Hidden gems: 5 fun courses I played last year

Jeremy Ellwood looks back on some of the most enjoyable courses he visited last year

Looking back down the par-3 16th at Maesteg in the South Wales Valleys
(Image credit: Jeremy Ellwood)

Playing the 'trophy' courses is, of course, a great experience, but Jeremy Ellwood feels there's as much pleasure in discovering or revisiting hidden gems

There’s no doubt that getting to play golf as part of your job is a real bonus, but it’s sometimes wrongly assumed that we spend all our time playing the very top courses to the exclusion of the kind of clubs at which the majority of our readers play most of their golf. Yes, we are fortunate to get to play a number of top courses throughout the year, but I certainly still play far more golf at the kind of club at which I myself am a member, and get more pleasure out of putting together one of our regular monthly Golfer’s Guides than anything else.

Last year I made a number of such excursions, playing a host of enjoyable courses and hidden gems in varying weather conditions, and often in excellent company from the host clubs, from South Wales up to the north of Scotland. I’m no photographer, but what’s that phrase about blind squirrels and nuts? With a bit of time on my hands at one or two of the courses, I was able to wait around long enough for even a part-time photographer with a modest camera to get one or two decent results…

Hopeman, Morayshire

I’d long known the par-3 12th hole here was a favourite of Paul Lawrie’s, but with a biblical deluge engulfing the course as I played the front nine, I didn’t hold out much hope of a photo opportunity. Thankfully, it perked up just in time for a slightly moody shot of this superb par 3 playing right down to the water’s edge, although it took me quite a while to fully dry out afterwards.

One of Paul Lawrie's favourites - the par-3 12th at Hopeman

One of Paul Lawrie's favourites - the par-3 12th at Hopeman

Grantown on Spey, Morayshire

When I arrived at Grantown for my third visit to this delightful little Speyside course, all hope of any play seemed forlorn as the greens visible from the clubhouse were under water. Incredibly, once the rain stopped, the water disappeared rapidly and away I went with the course virtually to myself. It was exceedingly windy, but afterwards the sun came out and I ventured back out to try and get a few pics of some of its heather-flanked holes.

Looking back down the par-3 8th at Grantown, a real brute into the wind

Looking back down the par-3 8th at Grantown, a real brute into the wind

Hawkstone Park, Shropshire

I played both courses at the Shrosphire resort where Sandy Lyle honed his game under the guidance of his father and head pro, Alex. I enjoyed my games on both the Hawkstone and Championship courses, which offer a wonderful mix of older and more recent course design. The sun duly obliged just when I needed it most, poking its head through as I played the dramatic holes that flank the cliffs of the famous 18th century Hawkstone Follies, a fascinating attraction that I also found time to enjoy before heading home.

The 11th green, 12th hole and Hawkstone Follies beyond on the Hawkstone Course

The 11th green, 12th hole and Hawkstone Follies beyond on the Hawkstone Course

Carus Green, Cumbria

Kendal was my father’s home town and I’d previously played the long-established hilltop course above town, but never this more recent newcomer that weaves its way between the Rivers Kent, Mint and Sprint over easy-walking terrain. I’d just attempted to drive the green on the short par-4 7th but ended up laying up unintentionally before chipping and putting for birdie. Just before we crossed the Swilcanesque bridge to the green, the sun attempted to break through setting up this photo.

The short 7th at Carus Green - worth a pop downwind if you get as lucky as I did

The short 7th at Carus Green - worth a pop downwind if you get as lucky as I did

Maesteg, Mid Glamorgan

I really, really enjoyed my game on this moorland course in the South Wales Valleys in the company of captain Nigel and treasurer Dean. Indeed, I’ve long enjoyed playing in the Valleys ever since my brother moved here many years ago to set up the perfect golfing holiday base. Maesteg is a great-value course with some wonderful holes and excellent views, and again, the sun duly obliged as we made the final run for home.

Another view of the par-3 16th at Maesteg

Another view of the par-3 16th at Maesteg



Jeremy Ellwood
Contributing Editor

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and instruction. He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, a highly regarded trade publication for golf club secretaries and managers, and has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played well over 950 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, right across the spectrum from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf

Jeremy is currently playing...

Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft

3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft

Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft

Irons 3-PW: Ping i525, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 4.0 50˚ and 54˚, 12˚ bounce, True Temper Dynamic Gold 105 R300 shafts

Putter: Ping Fetch 2021 model, 33in shaft (set flat 2)

Ball: Varies but mostly now TaylorMade Tour Response