Frilford Heath

JH Taylor, JH Turner, Ken Cotton, Simon Gidman
Two heathland and one parkland course, across 500 undulating acres.
Off the A338 west of Abingdon. OX13 5NW
Jimmy James
01865 390864
Derek Craik
Green Keeper
Sid Arrowsmith MG
frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,
frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,
frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,
frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,
frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,
Access Policy:
visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
Gold Medal - June
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£100 - 2016


My own golf game was fostered at Frilford Heath in the 1960s when it was 27 holes with a tiny wooden clubhouse and a gorgeous, dry heathery, gorse-lined ‘running golf ‘ heathland course. One day after attending morning prayers, I bicycled the seven miles with my clubs on my back, played 54 holes and then bicycled back to school in time for evensong!

frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,

The third green on Green course. Click to enlarge

It is not surprising to read that Cyril Tolley and Roger Wethered both Amateur Champions and Walker Cup players, visited Frilford regularly in the 1920s and helped the Club build a relationship with nearby Oxford University Golf Club.

Undoubtedly the finest club for miles around it has subsequently built a new clubhouse and now boasts three courses.

frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,

Twelth fairway on Red course

The little nine-holer across the road that was such fun in the 1960s, designed in 1928 by the local Frilford Heath professional JH Turner, is essentially the same now though with less heather. Today it forms half of the third ‘Green’ shorter course that uses four of the original very fine eighteen holes (designed in 1908 by JH Taylor, five times Open Champion and a member of the great triumvirate with Vardon and Braid) with the addition of extra holes on damper woodland ground running to and from the new club house. Thanks to lots of extra drainage being incorporated these holes have been dried out, though they are of different parkland character.

frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,

Ninth greenside eyelid bunkers on Green course

JH Taylor’s original second hole now the fifteenth on ‘Green’ is particularly good with a crested fairway just in front of the gathering-in green in a long bowl, where the bottom of the pin is hidden from view and where if a high shot lands on the downside of the crest your ball can kick through or if on the upslope you can be thrown off sideways to bunkers or come up short. An interesting ‘running-shot’ judgement is needed, certainly in a dry summer to the firm browntop bent/Poa annua green.

The Club wished to expand to 36 holes so when Frilford Heath House was acquired as the new clubhouse in the mid 1960s, it made the excellent choice of retaining the finest post-World War II golf course architect Ken Cotton, a partner with Frank Pennink and Charles Laurie and later Donald Steel.

frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,

Sixteenth on Red course

Cotton’s ‘Red’ course has retained some original JH Taylor holes from twelve to sixteen, which contains three lovely short par fours and as the eighteenth is only 300 yards, this has created the very opposite of a stretchy finish!

Cotton used most of the original JH Taylor green-sites on the naturally draining sandy land though these are now approached from different directions. Holes five through to eight are perhaps the most challenging part of the course with three long par fours and a 500 yard par five reachable after a good drive over the corner drive bunker.

frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,

The par-three ninth on Red course

The ninth a pretty par three over a pond with a greenkeepers old cottage behind stays in the memory.   This arrangement made for a delightful heathland course with many gorse-lined fairways with occasional pines and silver birch also.

In 1994 some adjacent flat farmland came available and the ‘members’ company who owns the Club decided to build a third ‘Blue’ course. The problem was that this new land was less naturally draining and though there was an absence of any iconic trees Simon Gidman was retained to build a parkland design. He did a satisfactory job if you like large flat bunkers and bulldozered mounds but the need to fit two new loops of nine holes that returned to the clubhouse necessitated changes to the first four holes of the Cotton ‘Red’ course. These are now of the style of the ‘Blue’ course rather than Cotton’s heathland ‘Red’ design. Actually that remark is not completely accurate as the first hole is an interesting tree-lined dogleg with a ‘Cotton’ style green.

frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,

Steven Baxter on Red thirteenth tee.

The Course Manager, Sid Arrowsmith MG is a knowledgeable and personable man who has just had the honour of being elected to be from 2017 President of BIGGA, the Greenkeepers trade body.

When I was recently invited to play with the diminutive, competitive left-hander and author of the Club’s Centenary history book “Frilford Heath Golf Club 1908-2008”, the ‘Red’, though much changed, still had the ‘heathland’ feel with well positioned bunkers of Ken Cotton/JH Taylor crisp eyelid style and I could see where they were trying to bring back the heather.

A lot of pure sand top-dressing, as is now becoming increasingly fashionable, has certainly firmed up the greens, diluted the Poa anuua thatch and with some browntop bent over-seeding is going to carry the course in the right direction for Fine Golfers. However, the greens are predominantly annual meadow grass (Poa annua) and cut below 4mm.

frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,

AP McCoy playing with Mick Fitzgerald.

I can add one snippet to Robin Oakley’s Spectator column of 2nd May 2015 as he enthused over AP McCoy’s life at his retirement from being Champion Jump Jockey twenty times and winning an amazing 4,357 of his 17,630 races. Frilford Heath is not far from Lambourn and as we played the Red’s fifteenth (the original tenth), Steven pointed Tony out to me on the ‘Green’ third tee (the original eighth). Considering what McCoy’s body has endured with multiple broken bones, he has a remarkably calm swing from one of the most modest, professional and likeable sportsmen ever.

The Ryder Cup trial in 1931 took place at Frilford Heath and there is a fascinating article by FH Taylor, the Oxford University Golf Club professional, reproduced in Steven Baxter’s book, reporting on the match and commenting on the use of the new sized larger and lighter golf ball. It was nick-named ‘the floater’ giving more control around the green and less length off the tee. It now seems unfortunate that the Americans dropped it the following year. Click here to read about the political history of the golf ball, with the British eventually giving up their even smaller ball in the 1980s.

frilford heath golf club, JH taylor, ken cotton,

The par-three sixth on Green course

The club is attracting tournaments.  The ‘Red’ hosted the Amateur International England v France in 2008 and in 2013 The English Amateur. The club’s extensive facilities are excellent for the professionals first stage of European Tour qualifying that has been played here in October for the past five years. This year the club will also be hosting The Open Championship regional qualifying.

It was a great privilege to return to my old haunts and see Frilford Heath in good hands.

See the Club’s Centenary history book “Frilford Heath Golf Club 1908-2008”  by Steven Baxter.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2015

Reader Comments

On August 26th, 2018 Andrew Webster said:

A P McCoy is playing golf with another former jockey Mick Fitzgerald.

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