I've always loved the very British saying, 'an Englishman's home is his castle' and at Heythrop Park in Oxford this really is the case. Here the castle is more of a country palace fit for a King, and indeed was once the home to a long line of aristocrats including the Earls of Shrewsbury back in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. It was the 12th Earl, Charles Talbot, a former Secretary of State, Lord High Treasurer and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, who in the early 1770s built the majestic Hall which now serves as the focal point for the modern day hotel, golf and country club. The Grade II listed building has been tastefully transformed into an upmarket house hotel which is complimented by the modern Crowne Plaza hotel building giving you the option to step foot back in time for your stay or choose a more modern bedroom. Either option allows you to indulge your love of golf and spa relaxation.
I was lucky to enjoy the resort over my birthday weekend and it was the perfect place for a special treat. Heythrop Park is undoubtedly one of the most historic Estates in England and that sense of grandeur hits you the moment you drive through the entrance gates and begin the journey up the estate road which winds and slithers like a snake in a seemingly endless trail to the majestic stately hall. You'll get glimpses of the golf course from every angle of the driveway as it circumnavigates Heythrop Hall in a 360 degree loop, and although a very modern addition to the estate (only added in 2008), the golf course genuinely feels as though it has always existed and is the perfect complement to what is a very quintessentially English country estate. A round of golf here is like a pleasant walk in the countryside with many holes weaving through the ancient woodland and others passing between pretty valleys which are dotted with lakes and streams.
Like every golf course in the country at the moment Heythrop Park is suffering at the mercy of the weather Gods and after a dreadful October of heavy showers is a little muddy underfoot. Despite the conditions the green keepers have done a marvellous job of maintaining the course to a very high standard, ensuring that it is still great fun to play. Such is their confidence in the conditions that Heythrop even offer a 'winter proof guarantee', allowing you to book a round of golf safe in the knowledge that you will be playing with no temporary greens, no temporary tees and no trolley bans. My only qualm was that the visitors here obviously don't take as much care and consideration for the course as those that prepare it for play do, as I found myself repairing dozens of pitch marks on every green.
Off the back tees the Bainbridge Course at Heythrop Park is over 7,000 yards long and even from the reds it is a pretty tough walk as there are lots of hikes between greens and tees. That didn't stop me enjoying the walk around this wonderful environment and certainly the majority of visiting golfers were doing the same thing, although buggies or trolleys are always an easier option.
The Bainbridge Course was designed by renowned course architect Tom MacKenzie, who is probably better known to most golfers for his work on Open Championship venues such as Turnberry, Royal St. Georges and Troon. It is a very clever thinking course as you need to drive the ball well into the right position and there are plenty of tricky doglegs and hazards to catch you out. Every hole is unique and there is a long shortlist of contenders for the 'signature hole'. My personal favourite was the pretty Par 4 6th where from an elevated tee you drive your ball down over a sweeping valley over a river towards a right-to-left dogleg fairway. I hit one of the shots of the day and took off much of the corner leaving myself just a short, but nevertheless tricky pitch to a downhill sloping green, which feeds your ball towards the fishing lake behind.
Other notable holes include the 11 th and the 18 th which stand either side of the grand Heythrop Park Hall - both fairways are straight as an arrow, so straight in fact, that I decided they would make perfect runways!
I've always been fascinated by history and how our ancient ancestors lived, so I particularly enjoyed taking a peek inside some of the many monuments dotted around the course, as well as appreciating the work that has clearly gone into restoring them to their former glory along with the historic bridges, walls and other features that make the estate great.
It's a slight shame that the architect of the Crowne Plaza hotel building wasn't a little more inspired by the beauty of the original Heythrop Park Hall building, as the new hotel buildings look like ugly concrete blocks stood next to it. But what they lack in exterior elegance they make up on the inside with chic modern décor throughout. There are elegant bars to drink in, fancy dining areas and the bedrooms are comfortable and very well equipped for the modern guest. Dinner was included as part of my 'stay and play package' for many and the selection of dishes was fantastic and very tasty. Breakfast too was a feast, but make sure you save a little room for the healthy lunch that comes as part of your spa day package if you are staying for a pampering day.
I'm always being asked for recommendations for a ladies weekend away and at Heythrop Park I've definitely found a place that will go to the top of that list. The course is challenging yet fun, the accommodation mixes elegance with modern chic, the food is delicious and to top it all off there's a wonderful spa where you can relax and be pampered to your heart's content.
I'd highly recommend that you visit the resort in the next few weeks as you'll see it at the prettiest times of year with the autumn leaves out in dazzling colour - absolutely amazing!
STAY, PLAY & SPA DEALS
Winter golf day series:
18 holes of golf on the Banbridge Course for £30 per person
A free place for organiser of the group of 16 or more players.
One month winter trial membership costs £65.
Weekend tee times are available from 10am onwards and are subject to availability. Packages are valid from 1st October 2012 to 31st March 2013.
A one night golf break, including dinner, bed and breakfast at the Crowne Plaza Heythrop Park and 18 holes of golf starts from £109 per person Monday-Thursday and £129 per person for Friday-Saturday.
For bookings contact the Golf Team on 01608 673488 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information visit www.heythroparkgolf.com