You might think the sight of a deer scampering down the 5th fairway at Manchester Golf Club would be a surprise given we’re within sight of the city centre.
And yet amid the natural splendour all around us, we barely pay it a second glance: it’s very much at home – as are we. Manchester Golf Club sits on 247 acres of heathland and moorland on the sprawling Hopwood Park Estate to the north east of the city. Wildlife is abundant with deer, rabbits, hares and a myriad of birdlife on show around this vast Harry Colt layout. The course spans a rugged ridge, thick with mature trees, including sycamore, silver birch and even pine, and features a ravine which cuts through its heart.
There are changes in elevation, with panoramic tees and plunging fairways. It feels like an adventurous, interesting place to play golf. A long, sweeping driveway takes you in through the gates, beyond the short game areas and from that moment, Manchester Golf Club feels somehow detached from the suburban streets which surround it. Yes, the M62 is nearby and audible but it all feels quite distant once your round begins.
The huge practice putting green and the almost village-like feel around the clubhouse is a charming introduction, with the pro-shop, teaching labs and a repair workshop in distinct small buildings around the main clubhouse itself. The 1st tee is also beautifully unmissable.
This piece of land has not always been home to the golf club, however, which has been somewhat nomadic since it was founded way back in 1882. Founded by eight Scotsmen, it was originally called The Manchester St Andrews Golf Club to differentiate it from The Old Manchester Golf Club, and began life on a 9-hole course in Manley Park, where the land was shared with sheep and cows.
By 1898, St Andrews had been dropped from the name and the club had been forced to move up the road to Trafford Park where Trafford Hall became the clubhouse. The course was situated close to the shipping canal and yet still drew widespread acclaim. By 1910, however, this wandering golf club was on the move for one last time with Edward Robert Gregge Hopwood leasing the club the land it owns today.
Having settled on the beautiful piece of land it occupies today, Manchester Golf Club has gone about building a reputation as one of the best inland courses in the north, with the likes of Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke having played here and the club hosting a number of major amateur events over the years. It’s a golf course with a reputation for providing a stiff test of golf to even the best players and is well known for its fearsome final stretch of holes which have the potential to wreck the tidiest of scorecards if you get complacent.
Our opening tee sheets were accurate on what is the gentlest of opening holes. It’s one of a series of drivable par-4s at Manchester Golf Club, all of which can be reached but only by risking a potentially high number on your card. The 1st gives you that chance but the rough on either side of the fairway is pretty nasty, the same can be said of the uphill 5th, which again is reachable but with out of bounds left and thick rough right, it may not always be the smartest play. The uphill par-4 7th is another reachable par-4 but the huge cross bunker short of the green catches many a drive while the slopes and the greenside bunkers snaffle the rest. The 11th is another short par-4 and may be the best of the lot, with a thin sliver of a fairway threaded between OB left and bunkers right. Little is straightforward here.
The par-5s come in thick and fast with the 2nd and the 3rd, unusually, both long holes. The 3rd is the better of the two, although both can be reached in two in the summer months. The 9th is perhaps the easiest of the par-5s as you play downhill to a reachable green which is protected by a burn which crosses some 100 yards short of the putting surface. The par-5 14th is a dog-leg left with gorse and cross bunkers challenging the drive and out of bounds left.
The short holes at Manchester Golf Club are all excellent for different reasons. The two which stand out are the 4th and the 13th, which are two of the most visually arresting short holes you’ll find anywhere. The 4th plays downhill to a green which sits in among the hills and is always a club further than you think. And the iconic 13th is a brilliant short hole. You must hit the green if you want to be anywhere close with the putting surface perched out perilous plateau and run offs all around. Anything short will run back to the bottom of the hill.
Manchester Golf Club may have a rich history but it will also have a bright future. On the day we played work was nearing completion on a state-of-the-art outdoor practice facility complete with Trackman driving range and extensive short game areas. It will be a truly transformational place for the members and for those who come to visit and will become the envy of almost every golf club in the region.
The terrace is the perfect place to enjoy a post-round pint and if you’re so inclined you can watch the sun come down with views across the city skyline of Manchester from the 1st fairway. You might need to remind yourself that you’re in the city after a round at Manchester Golf Club. It’s an escape, an adventure and an excellent layout which will demand your very best golf.