the left. Hit your tee shot to the corner of the dog leg to leave yourself a mid to short iron into one of the smaller greens on the course. The 16th is yet another long tough par 3; the large tree 50 yards short and to the left will wreak havoc to any that hits a fade off the tee.