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18th Green & Clubhouse
In his search for hidden gems around the British Isles, DOMINIC PEDLER sampled the rejuvenated wonders of Hayling Golf Club, a true links tucked away on a glorious stretch of the Hampshire coast.

The next time you venture out for a spot of Winter golf at your local layout only to confront an assault course of mud, mats and temporary greens, you might want to dwell enviously on the members of Hayling Golf Club where even the ubiquitous 'preferred lies' are a thing of the past. Winter greens and tees have similarly been banished to history after a maintenance programme that has transformed the natural linksland on this splendidly secluded Hampshire island into among one of the finest playing surfaces in the country.

Dating from 1883, Hayling GC has always been a favourite of seaside golf fans over the years, seduced by its glorious location complete with panoramic views over the Solent and the Isle Of Wight.

Though while the club has long boasted a challenging layout, meandering through gorse and wild dunes in equal measures, it has also been victim of the traditional links malaise of burnt fairways and dusty lies, with any re-seeding panacea scuppered by the Four Winds that invariably blow in this delightful corner.

But 1999 saw the completion of an irrigation system and re-turfing programme that has restored virtually summer slickness to the greens and fairways even during our February visit.

Secretary Chris Cavill has presided over the remarkable turnaround. "We have a lot of visitors and societies who pay good money to play at Hayling. We understand that they deserve the best," he told Golf Today. "And these days the golf season is no longer just six or

The fairway at the par-5 14th winds around the marshy inlet on the leeward side of Hayling Island.
seven months. There is pressure on greenkeepers to provide an excellent surface almost year-round." Cavill's team has indeed been working overtime to nuture the fine, close-cropped turf that now forms an emerald carpet above the quick-draining sandy base.

But aside from its vitas and condition, Hayling gets an instant nod into any discerning golfers guide for a characterful layout that constantly twists and turns over its 6,531 yards, providing each hole with its own identity and set of challenges so often missing on many an 'out-and-back' links.

Like all good entertainment, Hayling builds the tension beautifully, starting with an exacting par 3, on the flatter ground near the clubhouse, and building to a climax in the rollercoaster of humps and hollows at the far end bordering Langstone Harbour. This latter stretch starts in earnes with the 492-yard, par-5 7th which plays as a stiff three-shotter into the wind. In true links tradition many of the holes at Hayling have been colourfully christened and, here, 'Death Or Glory' refers to an ambitious second shot that will flirt with a gorse-covered ridge on which sits a WWII war bunker (concrete rather than sand!). It's a proud reminder of Hayling's wartime role as a decoy for nearby Portsmouth.

Indeed, forget the R&A's convoluted new dictum on 'burrowing animals'. Until recently, Hayling had a local rule giving you a free drop from a bomb crater - though apart from a few still accessible to the 'seriously divergent', all have now been filled-in.

But eccentricities still abound at Hayling. Take the short drive-'n'-pitch 8th. A line of deliciously unkempt line of sandhills lies dauntingly across the fairway at the 180-yard mark, forcing you to choose between laying up with a mid-iron or blasting over the danger to the flat land below. Beyond the the ridge lies the calm sanctity of the green along with an old bell with which to alert your pursuers when you have finished putting.

Meanwhile, "Pan-Ko-Chai", by which the 10th hole is mysteriously named, is apparently the Malaysian word for "Hell" and, as such, shares its name wih the notoroius 14th on the Old Course at St Andrews. Reachable in dry, summer conditions, any references to purgatory at this picturesque short par-4 of 270 yards presumably decribe the perils of a pulled drive which will find oceans of gorse.

The 11th green amid the rugged dunes adjoining Langstone Harbour
The scenic stretch continues as we immediately turn towards the sea and play to a plateau green 152 yards away. This 11th hole is backed by startlingly white sand dunes on the adjoining beach and, in the distance, the looming presence of the Isle of Wight. Four guarding bunkers are visible from the
tee and a further trap lurks hidden, pin-high, on the left to catch the pulled shot.

We change direction once again for the Desert hole, widely recognised as one of the finest par-4s in Hampshire. The distant green is partially obscured by a protruding sandhill, tending to dictate a power fade for your second shot to this 444-yard showpiece. The satisfaction of a four here is perhaps only topped by finding your ball on the green at the next, the notorious 'Widow' hole. Named orginally after the 'clutches' of a foreboding bunker from which (on an earlier layout) you had to escape, this memorable hole involves an uphill drive to a marker post set on the highest point of the island (60 feet above sea level). Shades of Scotland's finest. Talking of which, the nine-yard wide green at the 6th hole - dubbed 'Narrows' - is surely more 'spatially challenged' than Troon's Postage Stamp.

Hayling has a fascinating history to match the authentic flavour of its links. The illustrious names of James Braid, Harry Vardon and Bobby Locke are among the past record holders and the card of Locke's 65, which he shot in 1959, still hangs in the clubhouse.

Forty years on and the name 'MJ Blackey' peppers the boards and silverware in the great white clubhouse which enjoys some of the finest aspects in British golf. This particular local hero has now graduated to rookie on the European Tour and Hayling members are charting with pride the progress of their former club champion who once made it (if only for a few hours!) to the hallowed handicap of plus-4

. Meanwhile, back on the course, the rabbits (the animals not the other members!) can now be counted in similarly rarified numbers. After a virtual epidemic of recent times, the greenkeepers have patiently logged the systematic eradication. Three years ago 200 turf transplants were required for the 6th fairway alone. Last year that figure was down to four.

In fact the only thing that the club can't control is the vagaries of the coastal erosion at this western tip of the island. The problem is not up to Brancaster proportions but, certainly, the Solent has been encroaching steadily towards the 1st fairway and already claimed part of the practice ground and a car park.

"It's an ongoing problem," says Cavill who explains that the R&A has a committee looking into this occupational hazard of so many of our seaside courses. "Hayling Island used to be famous for its sandy beaches - but not any more. The use of breakwaters would only push the problem along the coast and we accept that the interests of many other groups on the island have to be taken into account. We are constantly looking for solutions but, ultimately, the effects of nature are impossible to predict," he admits. The Hayling links is indeed a shining example of nature in every sense.


Hayling Golf Club
Address: Ferry Road, Hayling Island, Hampshire PO11 OBX
Telephone: 01705 463712

Directions: Cross the main causeway bridge from the mainland and follow the signs for West Town. Clear signposts will lead you to the clubhouse on the south side of the main road leading west.

Green Fees:
Weekdays 30 per round, 40 per day
Weekends:40 per round, 50 per day (subject to restrictions)
Handicap certificate: essential
Societies: welcome Tuesdays and Wednesdays