YOU WON’T FIND Kington Golf Club in any great golf courses’ guide but that is absolutely no reason to ignore this wonderful little course clinging, almost precariously, to the top of Bradnor Hill in far West Herefordshire. At 1,280 feet, Kington was once the highest 18-hole course in England although since Alston Moor in Cumbria was extended it has now been relegated to second place. What this most welcoming of clubs is most certainly is the best in the county and one well worth making a detour to play.
Some 21 miles north west of the county town of Hereford, the course opened in 1925. It was designed by CK Hutchison, best known for Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire and assisting James Braid in the creation of the King’s course at Gleneagles. Royal Ashdown Forest members may be unaware that he also advised on the addition of nine holes on what is now the club’s West Course.
But so much for dry facts; having driven up the steep winding drive to the hill top clubhouse, the first thing that strikes first time visitors is the stupendous view. On a clear day the Brecon Beacons National Park, Black Mountains, the Radnorshire Hills, Hergest Ridge, the Malvern and Clee Hills all come into view.
Perhaps the most dramatic way to enjoy this is when one tees off in a mist that gently rises on the way round. When the sun breaks through and the panorama unfolds there are few more spectacular places to play golf anywhere in England.
And there are no bunkers. The land is owned by the National Trust and includes the historic Offa’s Dyke walk. This is parkland golf, and quite short at 5,961 yards, where low handicap players may only be reaching for driver at two long par fours on the front nine. The uphill fourth is 435 yards and often into the prevailing wind whilst the eighth, known as ‘Hill Top’, is 442 yards from where we can enjoy a view over seven counties. Finding the right line in is crucial at Kington with sloping fairways and greens with some precipitous run offs.
There are challenges right from the off as we climb up the steep first fairway where, if we are very unlucky, the ball could well come rolling back to greet us from both our drive and second and, if the golfing gods are truly against us and the hole is cut at the front, it is even possible to putt clean off the green and see it disappearing back down the hill again. But do not be deterred because this is all part of the fun of playing here and fun is very much what golf at Kington is all about.
The greens are invariably firm and quick as we make our way steadily around the hill and, whilst we may be slightly breathless when we reach the fourth tee, we can take time to enjoy a wonderful view across this green county.
Other highlights include the short, par three ninth, where the course planner recommends we pause briefly to look down on Wales, something that may well strike a cord with any number of English golfers!
After the turn we come steadily back down the hill with the par five 14th, at 554 yards the longest on the course, providing a chance to really open the shoulders and make use of the slope provided we can keep it straight.
With the sloping hillsides, placement is far more important than power at Kington although there are a number of risk and reward holes where we can ‘Go for it’ provided the elements are in our favour.
If we have amassed a decent score then the short par four last provides the opportunity to bow out in a blaze of glory. At 284 yards we should set our drive out left and watch the ball come bounding down the slope to end on the green in front of the clubhouse windows. An eagle here is well worth talking about in the friendly bar where we can enjoy one of Herefordshire’s finest products, a pint of delicious cider. But whatever our score, if the sun shines and the wind is only a gentle gust, it is impossible not to enjoy a round at Kington.