Usual suspects unfazed by venue’s eccentricity

Usual suspects unfazed by venue’s eccentricity

31/05/2023

Given the venue, its location and topography, it would have been no surprise had golfers contesting the PGA South West’s second Order of Merit tournament of the season wielded hickory-shafted clubs to despatch gutta-percha balls and were clad in plus-fours, jackets and ties.

Simply put, Cleeve Hill Golf Course is a throwback. Perched 1,000 feet above sea level in the Cotswold Hills and overlooking the Gloucestershire town of Cheltenham, golf here is how one imagines our forebears played it.

There are no bleached bunkers nor sprinklers and the fairways are rarely manicured by Toro or John Deere’s finest (other brands are available) but kept in trim by sheep that wander freely over the course.

Apart from the greens, that is. Each one, protected by an electric fence, are no go areas for the woolly ruminants.

As for out of bounds areas of the golfing variety, there is no need for white posts to signify their whereabouts. Errant shots are in jeopardy of plummeting over cliff edges or picking up speed down steep inclines as they head for Prestbury Park, the home of National Hunt racing that lies in the shadow of Cleeve Hill.

And for those in need of a course guide to establish where to go after completing a hole, forget it. An ordnance survey map would be more appropriate.

All of which makes it difficult to dispute one reviewer’s verdict of a course that, complemented by charming and helpful clubhouse personnel, described it as ‘eccentric and blissfully located’.

But despite the eccentricity that was fuelled by a chilling ball-tampering wind during the first of two rounds of the PGA Cleeve Hill Masters, the usual suspects ended it at the forefront of the chase to win the £2,500 first prize.

Long Sutton Golf Club’s Jamie Clare, reprising the form he had displayed in winning the region’s Assistants and Under 30s Pros’ Sprint, set the pace.

Furthermore, in doing so, he showed his liking for the venue. Having posted a three-under par round of 68 on his previous negotiation of the course last month, Clare followed up with one of five-under.

That looked like being even more impressive when Clare reached the turn in six-under but bogeys at 10 and 16 tempered by a birdie at 13 checked his progress and his five-under par round of 66 left him a shot clear of James Ruth (pictured).

Ruth, the defending Order of Merit champion and current leader, also enjoyed tackling the par-five 486-yard 13th – but even more so than his rival.

Four-under at the turn, Ruth made amends for a bogey at 11 with an eagle at 13, courtesy of a prodigious drive that, aided by the slope and run facilitated by the dry fairway, found the green.

Reflecting on his negotiation of the hole, Ruth said: “It’s the only eagle I’ve ever recorded that has involved two putts.”

A bogey at the par-four 18th, however, left him a shot shy of Clare but one clear of the trio lying tied-third - Zach Galliford, Sion Bebb and Ryan Pope.

CLICK HERE for a full list of scores from the PGA Cleeve Hill Masters.

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