‘Any course that opens with a par-3 will always provide a test.’
Words that my grandfather uttered to me on more than one occasion, though I’m not entirely sure what it was borne from. Maybe it has something to do with the first swing of the day always being the stiffest?
But from experiences of playing courses at Wimbledon, Walton Heath and The Shire, as well as witnessing the world’s best at Royal Lytham & St Annes, it’s hard to find flaws in his findings. And a recent trip to the 6,028-yard Moorland Course at Marriott Breadsall Priory did little to buck the trend.
The first shot of the day is a stern examination from even the yellow tees, demanding a carry of 160-plus yards just to reach the front edge of the putting surface. You best have limbered up, or at least hit some balls on the range. Even Lytham’s opener isn’t guarded by giant trees both left and right of the green. It’s every bit the major championship start.
If you thought the Moorland Course would let you draw breath after that start, think again. A 452-yard par-4 awaits across the road, requiring a power draw over another giant tree in the middle of the fairway with bunkers gaping down the right. A drive and long iron was still not enough to get home. Back to the gym I go.
The drivable par-4 third thankfully provides some respite, measuring 300 yards from the back tee, while the 342-yard par-4 fourth presents you with two options – play safe down the right or cut off the trees with a 253-yard carry, leaving yourself with a flick into the green. For those who can carry the ball 280 yards, shift the body left and go for it.
After the serenity of two rather short par-4s, it’s back to the drawing board at five as a laser-like drive is required to find the fairway, missing several deep bunkers down the left and deep rough and gorse down the right. The second shot is no bargain either, playing uphill to a raised green with bunkers guarding the front right side.
But aside from the first, the beauty about the Moorland is that its remaining three par-3s require no more than a 7-iron. That’s not to say they’re straightforward, however.
The sixth, for example, is a charming little hole, hidden away in the trees some 126 yards downhill from the tee box. It’s only a half swing with the wedge, but go long and you’ll be walking back to the zip pocket.
And then there’s the drivable 294-yard par-4 seventh - my favourite hole on the course. A blind tee shot with trouble lurking all down the left and trees down the right, there is simply no room for error. I pushed my tee shot slightly and was forced to play left-handed behind a tree in order to reach the green, that slopes severely from right to left. It’s a real risk and reward hole, and certainly not for the faint-hearted.
The outward-nine ends with the first of two par-5s in the shape of an uphill 479-yard brute. Again, a fade off the tee is required to a large fairway, but with a narrow entrance into the green, it’s best to lay up and pitch on for three.
A gentle par-4 then eases you into the back nine at 10. The big boys can attempt to go for the green but the sensible play is to pull out the long iron or hybrid and send it down the middle before attacking with the wedge. Three bunkers lurk ominously at the front of the green and if you drive it in there, like I did, there are few tougher shots in golf than a 30 to 40-yard bunker shot.
But that’s about it in terms of drivable par-4s coming home. The dogleg right-to-left 11th might look easy on the eye, but once you’ve nailed the blind tee shot, the second from no more than 100 yards requires pin-point accuracy as anything played several yards over the green will be in the deep stuff.
Holes 12 and 13 played the toughest two holes on the course - ranking fifth and first in the stroke index - both of which required long, accurate drives and a 5-iron to reach the green. Pars really did feel like birdies.
A rather delightful par-3 greets you at 14, once again playing downhill some 145 yards out. But while there’s no problem reaching the green, the difficulty lent itself in a front pin position tucked three yards over the front bunker.
Of the final four holes, the par-5 16th provides the best chance of a birdie. A drive struck around the 250-yard mark will allow you to pull off the headcover and give your second a bash as there is plenty of room around the green.
The Moorland at Marriott Breadsall Priory - home to the oldest Marriott hotel in the world, featuring a magnificent Grade II Listed 13th century stately residence - opened for play in 1991 and was designed by renowned course architect Donald Steele. It stands in more than 400 acres of parkland and is a complete contrast to its sister course – the Priory.
Featuring a mix of short and demanding par-4s, tricky little par-3s with flagsticks placed perilously close to bunkers, and two reachable par-5s for the big hitters, there is a tremendous premium placed on course management.
While the Moorland is fairly open in places, it’s exposed to the elements and is sand-based allowing for all-year round play with the normal greens being used. The wind is probably the biggest influence on the course but with a mix of trees, gorse, undulating fairways, well-maintained turf, bunkers and greens, a round of golf here will not disappoint - challenging but enjoyable.
If you fancy a trip to Breadsall Priory, I would certainly recommend making a weekend of it with the likes of Alton Towers and Peak District National Park on its doorstep.
For more information on membership and visitors, call the club on 01332 836016 or visit www.marriottbreadsallpriory.co.uk.
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Golfmagic was joined at Marriott Breadsall Priory by England and Northampton Saints scrum half Lee Dickson. Click here for the exclusive interview.