The new course built by global construction equipment manufacturer JCB next to its headquarters in Staffordshire, England, has opened for play.
The 7,308 yard course, designed by architect Robin Hiseman of European Golf Design, has been created primarily as a sales and marketing tool for the JCB brand. It will be played by visitors to the Rocester HQ, such as dealers and major customers, and the site will, in a year or so, also provide close to 50 bedrooms in a range of lodges. JCB staff can play the course at weekends, at a green fee of £60, and can bring guests, who pay £70. It is also expected to be a regular venue for professional tour golf. Public access is not, at the moment, expected to be allowed.
The course is built around the ruined Woodseat Hall, literally across the road from JCB's main manufacturing plant at Rocester. Some holes occupy the old park – the par three ninth sits in what used to be an arboretum, and therefore features some quite unusual trees – while the rest makes use of the surrounding former farmland. There is, therefore, a fairly dramatic change of landscape feel from hole to hole – most obviously the transition between the first, in the park and surrounded by mature trees and the second, a hole created by earthmoving in an open field.
The soil is extremely heavy clay, so Hiseman and his construction team (JCB itself was the main contractor, and hired shapers, including veteran Canadian Bob Harrington) have installed a huge drainage network, including deep-lying herringbone drains and, above them, sand bands of the sort that would normally be retrofitted after the course was completed.
Standout holes include the first, which, from the two back sets of tees, calls for a water carry on both tee shot and approach, as well as avoiding a well place central bunker in the fairway (JCB chairman Lord Bamford wanted water to be in view from the clubhouse, requiring the canal at the bottom of the site to be expanded). The bunkerless short par fourth is inspired by Willie Park Jr's second hole at Huntercombe, with a fairway that feeds into the dramatically sloped green. The uphill par four eighth has a fairly unremarkable tee shot, but players should really take on the two left side fairway bunkers in order to give the best angle of approach to an extremely attractive tucked greensite.
The par four eleventh has an attractive natural stream fronting the green, and the same stream protects the right side of the green of the drivable par four twelfth. Three of the four par fives are huge, well over 600 yards from the championship tees; of these the standout is probably the massively intimidating tenth, which requires a drive into a tiny looking but actually quite expansive fairway, followed by a stout second over a cross bunker, leaving a downhill third to the green.
But it is the finish of the course that is most memorable. The sixteenth is 380 yards and doglegs hard around a very deep, tree-filled natural hollow, while the steeply downhill seventeenth measures 255 yards from the back and plays to a (thankfully large) island green set in the South Lake. And the epic home hole, 462 yards long from tees on the island, is an enormous uphill dogleg left with a huge split fairway and a Lion's Mouth bunker biting into the front of the green. A three shot hole for most, it should prove a fitting finish for events coming to JCB.
A full review of the new JCB course will appear in the October issue of GCA.