Golf with Judas Priest guitar hero
Judas Priest guitar legend KK Downing invites us to the brand new nine at his Astbury Hall golf course in Shropshire.
Judas Priest guitar legend KK Downing invites Dave Tindall and Matt Cooper to the brand new nine at his Astbury Hall golf course in Shropshire.
The story of how Matt and I came to be playing on the private golf course of Grammy winner KK Downing appeared on these pages 12 months ago, writes Dave Tindall.
To summarise, KK had purchased Astbury Hall in Shropshire in the mid-80s and after renovation work had decided in recent years to build his own golf course in its magnificent grounds. Not just any old course though; a high quality, jaw droppingly good one to USGA standards.
Two weeks ago Ken got back in touch to say would we like to see his new nine now it had been completed? Naturally we jumped at the chance and once more we were blown away.
Astbury Hall’s new nine
Ken’s original nine now plays as 10-18 so the first hole of the brand new nine was indeed Hole 1.
A raised tee affords an excellent view of the hole in front – a 435-yard par 4 from the gold tees (the third hardest of the four tee options) which we agreed to play off.
Rather disgracefully I won it with a double bogey six, KK giving me a mulligan after my dud of an opening ‘drive’ went 20 yards. Some gnarly rough did for KK while Matt found water so it was an inauspicious start all round on an admittedly tough hole (Stroke Index 4).
KK confessed that this was only the third time he had played his new nine but remembering that he’d played a stretch of five holes on his original nine in one-under last year we weren’t expecting his hole one struggles to continue.
The second hole is a short par five, running back towards the first tee – its main defence being a tricky three-tiered green. I landed my approach on the top tier leaving a severe downhill putt to the flag on the middle tier. Luckily I judged it well although, as Ken pointed out, in summer with the greens even faster I’d have a serious job to stop it by the hole again.
KK and Matt walked off with pars and then added a pair of threes at the next – a short but eyecatching downhill par three.
The new nine has three par threes and wouldn’t you know it KK played them in one-under.
His birdie came at the seventh after finding the green and snaking in a perfectly weighted putt. I paced it out and it was a good 30 feet.
Perhaps the highlight of the new nine is the short par four sixth.
We all love the permutations of a driveable par four and KK’s creation is a brilliant hole.
The bold can attempt to cut off the corner and fire over a tree. Most of us will lay up to the corner of the dog-leg and hope a good short iron or wedge will set up a birdie.
But either strategy can result in some big numbers thanks to KK’s clever design. The green is set at a 90 degree angle to the tee box so those hoping to drive it have their target narrowed and also have a greenside bunker in their path. That same bunker eats into the side of the green when viewed from the lay-up part of the fairway and will trap plenty of approaches as Matt and I found out.
KK missed the bunker despite leaking his approach to the right but he still walked off with a six. His first chip didn’t advance out of the rough while his second, a flop shot which looked perfectly judged, caught the slope and trickled away down the green, some 30 feet away.
Matt, wanting to test his excellent short game skills, dropped his ball in the same spot of rough and also had a go at stopping the ball on the top tier but, again, even though he played a super shot it rolled and rolled and rolled.
All in all my favourite hole on the course.
After draining that 30 footer for birdie at the seventh, surely KK couldn’t top that, could he?
Well, maybe his rock star’s ability to play to the crowds comes out even when there aren’t any.
Even though Matt and I gave KK an audience of just two, his sense of occasion saw him smash an even longer putt into the back of the hole at the last. No wonder he planted both feet and raised his arms in celebration.
After leaving the stage (for a business meeting) and allowing Matt and I to have another knock on his original nine, KK came back for an encore and joined us again on the 15th. Once more he ended in style, hitting a perfect 6 iron over the lake guarding the 18th to about 10 feet from the flag.
The new nine is a joy to play and although only 3,147 yards off the Championship tees don’t forget that if one of the three short par threes was replaced with a par five you’d be looking at 3,500+.
The cleverly designed greens are in fantastic condition while the manicured fairways can get really tight in places. All in all a great test for a range of playing abilities.
When I tell people I’ve been playing golf with a man who has sold over 50 million albums, played Live Aid and won a Grammy, the initial “you’re kidding” is quickly followed by an “is he any good?”
Well, after his dodgy start, KK played the final eight holes of his new nine in just four over par, outscored both Matt and I and then reminded us (and he needed to because you’d never for a minute think it) that he’ll be celebrating his 60th birthday next year!
With more practice, his balanced swing and strong short game suggests he could easily play off single figures.
It’s about finding the time though. KK and his fellow members of Judas Priest have a worldwide tour planned for 2011.
And, as for KK the golf fanatic, he’s not content to rest on his laurels now he has a full 18 holes. He has more plans. Much, much bigger plans. Matt Cooper explains…
Astbury Hall – the future
After our visit last year we knew that KK had big plans for the golf course, but since then recognition of the quality of his course – and the possibilities of his long-term vision – has arrived in the form of a partnership with one of the world leaders in golf course administration.
Troon Golf are a worldwide management group whose British portfolio includes Turnberry, Prince’s, Bearwood Lakes and The Grove (which Golf365 also recently, and coincidentally, visited).
They heard on the golfing grapevine about a mysterious course in the Severn Valley near Bridgnorth, Shropshire that confounded expectations: built by a rock star, to exacting standards, with high aspirations and big hopes. They liked what they heard, investigated and soon they signed a partnership with KK that will help him complete his plans – and those plans are pretty significant.
Standing behind the stunning 18th hole, looking down into a beautiful valley that runs alongside the northern edge of the property I idly suggested it looked the perfect place for a third nine.
“That’s the idea, man,” grinned KK. “It’s wonderful down there and it’s not a hard walk either. There are going to be some great holes there. It’s perfect golfing land.”
He has planning permission for
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