Natural beauty of Purbeck drives golf course into top 100

The restoration of heathland and a rewilding scheme has helped propel the Isle of Purbeck golf club near Swanage in Dorset, into a list of the UK’s top 100 golf courses.

By moving away from the highly manicured fairways of many of the top clubs, it’s been able to make the most of the Isle of Purbeck’s natural beauty and it’s not just golfers who can enjoy the views, as the club is encouraging more locals to visit the club house.

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ISLE OF PURBECK GOLF CLUB

Work underway to restore the club to heathland will make golfing more of an experience

Praised by a former King of England

As part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest and with spectacular views over Poole Harbour the golf club has always had a magical quality – King Edward VIII once described the view from the fifth tee as one of the finest in his kingdom.

And now an ambitious programme working with the RSPB, the National Trust and Natural England is underway to tame the course’s gorse bushes, reintroduce heathland and encourage rare birds, reptiles and animals to return – in short, to make the rough into a diamond.

In the not too distant future, golfers playing a round at the club may not just experience an eagle, albatross or birdie, but also see skylarks soaring above, hear nightjars, spot sand lizards basking, watch rare butterflies go by or see rare breed animals grazing beyond the boundaries of the course.

ISLE OF PURBECK GOLF CLUB

The clubhouse has a growing social calendar – but may be Purbeck’s best kept secret

Set in a heathland nature reserve

Breathtaking vistas from the Isle of Purbeck golf course are already legendary in the golfing world – the website Top 100 Golf Courses has listed it as 85th best amongst England’s 2,200 clubs, noting:

‘If there is a golf course where you could drag your non-golfing partner along, this is it. He or she will be more than happy to drink in the views.

‘Whilst this is seaside golf, this is not links golf. Isle of Purbeck Golf Club is set in a heathland nature reserve, decorated with a profusion of gorse, heather, rare flora and fauna.’

Respected magazine Today’s Golfer has just placed the Isle of Purbeck course at number 67 amongst all 3,000 clubs in Great Britain and Ireland in its new 2024 guide.

ISLE OF PURBECK GOLF CLUB

A controlled burn of gorse may look unattractive now, but the rewilding will have huge benefits

“Don’t expect its rise to stop here!”

Magazine editor Chris Jones said:

“I can’t think of a more spectacular setting in English golf than the fifth at the Isle of Purbeck. The view down that hole alone is almost worthy of a place on the list.

“Conditioning has improved significantly over the past few years and this is a course that thrills.

“On a beautiful summer’s day there cannot be many more attractive places to play, with not only good views but nicely shaped holes.

“Purbeck offers a memorable journey, with great views and wildlife in abundance, don’t expect its rise to stop here!”

RSPB

The new habitats created will be perfect for rare birds, like this nightjar

Creating habitats for rare creatures

In part, changes to the course have been necessary because of the needs of an SSSI – for example, limiting the amount of fertilisers used which most clubs go wild with to keep their fairways and every other inch of greenery looking perfectly manicured.

But renowned course architect Tim Lobb and the Isle of Purbeck golf club’s head greenkeeper John Hockley have taken the limitation and turned it into a huge strength by planning for the future by creating habitats for some of Purbeck’s rarest invertebrates, insects, birds and reptiles.

Some 80 percent of the gorse and non native trees on the golf club is being removed and more natural heather and long grass landscapes planted in its place.

Later, pockets of new gorse will be planted and kept to a manageable height so that they become attractive feeding and nesting habitats for birds.

RSPB

Rare breed pigs are already used by the RSPB for grazing at Arne

Grazing for rare breed pigs

Up to 4,000 square metres of land on the edges of the course have been given back to the National Trust to be grazed by rare breed pigs, while the current fencing will be removed to allow footpaths to become natural boundaries.

On the horizon at Agglestone, the National Trust is restoring marshland habitats which will encourage more caterpillars, butterflies and moths to the area, and in turn will bring in more bird species which feed on those.

The RSPB already carries out a nesting bird survey around the golf course four times a year which has revealed healthy populations of skylark, linnet, meadow pipit and whitethroat among many others, and the changes are expected to attract much rarer nightjars and Dartford warblers.

New landscapes will be created in south facing areas to form new habitats for sand lizards and snakes as the golf course aims to become an integral part of the Purbeck Heath super nature reserve.

ISLE OF PURBECK GOLF CLUB

Work on a ten year programme to transform the club is already under way

A warmness you wouldn’t get elsewhere

Head groundskeeper John Hockley said:

“It’s important to understand that we are not ripping out the natural environment to benefit the golf course – the main drive is the rewilding programme being driven by the RSPB and Natural England who speak with us every month.

“If you went to a Top 100 course in, say, Surrey, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a blade of grass out of place and everything would be highly manicured and would have fertiliser and feed chucked at it left right and centre to develop grass health.

“I can only feed and manicure the tees, greens and approaches, but not the fairways or elsewhere to stop nitrogen leaching into Godlingston and Poole Harbour – but that allows us to have a warmness that you wouldn’t get at Parkstone or Broadstone.

“It allows for an unforgettable golf experience for people playing here and we want to spread the word about how unique a site we are – no two days are the same, the views are amazing, and the rewilding initiative will give us an extra edge.

“We work quite closely with the RSPB, National Trust and Natural England to try to help balance their objectives with the drive and the desires of a modern day golf club.

“We realised that we can preserve and encourage wildlife while creating an experience where people don’t just set out to have a game of golf but come here to experience the very best of Purbeck.”

ISLE OF PURBECK GOLF CLUB

Christmas parties in 2023 saw a growing number of Purbeck groups discover the club for the first time

A growing social calendar at the club

The course comes not only with the royal recommendation but also continues to win plaudits from top golfers, however the club says it’s still Purbeck’s best kept secret when it comes to attracting locals for anything other than golf.

During the past 12 months, the club has run a jazz evening, Easter, Halloween and Christmas parties, wedding receptions, quiz nights and more, but staff are still surprised at how often they hear locals say they didn’t know that Swanage had such a social facility on its doorstep.

Having worked hard to take elitism out of the club and make it a welcoming venue where anyone can come for a meal or a drink as well as a round of golf, owners David Suruki and Kathy Tatar now want it to become a Swanage social attraction in its own right.

A Valentine’s jazz night on Saturday 17th February 2024 is the latest event added to the club’s growing social calendar, working in partnership with Swanage Jazz Club to present Jo Harrop and Fraser Urquhart performing a set of stunning jazz ballads.

Singer songwriter Jo Harrop has just returned to Dorset from playing at some of the top jazz venues in New York, LA and San Franscisco and will be accompanied by renowned Scottish pianist Fraser Urquhart.

ISLE OF PURBECK GOLF CLUB

The Isle of Purbeck golf club is always decorated for the season

“I felt like I was in South Africa”

Accounts manager Emily Colle hopes the club will also appeal to local families who don’t just want to play golf at Isle of Purbeck, but who will discover the social benefits that the clubhouse offers to all.

Emily Colle said:

“We are trying to let people know we are not just a golf club, but a place that local people will want to visit throughout the year and be part of.

“Even though we are just a short drive from Swanage, we still have people say they didn’t realise that members of the public could come here, or that we even existed.

“The last jazz night we had was phenomenal back in July 2023, the weather was wonderful and my husband and I were sat outside with the jazz playing in the background, but because of the course and the view I felt like I was in South Africa and expected a few elephants and zebras to go by.

“You can sit here on different days and everything changes – we welcome people calling in to have a meal here or just sit outside with a drink, like road cyclists already do in the summer.”

ISLE OF PURBECK GOLF CLUB

The annual Halloween dance is attracting larger crowds every year

“A very friendly and inviting atmosphere”

Emily added:

“We are a very relaxed golf club – you have to be reasonably dressed, but it doesn’t come with any of the snobbery that may be associated with golfers. There has always been an elitist view of golf clubs, but that doesn’t apply here at all, we have a very friendly and inviting atmosphere.

“We have a lot of history at the club – it was owned by Enid Blyton and her husband for a while in the 1950s and 60s and while the clubhouse still retains some of that decor and demeanour, it is not mimicked in the attitude of its owners and members.

“David and Kathy are so welcoming and caring, they try to make their members feel they are part of a family, there’s absolutely no hierarchy. There is something special about this club, it is very charming and it does keep people coming back – once they have found us for the first time!”

ISLE OF PURBECK GOLF CLUB

With panoramic views over the golf course and Poole Harbour, the restaurant is open to members and non members alike

Watch video of the famous fifth hole

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