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Sunningdale

Yardage
6627
Par
70
SSS
72
Built
1900
Architect(s)
Willie Park (Old) Harry Colt (New)
Nature:
Heather,gorse,pine; two national championship heathland courses. Prestigious club.
Location/Address:
Ridgemount Rd, Sunningdale,Berks. SL5 9RR
http://www.sunningdalegolfclub.co.uk
Secretary
Stephen Toon
Telephone
01344 621681
Professional
Keith Maxwell
Green Keeper
Murray Long
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Access Policy:
Visitors welcome Mon to Thur
Dog Policy:
Welcomed
Open Meetings:
Sunningdale Open Foursomes
Fees in 1960s
£1
Fees today
£195 (Old) £155 (New)

Review

Sunningdale has always been at the forefront of British inland golf. Renowned worldwide, it has an abundance of Fine Golf’s “joy to be alive” factors.

Visitors and societies enjoy an unforgettable experience of comfort and exceptional food in the large but homely clubhouse, though so discreet is the members’ area, you may not necessarily bump into the many famous people who are members, including Lord Lucan!

That is not to say you won’t see the likes of famous tennis players, cricketers, or golfers and captains of industry out on the courses.

Sunningdale clubhouse

Sunningdale clubhouse

One of the Club’s knowledgeable caddies saved me at least five shots recently, so quickly did he tune into my game. Jimmy Sheridan, the caddiemaster here for 56 years, set a standard that is continued today and is quoted as saying: “At Sunningdale the great are treated as unremarkable. That is why they come.”

I have to admit to an early chip on my shoulder about Sunningdale. My uncle and godfather, who lived at the original Chenistons, a nearby house, was a member but he never invited me to a game despite heavy hints from my father. Subsequently I realised this had more to do with embarrassment at his own game than me!

It is strange how little things like a piece of sand in an oyster can grow into something beautiful. I have had only good experiences in more recent years at this members’ club.

Usually the Old course is considered the most prestigious of the two, designed in 1900 by Willie Park junior, a double Open Champion famed for his putting and the large greens he designed. Other fine courses he created are West Hill and Huntercombe in the vicinity and Notts (Hollinwell) in the Midlands.

The famous 5th & 6th vista

The famous 5th & 6th vista

The prestige perhaps stems from the numerous professional tournaments played over it and because here Bobby Jones had his near-perfect round of 66 using hickory shafts in The Open qualifier of 1926.

Although the Old course is now predominantly pine-tree lined, both courses were laid out on open, well-drained, sandy, heathland except for holes 7 to 10 that were cut through a wood.

Over the years allowing the trees to encroach can have a tendency to change the character towards damp wooded parkland and away from open dry heathland but they do frame two of the most famous and beautiful

The 10th and halfway hut

The 10th and halfway hut

vistas in inland golf from the 4th green to the 6th hole and down the 10th to the oasis-like halfway house, the best we know in Fine Golf, where a hot Bovril and sherry on a winter’s day recuperates.

Since the 1990s a policy of tree and scrub removal has allowed light and air into damp areas to help maintain heathland character.

There are many who consider the New course the tighter, more difficult and attractive for its more open aspect (6729 yards, par 70, SSS 73). It was designed by Harry Colt in 1923, who had been the Club’s first full-time paid Secretary. He moved and shrunk a number of Park’s greens on the Old, though always recognising The Old was Park’s course. Colt of course went on to become England’s most prolific and some would say greatest course architect.

The land that Colt used for the New was quite restricted and so, when more ground became available in the 1930s, Tom Simpson (and later John Morrison, a partner of Colt) changed five holes and made these interesting remarks in an era when there were more bunkers than now:

“The first fairway bunker or hazard should be so placed that it is not more than four yards off the scratch golfer’s most favourable line to the hole. There is no necessity to bunker the wrong line to the hole, if the green has been properly sited.”

The Old's 7th

The Old's 7th

The 5th green on the Old is now moved to the right, bringing the pond more into play, while pranksters can now no longer use the single railway sleeper bridge since the ‘elf & safety’ regime deemed it was too easy to drown in one foot of water among the water lilies!

The dogleg 7th hole, usually played with two long irons, has every element of a great ‘fine golf’ hole. A blind drive strategically placed to an undulating fairway sets up the second over a shallow valley to a high two-tiered green well protected except at the front.

Almost as good is the 12th which has a fairway wider than perceived from the tee and a beautiful second shot to another raised green.

Another great blind drive hole is the 11th which is characterised by the line of firs on the right and, though short, is not a pick-up birdie chance like the short par fours, 3rd or 9th.

I would agree with Frank Pennink, “I never think that the short holes quite measure up on the Old to their longer brethren” though the length of the 15th makes it a good beginning to the finishing holes.

The finish on the Old is well regarded and though not brutal in length, each of the three approach shots are testing and a four is always welcome.  Apparently the Luftwaffe helped by creating two new bunkers to tighten up the approach to the 18th with its iconic oak tree framing the green.

Sunningdale New 18th

Sunningdale New 18th

The finish on the New does not hold together as well as on the Old, with less of a natural flow and gives the feel of having been ‘fitted in’, (though the approach to the 18th of the New has recently been greatly improved). That, together with the also disappointing 1st, lets down a wonderful dry course with heavy heather that is cut to the perfect height. It allows you to find your ball but often requires taking the medicine of the hack out sideways.

Sunningdale New, the long 6th

New, the long 6th

The 3rd, 4th, 8th, 9th, 11th, 12th and 15th are all enjoyably testing par fours while – as I am not normally a fan of arduous par fives -the 6th and 13th are brilliant, confronting the mind with so many routes that require clear decisions, and not just good execution.

Sunningdale New 5th

New 5th 2008

The view of the 5th short hole from a high tee across a bunkered valley to a long narrow green with the heathland set out behind is quintessential Berkshire golf. It is impossible to move on without thinking how privileged one is to be at this finest of clubs. As can be seen from these two photos trees have also flourished on the New.

The short 14th is another example of Colt’s brilliance in design.

New 5th 1930s

New 5th 1930s

I don’t know why it is not ‘Royal’ Sunningdale; it has had close connections with royalty throughout its history. The legendary amounts of money waged on sporting bets here surely can’t have had anything to do with it.

Always up with the latest developments, automatic watering was introduced as early as 1966. The Old course had ‘dew-pond’ greens with a clay base to retain rainwater, and overwatering ensued, with a build-up of thatch. It wasn’t until after an intensive programme of aeration, with reduction of fertiliser and irrigation supervised by Jim Arthur, that the fine grasses started to return and though there is still a lot of Poa Annua grass, the naturally sandy based soil is firm and provides the all-year round playability that the members require and the encouragement of more fine grasses would only enhance.

Sunningdale has done much for ladies professional golf, hosting the Colgate-Palmolive event and the Weetabix professional Opens that attracted the Americans and created much interest.

However, it is for the Sunningdale Open foursomes, which top amateurs and professionals of either sex have entered since 1934, that the Club should be most proud.

It was run by Gerald Micklem for many years who, along with so many other members not mentioned, set high standards of behaviour and craft on the course and as a tireless administrator.

See Sunningdale Golf Club 1900-2000 by John Whitfield (2000). As befits this prestigious Club, the presentation of this history book is among the best that I have seen.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith, 2009             Leave us a comment below.

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