A tethered mind freed from the lies…
So the morning’s round was complete and it was time to enjoy a beer and sandwich in the iconic Sunningdale clubhouse. Whilst basking in the Spring sun, we struck up a conversation with one of the members. The big news for the day was that Theresa May had called an early election. Very sensible we all mused as surely Corbyn doesn’t have a chance! There were also tales of Gary Lineker challenging all and sundry to matches and relieving them of large amounts of money. Obviously known as one of England’s best ever strikers, he was great at cricket and clearly knows his golf. Not sure why people would take him on, I mean he scored two penalties in a world cup quarter final and converted in the semi, can’t imagine he would struggle with a five foot putt for the match! Must add this wasn’t talked about in the clubhouse on the day!
Anyway back to the golf. The course was envisaged in the late 1890s to be constructed with residential housing and proximity to a train station. Course was designed by Willie Park Jr and opened for play in 1901. Famously, Harry Colt was appointed secretary in 1901 and made numerous changes over the next 20 years. Partly to make room for the New course of course but several green complexes were relocated and a few bunkers added. The end result is one of the most famous golf courses in the world – the Old Course at Sunningdale.
The Old course opens with a fairly innocuous Par 5, the only danger is a mound about 100 yards out from the pin which would potentially interfere with the approach, this is easily negotiated though and the first represents a good scoring opportunity.
The second is a more interesting hole, a long Par 4 that doglegs left, heather protects the left edge of the fairway. Tough green to hit in two shots.
The second green complex.
Third hole is a very pretty short Par 4 measuring 318 yards. Of course its possible to have a crack at the green here but the safe play is a mid iron for position and wedge.
4th hole is a short Par 3 played uphill. Miss the green and your ball will most likely be buried in heather! Unfortunately no picture here as we were waived through. I do remember that the green was tough here and unfortunately was a shame to rush especially after the money paid!
The 5th sees the start of a remarkable run of holes. 5, 6 and 7 are quality Par 4s played amongst some of the most picturesque golfing surroundings in England. Rather than make a fool of myself trying to describe, here is the write up in World Atlas of Golf
From the elevated tee of the 419-yard 5th is seen the full vocabulary of Sunningdale in all its heathery splendour. Here is superb elevation, contour, vista and heather carries as well as rough, bunkers, pond and pre-historic looking mounds. Then the 433 yard 6th has a ridge and furrow to find an original Park green with its savage bank falling away to the right.
A truly old style, blind tee shot for the 406 yard 7th is the prelude to one of the loveliest parts of the golf course beyond the crest of the hill. On reaching the top of the hill a formidable sloping fairway steers to the left towards a green that Colt moved back from where Park set it. It is now one of the wonders of Sunningdale – a massive green, veritably fortified with bastions of sand and heather.
Here’s the evidence. The 5th hole.
Approach to the 7th – Wow! Just remarkable!
Par 3 8th breaks the run but the quality remains. Hole measures193 yards to a narrow green and is a tough one shotter. Green falls aways sharply to the right and there is trouble at the back. Ideal shape is a fade here.
The 9th is a very short blind par 4 and is very reachable from the tee. Danger awaits for those who try in the form of a large bunker to the right. Its impossible not to have a go though! I managed to get close but still parred the hole. Great fun.
The second nine begins with one of the most famous holes in golf and certainly one of the best Par 4s I’ve played. Hole measures 475 yards and is played from a vastly raised tee. Pine trees frame the fairway which resembles an ‘S’ shape, hit the bunkers and making the green in two is almost impossible. Members at Sunningdale are a lucky bunch!
If the 10th is one of the best Par 4s I’ve played then the 11th is close behind. Actually scratch that it could be better! We both arrived at the tee and were scratching our heads where to aim. Unfortunately its a poor photo from me and provides poor justice to a great hole. Aim left centre and the ball should be alright. Hole is short so be careful not to hit too far. Would like to play this one again armed with the information I know now!
The 12th is a long Par 4 with another forced carry over heather. Bunkers dot the fairway and this one is certainly one of the harder holes on the course.
The nice little Par 3 13th breaks the run of Par 4s. Shot is played from an elevated position with a large bunker protecting the green.
The 14th situated across the road is a great Par 5. I remember thinking this was a majestic hole on the day to which the World Atlas agrees:
Cross the road to the 14th tee and Sunningdale’s personality is shown to perfection. A fine heather carry, a cross ditch bank, strategic fairway bunkers as well as echelon cross-bunkers farther on, heather and rough bordering the fairway are all spread out majestically before the player as the fairway rises gently uphill to a green provocatively undefended.
15th is the final Par 3 on the course and perhaps the best. Measuring 213 yards, its a fair distance for sure. Bunkers protect both sides of the green and heather the front. Its a tough shot for sure.
The 16th is another long Par 4 and is SI 3. A strong straight drive is important here otherwise a semi circle of bunkers come into play about 50 yards for the green for the approach.
The 17th is a dogleg right hole and marks the turn home. Tee-shot is played from an elevate position so possible to gain quite a bit of distance here. Fierce bunkering protects the green, miss with the approach and it will be hard to save par.
The final hole is a narrow Par 4 dogleg with trouble all down the right. Best to aim left centre of the fairway to setup an approach to the green with Sunningdale’s iconic Oak Tree and clubhouse looking on. Green complex slopes from left to right. Its a tough hole to finish with and emotional when you know you’ve completed 18 of the most famous holes in golf. 36 on the day. How good is life!
In summary, how good is the Old Course? I remember being a little underwhelmed when finishing the round but this was more to do with my general health. I caught a bug during the transit from Australia and had a bad case of Dehli belly. Docs wouldn’t give me antibiotics so I was still in a bad way even though the round was 8 days after I touched down, . Copious amounts of immodium managed to get me out there but I was gone by the 4th hole on the Old (22nd on the day). Very unfortunate. I would get antibiotics two days later after begging otherwise the Scotland trip was in danger.
I’m writing this up 4 months later, going through the photos and recounting the holes its clear that the Old Course is fantastic. Not a fan of the opening hole but the rest of the course is first class. The course has the strongest set of Par 4s I’ve played and really hope to return some point without Dehli belly!
Having played all heathland courses in the top 100 would rank as follows:
- St George’s Hill
- Sunningdale Old
- Swinley Forest
- Sunningdale New
- Walton Heath Old
Hope to play the Berkshire when I’m next back. I’ve walked Wentworth but with new owners there it will be increasingly hard to play. But who needs Wentworth with Sunningdale just around the corner?
Best Hole – 10th
Hardest Hole – 2nd