Make a date at glorious Goodwood
If you were asked to picture a typical scene at Goodwood then horsepower of some description probably springs to mind, either the four-legged or the four-wheeled variety. This majestic estate set in the sublime Sussex countryside hosts Glorious Goodwood, the famous five-day horse race meeting every July, bookended by the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Goodwood Revival, the largest ‘car culture' events in the world and a double-whammy celebration of all things motor sport from the classic to the modern. There are people, literally tens of thousands of discerning people, who won't miss these events for all the tea in China.
Goodwood is truly one of the country's great stately homes. Originally a small Jacobean house it was bought as a hunting lodge by the 1st Duke of Richmond, son of King Charles II. Greatly extended over the years it is now worth visiting not least to stand and stare at the art collection, which includes breathtaking paintings by van Dyck, Canaletto and Stubbs. That's just the tip of the iceberg at Goodwood, though.
“There is so much our customers can take advantage of when staying here,” says Lord March. “Whether enjoying a sumptuous private event at Goodwood House, getting behind the wheel at the historic Motor Circuit, taking to the skies from Goodwood Aerodrome or enjoying the Goodwood Hotel and its modern Health Club and Waterbeach Spa facilities, nowhere else in the world can offer such an extraordinary and diverse range of luxury experiences as you will find here.”
Fittingly for this regal location, you will also find the Royal & Ancient game. Golf has in fact been an attraction at Goodwood for more than a century, although for much of that time it has been something of a hidden gem. The original nine-hole course was conceived by six Sussex gents way back in 1892. The entrance fee and annual subscription was just one guinea, but a lack of membership in any significant numbers was a major problem until the sixth Duke of Richmond's family stepped in and saved the day. It then thrived and in 1962 it became the Goodwood Golf Club.
Lack of membership at Goodwood hasn't been a problem in its modern incarnation. A major renovation of the Downs Course in 2004 coaxed this James Braid classic into the 21st century and despite the worst recession in living memory membership has since thrived thanks to the innovative blend of traditional golf club membership and a new Credit membership, which allows golfers to effectively ‘play as they go'.
“In all honesty, the recession has probably helped golf at Goodwood,” says Lord March, “as the flexible and affordable Credit membership has given people more value to their golf and meant that when they haven't been able to play due to various reasons they haven't been penalised with a standard golf subscription. Our numbers have increased year-on-year over the past three years, which shows that our membership program is perceived in a very positive light by the local golfing community.”
Lord March, who took over the running of the estate from his father in 1994, has a passion for perfection and in all of Goodwood's many showcase events he skillfully blends traditional values with modern accoutrements. The same principles have been applied to the golfing experience. “If we were to have golf at Goodwood,” explains Lord March, “we wanted it to be the best, but also different and aimed at a younger audience. I wanted golf to move on, to take all the authenticity and history we have in our various sports and deliver this to our golfing experience in a modern and exciting way, which is relevant today. The Kennels, the clubhouse for our members at Goodwood, is the physical embodiment of that.”
Very special it is, too. The elegant Georgian façade of the Grade 1 listed Kennels clubhouse built in 1787 for the Duke's faithful hounds, now houses a wonderfully stylish and contemporary interior where members can relax and enjoy a long lunch, supper, or homemade cake and a pot of tea. In homage to the building's origins, dogs can become members, too. A collection of named water bowls is lined up in the lobby!
“Golf at Goodwood is golf as it should be,” proclaims Lord March. “In other words, simple, flexible, not in any way stuffy. Unusually and refreshingly, there's no dress code and, yes, we encourage members to bring their dogs to the course and the clubhouse afterwards – after all it was the Kennels!” Golfers and their pooches will get equal amounts of joy from a walk around the Downs Course.
Dramatic changes of elevation in the valleys and hills provide stunning views over the Chichester Plain towards the cathedral and beyond to the Isle of Wight. It really is quite uplifting and, as I discovered, you can hit the ball quite poorly and still have a lovely afternoon. Down the road and attached to the excellent Goodwood House Hotel is the Park Course, a gentler test of golf and one that meanders through estate woodland with tree-lined fairways and small greens.
The Downs should be your first choice, though. It was considered a sufficiently stern test to play host to the inaugural English PGA Championship last year, which is apt, as there are surely few things more quintessentially English than good old Goodwood. The English PGA returns this year and a Trilby Tour event is on the schedule, too (Goodwood member Chris Dyson will be out to defend his title this year). “The Trilby Tour is a great fit with the golf at Goodwood ethos,” says Lord March. “It makes golf more accessible and offers an authentic, yet edgy experience to players…a chance for amateur golf enthusiasts to play in a professional tournament.”
Immersed as I was in this world for an all-too-brief 24 hours, it is impossible not to be seduced by the whole Goodwood experience. It really is an extraordinary place. And the enthusiasm of Lord March is utterly infectious. Whatever he sets his mind to, he does so with genuine passion and a refreshing hand son approach.
So, I ask before I go, would Lord March be inspired to take up golf? “I am leaving that to my children…or to my retirement,” he jokes.