Where fine and subtle spirits dwell...
Some places feel different from the moment you arrive. At Huntercombe, you swing off the main road, and the dust of the car park has already settled from the previous arrival, likely to have been a while back. A sense of great calm seems to envelope you as you shoulder your kit and stroll towards the clubhouse, the delicious crunch of your footsteps the only sound. You leave your sticks out the front, where a couple of dogs lie quietly, sharing in the bliss of this early May sunshine.
In the bar, the soft chatter of friends is broken up by bouts of gentle laughter, and you are grateful for the warm welcome, and relaxed atmosphere. There is an underlying serenity at play here, and in the expressions of the few who are here to play today, you sense the same happiness that you feel to be here again, At Huntercombe.
You have no teetime, but it feels like the moment has come to start moving, so you change your shoes, and above the left urinal sits a poem, calligraphed, that speaks volumes for the style of golf played here:
Golf and gloating do not mix
If you win by seven and six
Apologise for what you’ve done
And write it down as two and one.
For it will be, as it normally is here, foursomes, and you play not for some meaningless score, or even to win, but just to be part of this wonderful place again for a few hours. To try and soak up something of the quiet majesty of Huntercombe, and maybe bring a trace of it back into the rest of your world.
So you find yourself on the tee, and the red kites that examined you on arrival are now floating around where your first shot might dare to fly, like some celestial ball-spotters, soaring above the enchanting hum of the countryside in spring. And this understated masterpiece that Willie Park Jr left behind, like some great artistic puzzle, leads you on a journey through the trees, the direction changing tack at every corner, providing the odd glimpse of the rolling hills all around.
At the end of each hole you do battle with another extraordinary putting surface, these vast oceans of immaculate grass rolling over contours that wouldn’t get imagined today, let alone built. If there is another set of greens that provide this much fun, I’m yet to see them, and they are the course’s defence against the occasional round in which a medal score is required. For the low handicap player, the numbers on the card might make the course look easy, but par is rarely beaten round here, At Huntercombe.
So you put your partner in a grassy hollow or two, and he puts you in one of the few bunkers, and now and then the opposition stray into the thick green base of the bluebells, but all the way it is smiles, and no-one dares to say too much about how wonderful, how precious it is to be alive out here, lest the magic slip away.
There is probably a score in the match, but no-one’s keeping too tight a rein on it, for the conversation flows as naturally as Park’s glorious routing, and though there is never, ever a rush At Huntercombe, it seems to be over before you’re quite ready for it all to end.
And if it’s one of those days when the putter just can’t help, or the mischievous bounces aren’t going your way, then the splendour of the landscape will rescue and preserve your smile. The woodland corridors through which you play broadcast a symphony of birdsong, and as the bluebells are in flower, a shimmering blue carpet follows you round, this border in contrast to the deep green hue of the firm and vibrant turf. Now and then a pheasant panics, spooked by the dogs that enjoy the round just as much as the golfers. At Huntercombe, they even have a calendar to celebrate their four-legged friends, and as we approach the final green, several more are slumped around, exhausted but content.
The game is over, but this feeling of not rushing remains, and you linger over tea, prolonging another marvellous day’s golf with a few more chuckles. Time, that terrible master, seems to slide into the background At Huntercombe, and as the light starts to fade, you have to make a move, and will drive all the way home with a permanent grin on your face. But before you go you take one last glance at the golfing oasis before you, and one last pitstop before the rush hour, and another handwritten notice catches your eye, and stops you in your tracks again:
We do not stop playing because we grow old -
We grow old because we stop playing.
And as all the haste of the rest of life floods back in on the very first corner of your journey home, prised away from Willie Park Jr’s finest dream, you are grateful to be alive in this spring, with such legacies as this to be preserved, and explored. Tonight you will dream of the soft ribbons of the bluebells, and the impossibly fine views, and a fragment of your education will drift in as effortlessly as the kites that float above, their huge shadows drifting across the land.
You wake up with the dawn, and try to remember what you’d found in your slumber, and eventually work out it was the first line, and only the first line, of Anne Bronte’s “The Bluebell”, which your brain must have stumbled across as you downloaded these memories of another day spent well:
“A fine and subtle spirit dwells”.
At Huntercombe, such spirits permeate everywhere throughout Club, not just in the beautiful bluebells. They are in the foursomes and the black labs, in the bar and on the course. It’s that sort of place.
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