Although Stratford dates back to medieval times the town is, and always will be, best known as the birthplace of Britain’s most famous playwright, William Shakespeare. As a result it’s one of the UK’s premier tourist destinations, welcoming hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the world each year. Boasting a multitude of Bard-related attractions, from Anne Hathaway’s Cottage to the latest production of Anthony and Cleopatra at the Swan Theatre, there’s enough to keep the culture-vulture entertained for a considerable time.
Stratford is certainly less well known as a destination for golf tourism but this is not because there’s a dearth of courses. The county of Warwickshire contains more than 20 tracks and as Birmingham and Coventry are within easy striking distance the travelling golfer is spoilt for choice. Stratford provides an excellent base from which to explore the area.
The first course on our schedule was The Warwickshire in Leek Wootton. Set within a delightful 465-acre swathe of countryside, there are 36 championship holes on offer here and all are of superb quality. Designer Karl Litten, of the Emirates Course in Dubai fame, has created holes that are marked by their variety – during a round you’ll encounter inland links, classic British parkland and American stadium.
The holes are arranged into four nine-hole loops: North, South, East and West. We tackled the West and North, generally considered the toughest combination at. Played through serene rolling parkland and attractive avenues of pine this was an absorbing test although the clubhouse provided welcome respite.
At many clubs you can receive a less than hearty welcome but this is certainly not the case at The Warwickshire. Refreshingly, you’re treated with the utmost courtesy from arrival to departure.
Next on our whistle-stop tour of the Midlands was Fulford Heath Golf Club situated just to the south of Birmingham. Designed by the prolific James Braid and opened for play in 1933, the course here is a classic parkland layout.
It’s certainly not long by modern standards, measuring only just over 6,000 yards from the whites, but with plenty of trouble Fulford Heath is far from being a pushover. Sometimes it’s the less prestigious courses that stay longest in the memory and I think Fulford is a very good example of this.
Extremely well manicured and with interesting features such as the River Cole that comes into play on six of the holes, this is an enthralling and thoroughly enjoyable challenge. It is the water hazards that dictate how Fulford should be negotiated – as well as the aforementioned river, there are three lakes waiting to swallow any errant shots plus Cooper?s Ditch on the 2nd hole.
Returning to Stratford by early afternoon, we took the opportunity to wander around this beautiful town and discover some of its attractions. There’s a huge selection of places to visit such as The Falstaffs Experience (a haunted museum) or the beautiful Holy Trinity Church where both Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway were buried.
There’s also a plethora or cafes, pubs and restaurants on offer where you can unwind if the sightseeing gets too tiring. We called a halt to the tourist activities at the amusingly-named Dirty Duck pub. Located right in the centre of town it’s a popular haunt for actors – try and spot your favourite among the pictures that adorn the walls.
Stratford-on-Avon Golf Club was our final destination. Another parkland course, it has an impressive heritage – Samuel Ryder (of Ryder Cup fame) was captain here. Laid out by five-time Open champion J H Taylor, this is a quality design with some fascinating and sometimes awkward holes. A feature of the course is the fast-draining soil and playing conditions remain fairly constant all year round. It also means the greens tend to be quick so you’ll need a solid putting stroke to negotiate them effectively and keep your score intact.
Following a memorable day it was time to head home. A few days’ excellent golfing and some time soaking up the history and romance of Stratford-upon-Avon made me agree with the Bard, that parting is such sweet sorrow.
Where to play
T: 01926 409409
Stats: par 72, length varies as there is a choice of four nine-hole loops
T: 01564 824758
Stats: par 70, SSS 70, 6,179 yards
T: 01789 205677
Stats: par 70, SSS 70, 6,309 yards
Where to stay
T: 01789 279955
In Alcester just outside Stratford, Billesley Manor is a real country retreat where you can totally relax and unwind. If you’re keen for more sport then tennis and croquet are on offer. Otherwise take a stroll around the beautiful gardens or just sit on the lawn and enjoy a drink.
The White Swan Hotel
T: 01789 297002
Since the 15th century the White Swan has been providing sustenance to locals and weary travellers alike. Low ceilings, ancient beams and roaring open fires – this place has got it all.