Willie Park Jnr.
Picturesque downland course with fine turf and Thames valley views
Between Maidenhead and Henley-on-Thames (postcode:SL6 5LH)
Keith Adderley
01628 824795
Michael Whitby
Green Keeper
Ben Kevey

Hosted the inaugural FineGolf Enjoyment Day, September 10th 2013. 

Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
Welcomed on a lead
Open Meetings:
Oppenheimer Bowl - August
Fees in 1960s
Fees today


Not too much is known about the origins of the Club which was founded by a group of military officers and local gentry in 1909 although it possesses an historical connection to the Knights Templar. One of its founders, Colonel Ricardo, a hugely colourful character, was said to have been the inspiration for Mr Toad in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows! Characters abound at Temple.

Willie Park Jnr, a double Open champion and architect of nearby Sunningdale Old and Huntercombe, was invited to create a course that Donald Steel describes as “challenging enough to keep good players at full stretch without diminishing the enjoyment of the rank and file”.

view from 17th

view from 17th

His routing over rolling chalk downs, provides beautiful panoramic views of the Thames Valley towards the Chilterns and, with low rainfall and chalky subsoil, it is one of the driest courses of its kind. After an initial descent, you wend your way back to where you started without any sense of a back-breaking climb.

The architecture of some holes has been adapted over the years but in each and every case, only after detailed consultation with the Club’s appointed Course Architect, which have included Frank Pennink and Donald Steel in the past.

Members of this private members’ club can be thankful for the many enlightened policies pursued by Raymond Oppenheimer who inherited the custodianship of the course from his father, Louis, and was a benevolent dictator from the 1930s to the late 1960s with only the interests of Temple at heart.

Sir Henry Cotton

Sir Henry Cotton

Raymond played off plus two for 25 years, adding the captaincy of the Walker Cup in 1951 to his list of honours. He attracted his friend Sir Henry Cotton, who was then the ‘Great High Priest’ of British golf, winning The Open three times, to become the Professional at the Club. Henry wrote in 1969 that “the turf at Temple is superb and the fairway lies almost too good to be true”.

In common with many golf courses, an irrigation system was installed in the 1970s and almost certainly used to excess with copious amounts of fertiliser in order to follow the ‘green is great’ mentality present at the time. The sward changed from the original drought and disease resistant bents and fescues to the weaker Poa annua (annual meadow grass). Such a philosophy was all the rage at this time, with the fashion for ‘target golf‘ arriving from America.

Many of our prestigious, finest designed courses around London and the South East still suffer from the same vicious cycle of high maintenance spend and course conditions that are often associated with Poa grasses. That said each to their own, as it is possible for this philosophy to work for clubs which possess the necessary resources to dig up and relay their greens as necessary and don’t wish to go down the sustainable route. However, this would be too costly and disruptive for most ordinary clubs and is unlikely to give firm, true greens in the winter.

Luckily for Temple, in the early 1990s the Board of Directors opted to follow a course management policy that would see the golf course maintained in keeping with its chalk downland environment. Frequent aeration together with the minimal use of water and fertiliser eventually returned the golf course to a sporting one which required golfers to use their imagination and creativity.

Malcolm Peake at the 8th

Malcolm Peake at the 8th

In recent years the club has been at the forefront of the trend back to natural fine golf. This story of restoration, which undoubtedly involved things becoming worse before they improved, is brilliantly chronicled by the then Chairman of Green, Malcolm Peake, in two STRI books “Confessions of a Chairman of Green” and “A Natural Course for Golf”. These two books should be required reading for all Green Committees and indeed all those golfers who like to complain ‘why can’t we have a course like I saw on television?’

The most telling summary of this journey can be seen in the reduction in inputs and maintenance costs. In the 17 years to 2007 fertiliser costs reduced by 50%, pesticide costs by 72% and water usage by 64%. The course can be played on nearly every day of the year and the members have rediscovered the need for the bump and run shot and fine running golf once more.

This is not a long course at 6210 yards with a par of 70 and SSS of 71. There are four holes between 213 and 259 yards that could be par 3 or 4 and are the key to a good score.

The 1st tee, outside the Artisans’ Clubhouse, with distracting, stunning views, is temptingly, strongly downhill with uncut fescue meadow to the right and trees left. It is the archetypical trap for those who think only of a “drive is for show” whereas a straight iron may well set you off in better frame of mind to enjoy the beautiful setting of the landscape as well as the golfing challenge!

2nd and 6th double green

2nd and 6th double green

The 2nd is a fine two-shotter that shares a green with the 6th. Being windswept and open, this large putting surface has a particularly high percentage of fine grasses. The greens are generally about 70% fine grasses and whilst cut at a sustainable height of 4mm, they produce a good green speed. The natural policies pursued have allowed fairways to contain up to 80% fescues/bents grasses that give a dry, fast running quality.

The downhill 230 yard 8th to a double tier green is near the Henley Road and is one of the few parts of the course that can be glimpsed from outside. Although from the tee the charming view across to Medmenham described by Frank Pennink in his Golfers Companion is now obscured by trees, Danesfield House still stands out.

The 9th green

The 9th green

The 9th, a long par four from the yellows to a ledge green near an out of bounds hedge, is to my mind more challenging than when played off the white tees as a par five.

The punchbowl 10th

The punchbowl 10th

The 10th, a blind 243 yard tee shot to a punchbowl green with a bunker in the middle of it, is unusual and great fun!

The 11th is on the alluvial soil of the lower part of the course, as is the par five 12th between stands of trees, both giving some length to the shorter back nine.

The Secretary admits to once having had to retrieve his tee shot at the 259 yard 18th from the kitchens of the clubhouse!  He also perhaps makes a useful commentary on the membership when he recalls a notice that was posted requesting the front door be kept closed at all times. Whilst this notice was unfortunately regularly ignored, a replacement notice which read “In an effort to keep the temperature of the car park constant, please ensure that you close this door behind you” was totally successful!

This is an individualistic club where one senior doyen explained that at Temple “We like to apply the ‘rules are for fools, whilst guidelines are for gentlemen’ maxim”!

wild Orchid, temple golf club

wild Orchid

Sometimes side-shelf greens predominate on downland courses  but Willie Park Jnr’s brilliant routing was through natural avenues and across the top of slopes, offering many tricky shots where only good iron play is well rewarded.

There are thirty species of tree at Temple, lending it a peaceful, old-world dignity, and the cowslips and purple orchids remind me of my beloved West Sussex South Downs. Temple sits naturally in its environment, the members take a pride in their custodianship and golfers and wildlife live in harmony and at one with nature. It is not surprising that the Club won the BIGGA golf environment competition in 1999.

See ‘Temple Delights’ in celebration of 100 years of Temple Golf Club, edited by Michael Barratt

‘A natural course for golf’ a collection of essays by people interested in Fine Golf, edited by Malcolm Peake.

‘Confessions of a Chairman of Green’ by Malcolm Peake

Reviewed by Lorne Smith, 2009.

Reader Comments

On May 17th, 2011 eva lipman said:

Thank you for a great write up. I am a member of Temple and it is a joy to play in all seasons with our lovely views. The final picture is of our wild orchids (not Iris) of which we have a number of varieties.

On May 2nd, 2012 Eva Lipman said:

Even this April with its official drought and record rainfall the course has been always open with electric trolleys allowed. We are so fortunate that our course does not become muddy and is rarely unplayable.

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