Wilmslow has played host to fields of European Tour stars, Open Championship aspirants and amateur golfers of the highest calibre. Nobody has taken the course apart. Yet it is not a daunting prospect for the higher handicap golfer. This is a subtle course which rewards intelligent play.
A prime example is the 1st hole, a short par 4 which is occasionally driven by the prodigious. The rest of us need to use our brains. Drive too far to the right and a copse lurks; too far to the left and 3-off-the-tee is the likely outcome; too long and the drive runs out of fairway. There is plenty of fairway beckoning, but only a little of it allows an approach shot to be played down the line of the angled green. It is simple, but strategic, and that is the theme on almost every hole.
One of the toughest drives follows at the 2nd, a sharp left hand dog-leg that tempts the mighty to clear tall trees, flirt with bunkers, or, again, run out of fairway by not thinking clearly. On the 4th, too, the drive is again fundamental, with bunkers to be avoided yet challenged if the best angle into a tricky green is to be found. Both par 5s on the outward nine offer birdie or eagle chances to strong hitters, but they are cleverly bunkered for the high-handicapper. The 8th offers a marvellous opportunity to reward the player able to draw the ball, or brave enough to take on the trees on the direct route, while the diminutive 9th, lying as it does on the far side of a stream, frequently provokes over-clubbing followed by desperate rescue attempts.
The back nine begins right outside the Professional’s shop, the 10th being yet another hole on which good position off the tee is essential if the green is to be easily accessed. All golfers fancy their chances on the 11th, a short par 4, but its defences are stout. One of the finest driving holes follows, the 12th, beautifully bunkered both off the tee and on the approaches to one of the largest greens on the course. Good driving distance is a considerable advantage on the par-5 13th, a down slope on the far side of a ridge usually adding many precious yards to the drive.
There is no compromise on the par-3 14th, a compulsory carry over a deep river valley to find an elusive green. Then comes a stern two-shot hole, the 15th, with the best line from the tee difficult to discern and fairway bunkering appropriate to all classes of golfer. Again it is placement of the drive rather than brute strength which unlocks the 16th hole, a dog-leg to the right to a handsomely sited green amid the trees. Another compulsory carry, this time a little shorter, is called for on the pretty par-3 17th. The final hole is a great gambler’s hole, a par 5 that is reachable in two by the strong player, but only if the tee shot is long and straight, finding the perfect spot on the elevated fairway from which a glorious second shot awaits, tumbling downhill to a well-bunkered green nestling between a grassy bank and Mobberley Brook, over which the opening drive was made.