Simply Glorious Goodwood
Occupying an enviable perch above Chichester on the West Sussex Downs, Goodwood offers the very best of British refinement – and its sporting heritage extends beyond horse racing and motoring to quite magnificent golf. Richard Gillis reports
Marital guilt doesn’t come any heavier than midweek golf just as the weather starts to turn, the long-overdue spring sunshine greeting me as I cracked open the front door. Leaving the house with golf clubs on a school day is never easy but, hey, this is work, and I’m a professional.
However, in such circumstances, a ratlike cunning is essential. Much preparation has been laid, with sentences including the dreaded, ‘I know, it’s a pain and I’m really sorry. But, really, I have no choice…’. As I move toward the door, my clubs bang against the bannisters in the hall, spoiling what I’d hoped would be a seamless, quiet exit.
‘Where is it you’re playing?’ I’m asked as I shuffle out the front door. The answer to this question does nothing to help.
‘Goodwood’ I say, avoiding eye contact. ‘It says I’m due to meet at The Kennels’. This last bit was a pathetic attempt to play down the sheer luxury that I know awaits me for the next couple of days. It didn’t work.
The door slams behind me with a menace I’ve not heard since the opening credits of Porridge.
The Kennels is where the members of Goodwood Golf Club hang out. The phrases ‘understated elegance’ and ‘freshly chilled’ are appropriate here.
It was originally built in 1787 to house the hounds belonging to the third Duke of Richmond (given the size of the place, he must have really liked dogs). To get there, you drive through the grounds of Goodwood House, which as the club’s literature puts it, is “one of the finest stately homes in the country, has been the home of the Dukes of Richmond & Lennox for over 300 years”.
He originally bought Goodwood as a hunting lodge and subsequent Dukes enlarged the existing Jacobean house to create the imposing residence we see today, “set in mature parkland against the backdrop of the Sussex Downs.”
Golf is one of three things for which Goodwood is famous. The other two are horses and cars.
As you play the front nine, you get a regular glimpse of the racecourse that holds the ‘Glorious Goodwood’ Festival. And as for the cars: this summer marks the 20th anniversary of the Festival of Speed (12-14 July), one of the world’s most popular motor sport events, while September sees the unrivalled occasion that is the Goodwood Revival (14-16 Sept), a nostalgic mix of historic racing and aviation. Classic cars and their famous drivers line the halls of the clubhouse. There are two courses – The Downs and The Park. I played The Downs, generally regarded as the ‘championship’ test at Goodwood, and it was everything I anticipated it to be. The day before my visit had seen rain of Biblical proportions, but, such is the quality of the drainage hereabouts, the course was turned out in tournament condition, the fairways and greens in fabulous nick. The Downs is a gem, hardly surprising given it was originally a James Braid creation, the man who gave Carnoustie and Gleneagles to the world.
There’s no time for complacency off the first, a par three that requires a solid mid iron to find the safety of the putting surface. The second is equally tricky, demanding a pinpoint tee shot down the left side of the fairway. Hit it too far and you’re in all types of gorsy hell. Get it right and a dish-like green is waiting for your second in the valley below.
The need for accuracy off the tee is reinforced over most of the front nine.
The trees that line the fairways look beautiful but are unforgiving to the wayward drive. But then, the golf is just part of it. The views, particularly from the elevated sixth tee, can take your mind off a bad start. Looking south toward the Solent and the Isle of Wight is visible beyond the spire of Chichester Cathedral. Then, as you follow the snaking 7th fairway toward the green, you make out the oasis of meat pies that is Goodwood’s halfway hut, run by the imaginatively named ‘Halfway House Ken’.
Ken takes photos and decorates his hut with them. These are divided in to two strands: celebrities and dogs. Naturally, Goodwood is both dog and celebrity friendly, allowing both species to run free and untethered along its fairways. This tradition goes back to the early days, when King George VI was hitting it around these same fairways. Today, he is famous as the stammering royal played by Colin Firth in the film of The King’s Speech. You wouldn’t want to be behind him when he was ordering his chilli con carne.
These days, Half-way House Ken’s gallery features fewer Kings and Queens and more of your footballer/pundit/all round entertainer types. Alan Shearer, Kenny Lynch (what does Kenny Lynch do by the way?) and what looks like the entire Watford front line of the 1980s vie for attention. It also poses one of golf’s great questions: is there any course in Britain that Jamie Redknapp hasn’t played. After the round, the fun really begins. The restaurant at The Kennels is top notch, but we chose to eat at The Richmond Arms, a bar and restaurant within the Goodwood Hotel.
There are worse places to be on a balmy summer’s evening. But keep it under your hat.