Harold Hilton, Hamilton Stutt
Harold Hilton designed, flatish heath/parkland. Enjoyable holiday course with strong 400 yard par fours.
North of Bournemouth. Postcode BH22 8BU
Ian walton
01202 653950
Scott Godfrey
Green Keeper
Murray Long
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
Peter Alliss invitational - Sept
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£110 - 2018


Ferndown is one of a trio of heathland clubs in the Bournemouth area (the other two are Broadstone 1898, and Parkstone 1909) built on the Canford Estate stretching from Wimborne to the coast at Poole. The land was acquired by the Guest Family in 1846 after making their money from the South Wales foundry industry and as the founder of the engineering company that later became known as GKN. Recognising that members needed to be attracted from Bournemouth, Lord Wimborne built a bridge over the River Stour to link Ferndown by road.

Willie Park jnr (Parkstone’s course architect in 1909 and who had helped Tom Dunn lay-out Broadstone’s first course in 1898) and Harry Colt (who had re-designed Broadstone in 1914) both bid to be the Ferndown course architect on the land known as Parley Common.

harold hilton,

Harold Hilton as Open Champion 1897

The Club perhaps had a clever eye to attracting publicity, something that the Club has managed to do successfully over the years to enhance its reputation and Harold Hilton was appointed. Hilton was one of the leading amateur champions of the day and loved by the English middle-class golfing public. He was also likely to have been appreciably cheaper!

Rudolf de Paula, who was the driving force behind the establishment of the course, may well have been influenced by the success of a similar dual golf and housing development at Worplesdon, Surrey and this Ferndown course development also went hand in hand with housing on the perimeter. Hilton did well to design within a small acreage, conjuring a fine lay-out that continues to today, apart from two holes sold off for further housing in the 1960s.

harold hilton, jack graham, john ball,

Hoylake trio of John Ball, Harold Hilton and Jack Graham

Hilton came from Lancashire and was one of the famous trio of amateur golfers associated with Royal Liverpool, Jack Graham and John Ball being the other two. Hilton was secretary at West Lancashire GC for a period while Ferndown seems to be the only course he ever designed. He was twice Open Champion in 1892 and 1897 and four times Amateur Champion, winning both the American and British Amateurs in 1911.

The Club was founded in 1913 and the course laid-out in 1914 just before the First World War intervened.

Consequently the official opening of the course had to wait, being eventually held in October 1921. Two professionals, both also Open Champions, competed in the morning when Ted Ray beat Harry Vardon by 78 strokes to 79 and the amateurs Hilton and Hooman won a better ball with 69 strokes against the professional’s 70 in the afternoon.

The Standard Scratch was then set at 76 and bogey at 80. Nowadays both par and standard scratch are 71.

J.C.Beard who was secretary for twenty six years from 1926 was an expert on greenkeeping and he made sure of draining the boggy areas on the course and until more recent times when annual meadow grass (Poa annua) has come in and the self-seeded trees grown up, it was always been a dry running course on sandy soil.

percy alliss. peter alliss,

Peter and Percy Alliss

Although Peter Alliss was the pro at nearby Parkstone from 1957 to 1970 it was here at Ferndown that he grew up. His Father Percy, a famous golfer and teaching pro was pro here from 1938 to 1967 and Peter says Ferndown remains the spiritual home of the Alliss family. This involvement with the Club over the years has been enormously beneficial to the Club’s positioning in the golf world.

Ferndown clubhouse with one of the newly refurbished bunkers

The flat open heathland site was never going to produce as interesting a golf course as Broadstone or Parkstone  but Hilton sensibly sited the clubhouse, made up of five Army Nissen huts, on top of the one hill. It also usefully had three tees close by to give golfers a choice of starting points if there was pressure at the first tee.

In those days when there were few trees; it was said that the Isle of Wight could be seen on a clear day.

Harold Hilton in full swing with a 110% turn!

Hilton was an exceptional player of wooden clubs from the fairway and when eventually the course was opened it was 6400 yards, a long distance in those days of hickory clubs, requiring frequent use of brassies or spoons on the stretchy par fours.

The third hole

Indeed to this day there are eight par fours of around 400 yards, four of which lie in and out from the clubhouse hill. With modern balls and clubs and the greens being  annual meadow grass (Poa annua) that are softer and more receptive than if they were fine grasses, the aerial route with mid iron approaches has taken much of the challenge away from what might now be called a delightful course to be played while on holiday rather than a championship course.  It is still only 6,508 yards from the back and lengthening is restricted by the perimeter housing. The course is well ‘manicured’ and will be firmer in the summer than at other times of the year.

Many of the traditional greens are constructed close to the height of the fairway with openings sited between greenside bunkers through which your ball can be run, much in the manner that would make this course a most enjoyable challenge these days using hickory clubs if the aprons were firmer.

The par three fifth

All four par threes are laid out on flat land and surrounded by bunkers and though not memorable are nevertheless not easy.

The two holes at the far end of the course, that Frank Pennink described as two excellent right hand doglegs, were sold for housing in the sixties and were replaced with two longer holes created from the practice area.

The eleventh green

The eleventh (454 yards) with its blind drive has a good approach shot to a plateau green, while the thirteenth named after Percy Alliss is a reachable two-shot, short, par five with a green set in a dell.

Some of the holes have good quality heather as rough, which is a plant that is being encouraged here once more. There was a spell when too many trees were allowed to self-seed, changing the open aspect into more of a parkland site which inhibited the free movement of drying air across the greens and produced a reduction in the heather when autumn leaves would blow under the heather, mulch down, fertilise and thereby harm it.

Well designed addition of heather near bunkers

The 60 or so bunkers have all been refurbished over the winter 0f 2016/17 by the in-house team led by consultant Murray Long (previously at Sunningdale), which was a remarkable achievement. The bunker-design has been returned to the ‘thirties’ look with heather tufted tops.

Hamilton Stutt of Parkstone in the sixties, not only upgraded the outstanding Isle of Purbeck (the other, fourth, fine heathland course in the Bournemouth area)  but also designed nine holes built on the south side of the Ferndown course; these are today known as “The Alliss course”.

It was also decided after much protest to do away with Hilton’s best par three called ‘The Gibbet’, a hole previously played downhill from the clubhouse.

Hilton’s Gibbet hole

The two short par fours are fun, risk-and-reward holes for the tiger players. The eighth, called ‘Perfection’ at 302 yards, is played to a side shelf green near the clubhouse and if the green surface was firmer it would require a more imaginative running approach shot than a simple high wedge required by the majority of us. The sixteenth, called after Harold Hilton (305 yards) is driven to a wide fairway with a three-tiered green protected by a cross bunker tucked away to the right.

The 285 page Centenary book by Philip Richards titled “From Hiltons to Perfection” provides copious detail of those involved with the Club and how it went into receivership twice in the 1920s and became a members-owned club in the 1960s.

clubhouse behind the eighteenth green

The Dunhill Cup, nowadays played at St Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie was earlier played at Ferndown in 1982 and 1984 when it was called the Hennessey Cup. The Weetabix Ladies Open came to Ferndown in 1984 attended by 14,000 spectators.

There was in those days a ‘Dormy’ hotel that has subsequently closed. The clubhouse was updated into a most imposing and attractive single story building opened in 2008 by Peter Alliss.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith in 2017

FREE, every 2 months
The FineGolf Newsletter

It will keep you up to date with what new course reviews and articles have been published