“Joy to be Alive” Feeling*

Lorne Smith took from Frank Pennink and Jim Arthur an attitude to golf  which can be summed up by the phrase “joy to be alive”. 

Golfers are fascinated in ratings of their golf club for both marketing and status reasons. FineGolf does not try to compete with the listings of other websites and admits it is a subjective judgement. We therefore rate courses on a one to five star “Joy-to-be-alive” feeling they give.

There are many facets that give this FineGolf feeling.

Strategic golf course design is central to creating enjoyment. Below are some further elements, illustrated with personal observations.

Scenery, Wildness, Remoteness, Escape, Refuge

Links courses with their fresh air, seascapes, the wildness of sandhills, their dryness of turf and the ever present wind have a natural advantage over inland courses in giving the “Joy to be alive” feeling.

Can one better the environment under the Mourne Mountains at Royal County Down, the views from Gullane Hill and the seventh tee at Royal Dornoch, the Victorian watercolourscape of the 9th green at Royal West Norfolk, the tantalising appeal of the rushes at Westward Ho ?

Your spirit is transported away from life’s worries and renews.

Is it our balanced attempt to both live with while also controlling nature’s wildness that is an aspect of FineGolf  and Conservation Greenkeeping?

The beauty

Fine Running Golf  is not manicured; the wide heathland at Hankley Common, the open splendor and movement in the ground at Hollinwell (Notts.GC), the peacefulness of  The Addington within Greater London, the natural washed white sands of West Sussex, the views from Gleneagles and Southerndown, the wide avenues at Swinley, the whins at Aldeburgh,  the sentinel Scots Pines at Walton Heath and the heather-tufted bunkers at Woodhall Spa are examples of the scenic aspect of the “Joy to be alive” feeling, typical of inland FineGolf.

A fine course is set up for the running game

The fairways are of fine wiry turf and present the ball that can be squeezed giving back-spin, rather than scooped from a lush, high grass lie. They are dry, bouncy and running and brown-off in a dry summer giving unpredicability.

Green aprons allow a ball to be bumped through with consistency of bounce while the run-offs are cut low and enhance the green complex by gathering the ball away and require the bump-and-run to be accomplished with a straightish club.

Greens will be dominated by indigenous fescue and browntop bent grasses, giving a true, firm surface all the year round.

Turf Quality

Your shot making improves off  fine turf, which is fundamental to the enjoyment of golf.

Fine turf grows on well draining, aerated, poor soil, not in fertile, damp conditions  and allows you to take a crisp divot without jarring your wrists through taking an enormous soggy divot.

Putting speed

The greens on the finest courses run at around nine foot for recreational golf on the Greenstester and around ten foot for elite golf.

Speed of play

It almost goes without saying that a ‘joy to be alive’ factor is a course where other games of golf do not disturb your own.

The clubs where the ‘Etiquette of golf’ is in everyone’s mind,  where play is swift, certainly adds to the enjoyment of your game

Heritage and Ambience

Age does not guarantee quality or fineness but it often enhances it.  To be where great events have unfolded, both professional and amateur, is uplifting.

The love/hate generated by the Old Course at St Andrews continues but we are all in awe when teeing off in front of the Royal and Ancient clubhouse, though technically it may be the easiest shot in golf to an open, broad fairway !

The Welcome

Some with little knowledge might think The New Zealand GC in Surrey as a ‘stuffy toffs’ Club but the leadership of the recently retired Secretary, in creating a personal welcome to visiting societies is legendary, and only goes to enhance the Club’s elite reputation.

The Locker Room

So many clubs, from the necessity of upgrading locker-rooms have lost an element of individual character. They are now mostly light oak!  An exception to this is the brilliant balance between openness and intimacy created within the new design at The Berkshire G.C.

The Pro Shop

Most Fine Clubs recognise the need to support their pros by providing decent facilities these days for merchandising of their product. Members will buy less lob-wedges at fine running clubs than at target golf clubs.

Practice Facilities

Grassed teeing areas and a practice green near the 1st tee, maintained identically as on the course, are de rigueur while a bump-and-run practice area from 30 yards, like over the road at Rye or the new one at Hunstanton, created by Gordon Irvine is so important.

Dining and Bar Facilities, halfway house

Golf clubs do not need to be providers of exquisite food. Lunches at the Finest Clubs are remarkably good value and an example of simple British cooking at its best.  It is difficult to only mention a few of the finest: The Berkshire, Sunningdale, Walton Heath, Swinley Forest, Denham and Muirfield but the “joy to be alive” gold star for this factor has to go to Royal St Georges, while Sunningdale surely picks up the halfway house top accolade, and a glass of Kummel at Prestwick settles the tummy beautifully for the afternoon round of foursomes after a good lunch.


Fine Clubs are predominantly members’ clubs and the Finest, particularly the ‘Open’ venues, have difficulty in keeping a balance between accessibility to visitors and availability of the 1st tee for members. Unfortunately green fees have risen astonomicaly from when I first played them. Nevertheless unlike some of the proprietor-owned new exclusive clubs, most Fine Clubs want to be accessible to well-behaved visitors and, by being in touch with secretaries in advance, arrangements can usually be made.  Mention you are following the ‘FineGolf Trail’: it may just help create that connection for which you are looking.


The finest clubs welcome well-behaved dogs. They add much to the ‘joy-to-be-alive’ feeling by adding to the relaxation and sociability of the recreational game. Read here about a very special golf gundog who holds the world record number of different golf courses he has walked around – Eighty.


Reader Comments

On October 18th, 2023 Hollinwell – said:

[…] FineGolf superbly covered our story, about the enjoyment and tribulations encountered as Hollinwell broke through to the sunny uplands of an Open Championship Final Qualifying venue, hosting the Brabazon Trophy for a fifth time and a possible Walker Cup venue, while also giving its membership and visitors the highest ‘joy-to-be-alive’ feeling. […]

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