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Swinley Forest

Yardage
6019
Par
68
SSS
70
Built
1909
Architect(s)
Harry Colt
Nature:
Colt designed, sandy, heathland course among pine woods. Heather, rhododendrons, tranquil.
Location/Address:
South of Ascot, Berkshire. (postcode: SL5 9LE)
no website
Secretary
George Ritchie
Telephone
01344 620197
Professional
Stuart Hill
Green Keeper
Lawson Bingham
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Access Policy:
With a Society or as guest of a member
Dog Policy:
Welcomed
Open Meetings:
Fees in 1960s
-
Fees today
£175

Review

There is something about Swinley Forest similar to Brancaster, an unpretentiousness with none of the glamour of its near neighbours, Sunningdale and Wentworth.

Quoted in Nicholas Courtney’s book to celebrate the Club’s 2009 Centenary, it is said that ‘members of The Berkshire Golf Club are all gentlemen and love to play golf; all the Sunningdale members love to play golf but not all are gentlemen and all the Swinley  members are gentlemen but don’t give a fig whether they play golf or not!’. Its accuracy surely proved by the many exceptions.

swinley forest golf club

The clubhouse

Over recent years the club has been greatly improved in many small ways and you can see the thought and care that has been put into every element of the clubhouse and course, even if the greens have suffered from a soft lushness and are predominantly annual meadow grass (Poa annua).

The Club is unashamedly exclusive and perhaps that is why Frank Pennink left it out of his Golfer’s Companion but on the FineGolf  “joy-to-be-alive” factors it is a complete delight to play and has to be in any fine golf course guide.

Swinley has always held a liberal attitude towards its female members and is a 2 ball course run in the manner of a benevolent dictatorship.

The fact that there are no obligatory handicaps and members choose what they play off says something of the membership’s attitude to life.

Harry Colt, the great golf course architect and Secretary at Sunningdale at the time, was commissioned to design Swinley. He subsequently became its Secretary, it being reported that he was ‘no easy man to serve’ but scrupulously fair and cared deeply for his staff’s welfare.

swinley forest golf club

The attractive 1st drive

He tramped the dense woodlands avoiding the wetlands at the centre of the course and cut down some 14,000 pine trees to create vistas known as his ‘landscape aspect’ across the naturally sandy based draining fairways that are lined with trees but seldom come into play. They allow a width with many choices to be made between safety and heroism across the 179 acres.

You don’t get really tight turf on the predominantly fescue fairways at Swinley, as perhaps the members prefer the ease of the ball sitting up with some springiness. The greens are typical Colt, not a straight putt to be found but without the extreme undulations to be found on many modern target courses.

The course starts off with 3 simple Par 4s though the drive at the 2nd can be unnerving and thank goodness the idea of a penal lake across the 1st and 18th has been laid to rest.

swinley forest golf club

Lily pond on the 5th

A new lily pond at the only Par five 5th is a welcome addition for not only giving the many dogs that roam Swinley a cooling swim on a hot day but also a difficult choice to the shorter driver.

The quintet of short holes have the brilliance and beauty of Colt, more than anything else known for his Par 3s, all different in length and direction. The 4th with its double-tier, shelf green is particularly praised and Colt repeated its design at a number of other courses.

The 6th gives a wide vista and is a big hitters hole while the 7th, stroke index 2, must be one of the most difficult small greens to hit in 2 to be found anywhere, with 2 sets of bunkers across the fairway distorting the assumed length of the second shot on rising ground. A five is always acceptable to me here.

the 9th drive

the 9th drive

The 9th, a tough, dogleg Par four requires a decision from the tee as to how much to take off. Too little and one can run out under the attractive ridges of a hazard leftover from previous allotments.

The 12th is the hardest hole with an S-shaped fairway the more difficult to hit for the angle of the tee. If Swinley is known for anything, it is for its enormous banks of rhododendrons. Playing the 12th in May, one is overwhelmed by their purple magnificence. Nevertheless over the years they have encroached on the playing areas and they have been cut-back at both the 9th and the 12th holes.

After the fetching short 13th, the 14th green is difficult to stay on, though made easier with the removal of the drainage ditches on the right of the drive.

The 15th used to be an easy Par 5 with a long walk back to the tee but is now sensibly a better hole as a long Par 4.

the short 17th

the short 17th

The 17th, 170 yards to a pulpit green sorts out many matches and a 3 at the 18th really should not be that difficult but rarely seen to an elevated blind green in front of the imposing Edwardian style Clubhouse.

The seclusion at Swinley is said to be down to the majority of the course being on Crown Commission land and Lord Derby, who effectively created and ran the Club for his friends, being successful in not encouraging development on the periphery of the course.

There are also no large roads nearby that are a noise blight to a number of courses around London – for example, Walton Heath.

Swinley is just over 6000 yards, Par 68, SSS 70 and, though short for most comparisons, there is a subtlety and atmosphere of true fine golf with a remoteness from the stresses of life that gives a refuge and a high FineGolf “joy to be alive” factor.
Swinley Special, One Hundred Years of Harry Colt’s ‘least bad course’  by Nicholas Courtney (ISBN978-1-86077-481-2) is an entertaining read, not the standard golf club history written just for the members but a book to delight the golfer and the historian alike.

Review by Lorne Smith 2008 and updated in 2015

Reader Comments

On January 19th, 2009 Nick Chamberlin Said:

I like the style and shape of your new website.

I read your Swinley highlights with interest. I do find it hard to think in terms of a three on the 18th. I am always very happy with a four!

Lorne’s reply: Many thanks for your kind words. You do yourself a disservice, a man of your tremendous length surely thinks in terms of driving the 18th!

On August 26th, 2011 Hyun Griesmeyer Said:

Wow, The overall look of your web site is excellent, as well as the content!

On May 2nd, 2015 Kevin McPartlan Said:

Played April 2015. OUTSTANDING! Significant investment in refreshing many holes including new tees is nearing completion. Keen to revisit in later this year with new length added to course. One of the best!