Willie Park Jnr, James Braid, Ken Cotton, Donald Steel, Martin Hawtree
Undulating heathland with heather. Great par fives.
overlooking Sandbanks at Poole. Post Code BH14 9QS
Michael Sawicki
01202 707138
Martyn Thompson
Green Keeper
Grant Peters
parkstone golf club, peter alliss,
parkstone golf club, peter alliss,
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
Shankland Trophy May, Wimborne Cup June.
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£100 - 2018


Parkstone’s golden era was from the early 1930s to 1970 and spans the period of when Reg Whitcombe, then Peter Alliss, were professionals at the Dorset Club. They both brought favourable publicity and reflected glory, the former winning the Open Championship at Royal St George’s in 1938 in the great storm and the latter, with eight Ryder Cup appearances, also took over from Henry Longhurst as the ‘voice of television golf’.

peter alliss,

Peter Alliss

No better place. A celebration of Parkstone Golf Club 1909-2009’,  compiled by Peter Hickling as the Club’s centenary history book, is an enjoyable read with a transparent truthfulness and humorous cynicism seldom found in other centenary books. The book’s only weakness is that, although the course’s decline and recovery in the 1970/2000 period is covered, there is little mention of the greenkeepers. This is a void that unfortunately reflects a culture that, though sociable and cosmopolitan in one of the country’s wealthiest real estate retirement areas, had become complacent for a time with regard to its agronomy.

Willie Park Jnr.

The course is the product of three of the finest golf course architects. Willie Park jnr. laid out the initial course for Lord Wimborne (on whose land both nearby Broadstone and Ferndown were also built in the Edwardian era) by adapting to some severe constraints set by limitations on the land available, fitting a cramped lay-out on just 100 acres. From the outset it was planned to build housing on sixty acres around the course and there are now some forty blocks of luxury flats overlooking the course through the trees. Park removed some 13,000 trees to provide an open heathland setting with views to the sea.

Nevertheless the poor quality soil gave excellent fine running turf and the imposing hills and undulating ground allowed Park to create a links-style layout utilising a huge number of rugged bunkers formed by exposing the naturally sandy soil, rather than by construction, leaving a course that gained a commendable comment from Golf Illustrated in 1910:

parkstone golf club, peter alliss,

18th hole with clubhouse behind

“In addition to the two excellent municipal links at Meyrick Park and Queen’s Park in Bournemouth there is a private green situated in the charming village of Parkstone. It is virtually a seaside course, since the sea is so short a distance from the Club House but is regarded as an inland course. It is certainly one of the finest in that category in the Kingdom. It requires a fine golfer with a well stocked bag to get round Parkstone links in the regulation two hours!”

The clubhouse was built near a tram-stop and railway station before the advent of mass car travel and the train-journey took two hours from London. The time to London by train continues to take two hours but sadly even on a good day the time taken round the course has doubled! Such is progress…

reg whitcombe,

Reg Whitcombe

Reg Whitcombe, the youngest of three famed golfing brothers from Burnham & Berrow, Somerset, all of whom had glorious careers as professionals, joined Parkstone in 1928 when Ken Cotton was secretary and Walter Shortt had just been appointed the first chairman of the Club. These two visionaries drove through the acquisition of some seriously boggy ground against fierce opposition both within the Club and local Council.

They then retained James Braid in the early 1930s to redesign the course. Ken Cotton would also have been much involved in developing the new Braid course; he became subsequently the finest course architect in Britain after the Second World War in partnership with Frank Pennink and Charles Lawrie, from which evolved the equally renowned partnership with Donald Steel (a member of Finegolf’s Advisory Panel) from which Mackenzie/Ebert evolved.

It should also be mentioned that much of the detail of the new holes would have been honed by Jack Strutt when employed by Braid as constructor and his son Hamilton became a Parkstone member and later a renowned course architect in his own right, developing the local Isle of Purbeck course in the 1960s into the fine lay-out it is today.

Willie Park jnr’s 1st hole

The lay-out of today’s Parkstone course is little different from Braid’s design and opens with a short par four with a shelf green in front of a bank which is an original  Park hole, as is the excellent par five third with an exciting drive over the reservoir. Braid added a new par three as the second hole, requiring a medium iron shot across a dip to a well bunkered sloping green but it lacks inspiration, though it has been improved recently with the opening up of its aspect.

The drive at the 5th

The fourth, a driveable par four, is tight while the straight downhill fifth runs alongside a road with large trees hopefully stopping an accident from a hooked ball. The tee has been re-engineered but the Club, one imagines, continues to scratch its head over the difficulty of re-routing so as to avoid some militant health and safety inspector causing havoc!

While talking of trees, in common with many heathland courses, the membership here allowed self-seeded trees to encroach, which eventually brought the course by the turn of the Millennium into a parkland setting.

The course from early days had piped water to each green from a tank on a hill above the clubhouse and this system finally gave up the ghost by the late sixties. A new automatic watering system was then over-used, following the target-golf fashion adopted from the USA with its ‘green is best’ philosophy, encouraging inorganic fertiliser use and inevitably the indigenous perennial fine fescues and bent grasses reverted to weed annual meadow grass (Poa annua).

Agronomist Jim Arthur

Jim Arthur, regarded as the world’s leading golf agronomist, was retained in 1978 to advise but the traditional greenkeeping he recommended to re-establish the firmness of the surfaces was not persisted with.

Even though the Club declined to take advice from Arthur, it had always retained the best golf architects and twenty years on in 1997 Donald Steel was retained along with Jim Arthur returning.

The two of them helped ‘the penny to drop’. Below is a quote from Donald’s article in the centenary book which is also on the Club’s website.

“Links courses change less because there is less to change but courses like Parkstone have been transformed, both in appearance and in their playing character, but the growth and establishment of trees, bushes and undergrowth, diminishing the heather, seriously undermining the condition of greens, tees and fairways and causing glorious views to disappear.”

The drive at the 13th

Their view was that the essential initial cure was straightforward; get rid of the many thousands of trees and their undergrowth.

There was resistance to this approach from the local council and some ‘tree-hugging members’ but the site had been timely awarded SSSI status in 1996 by Natural England which brought with it a requirement to take the course back to open heathland.

With this requirement as a sturdy back-bone for a new course policy, over the last twenty years the Club has achieved a major reduction in trees across the site, and whereas the fairway grasses have improved to be predominantly ‘running’ fescue/browntop bent again through good greenkeeper management, there has, as yet, been no serious attempt to change from the annual meadow grass (Poa annua) greens.


Leading Compost Tea producer Symbio

Aeration and topdressing with pure inert washed sand is practiced which gives some firmness in the short term. But firstly, there is a debate raging within greenkeeping about the cleverness or not of using pure inert washed sand as it does not give a soil biology conducive to the development of natural good microbes and fungi that help fine grasses compete in the rootzone with weed Poa annua.

Secondly, when Poa annua grass is shaved at 3mm or below to create the high speed of putt supposedly demanded by Television watching golfers to copy courses like how Augusta is set-up for the Masters, I am advised by greenkeepers all round GB&I, that it is at a height that will not allow fine grasses to return irrespective of how much over-seeding is done even with the new improved strains of Browntop/Colonial Bent.

Undoubtedly it is not easy for greenkeepers to pursue a traditional, sustainable (low inputs and lower costs) greenkeeping route when officials and members of a Club are not in majority support. This is why FineGolf advises that to go through change to fine grasses, both the appropriate technical advice is needed as well as visionary communication with the membership. See the report on FineGolf’s ‘Running-Golf Day’ and the YouTube videos of the speeches.

The drive across the reservoir at the 3rd

If these two circumstances are not available it is not surprising that many greenkeepers pursue the short term policy of just managing as best as possible the weed grass Poa annua using the chemicals presently available, which we have all been warned are likely to be progressively banned.

Another agronomic weakness at Parkstone, which has been the subject of much debate across GB&I recently, centres on the use of new strains of Ryegrass. This choice of grass has been made for some heavily used areas like paths, for example at Royal Aberdeen while all paths are dark green ryegrass at Trump International at Aberdeen. Also a ryegrass/fescue blend is being experimented with for tees, such as on Port Stewart’s first hole. On the other hand Royal St George’s for example has much improved the performance of its surfaces by using ‘Rescue’ to suppress ryegrass – and yorkshire fog – and over-seed with fescues.

Parkstone has preferred to use high quality, sandy coloured rubber that is bouncy and gives good grip on some of their steep paths, but the Club has used ryegrass on some of its green aprons. This gives a ‘pretty’ striped mowed effect in keeping with a parkland mode but more importantly (as discussed in the recent Wentworth FineGolf  review) when a golfer wishes to bump-and-run their ball on to the green it sadly ‘sticks’ in the ryegrass.

The drive at the 12th

An example of this is the lush approach to the third and the attractive short par four twelfth where one drives from a high tee down to shy of the large, white sand cross-bunker on the slight dogleg. The short approach shot would normally, on a firm running-golf heathland course, be bounced into the fairway bank in front of the plateau green and up and on to the green. I tried that shot three times here but each time the ryegrasses among the fescues stopped the ball from running on. This situation forces the player to use the target-golf aerial route to pitch the ball to the green, which if firm and not hit with back-spin would bounce to the back or through. Of course if there is an annual meadow grass green with receptiveness and softness, in comparison to a firm fine grasses agronomy, it means the flag wherever it is on the green can be attacked as in the act of throwing a dart. Although this somewhat mechanical way of playing a hole is clearly on soft greens the best way to reduce your number of shots, it unfortunately removes a lot of the imagination and creativity associated with the three-dimensional running game.

Parkstone is one of those courses with much undulation in their firm running fairways and so straight hitting is rewarded on a course of only 6250 yards from the white tees. Even I, with my thirteen year old Macgregor driver, was able to birdie both par five sixth and ninth holes by reaching the greens in two shots, which was great fun. The fairways ran well and luckily I was able to hit the right lines from the tees on these two blind drives.

The drive at the 11th

The eleventh is a proper par five, with a drive over the boggy Luscombe Valley area, now drained sufficiently to allow one’s ball to skip forward on the recently over-seeded fairway. Nevertheless most will throttle back on their second shot as the fairway narrows and kicks off into trees on the right of the left hand uphill dogleg; better to play a full wedge in unless you are a tiger.

The 17th fairway

The fifth par five, the seventeenth hole is the finest. Another blind drive on a sweeping right hand dogleg at 532 yards, even the tiger players will be stretched to reach a green sited uphill and in a dell with a right hand bank off which a ball needs to bounce to attain the green in two shots.

The eighteenth (200 yards) is the finest of the five par threes. A long iron is played across a valley to a classic side-shelf green with a woolly, heathery bank behind to catch the over ambitious shot that tries coming in from the right; a fine match-play hole.

The sixteenth (142yards) requires a high dropping shot to a newly developed green, where sensible thought I am told is being applied, as at the second, in order to give a better sight of the green from the tee.

A brand new, well bunkered narrow plateau green has recently opened at the 164 yard fourteenth along the top of the hill at the far end of the course. I can’t remember what sort of hole it replaced but its overall setting did not give me a feeling of a Parkstone hole in keeping with the Club’s professed wish to return to an open heathland aspect.

The drive at the 15th

The fifteenth (422 yards), however, is a fine hole, one of only two stretchy par fours, the other being the tenth. Teeing successfully from high ground to a narrow fairway, with a fall-off bank on the left, sets up a classic running long iron to a flattish green above one’s eye level.

The drive at the 8th

The other two short par fours that make up this eclectic, imaginative course are the eight and thirteenth. Both again begin from glorious high tees and the eighth (340 yards) requires that half shot approach where I find it so easy to decelerate and duff it. This large green runs quickly from back to front. After missing the driveable bunkers on the right of the thirteenth (368 yards) one plays again up the hill to a pin, the bottom of which is blind.

In recent years Martin Hawtree has helped upgrade bunkers across the course.

With new, young, Secretary/GM, who has a greenkeeping background and new Course Manager in place, let’s hope they have the confidence to use their well regarded abilities to guide the Club along the progress that was set out by Jim Arthur and Donald Steel at the turn of the Millennium and thereby restore the course fully to its heathland ‘heathery’ heritage, with special emphasis on the agronomy around and on the greens.

The clubhouse from the 18th tee.

Parkstone became fully a members’ Club in 1961 and the original clubhouse had a major refurbishment in 2004 offering views of both the first and eighteenth.

Apart from its two famous professionals there have been a number of golfing members of international fame who have played in Curtis and Walker Cups, including Maureen Garreth. But I finish with a quote from Jeanne Bisgood CBE, a deputy Lord Lieutenant of Dorset and champion golfer of the 1950s:

“Parkstone being hilly is a total contrast compared say with local Ferndown and, whilst it may not be the greatest test of golf in the world, I have never been bored playing it and to say that of your own course is a great tribute to it”.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2017

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