The Weald of Sussex is beautiful with many magnificent oaks and under foot it is clay, good for roses but not for fine grasses and fine ‘running-golf ‘. Nevertheless, like Woodhall Spa or Northamptonshire County, there is an oasis of sandy, draining soil near Pulborough and we must be all thankful to George Hillyard and my godmother’s parents, the Ravenscrofts, in acquiring the land and founding what has become one of the very finest inland courses – as Henry Longhurst has said – “designed unmistakably by providence for a golf course and man for once has done the right thing”.
Guy Campbell, Cecil Hutchison and Stafford Hotchkin, famous for designing Prince’s, Gleneagles and the original Turnberry Ailsa, created a heathland paradise with tough heather, natural, superbly-positioned bunkering of soft white sand, with great use of undulations in the land and a high “joy to be alive” factor.
Officially opened by Joyce Wethered in 1931, of whom Sir Henry Cotton (a three times winner of The Open) said “I have never played golf with anyone, man or woman, amateur or professional, who made me feel so utterly outclassed”. To this day, ladies play an important part in the life of this club.
West Sussex has attracted Royalty, famous personalities from the cricket world, the stage and international golfers not because it is a venue for major men’s tournaments (it is relatively short in length at 6265 yards from the white tees) but because of the quality of its design and beauty. One of the highest points of the South Downs – Chanctonbury Ring – is nearby, adding to the views and giving its name to the open meeting held each April.
As with so many fine courses, thanks to the dedicated long service of the Professional, Greenkeeper and Steward, and its sensitive, clear thinking Secretaries, West Sussex has been well served, with Gordon Streeter, the Head Greenkeeper of 50 years, of especial importance. It is a pity that Ian Streeter who took over from Gordon in the 1980s is no relation and will therefore not be able to equal the phenomenal achievement of my ancestors, the Reverend Palmers, father and son, who were rectors at the nearby Sullington Parish for 50 years each!
The greens here have been more ‘target-golf ‘ than ‘running-golf ‘ but four years ago Ian Streeter was given the freedom to act and he is a man with a mission to turn round the greens. The deep thatch has been removed and with tons of sand and browntop bent overseeding they are firmer and truer. Ian hopes that when he has re-enlivened the soil biology away from its fertilised and chemical deadness he will be able to introduce fescues.
The many fir trees that line many holes do not actually interfer that much with play and it is wonderful to see the self-seeded silver birch being extracted from between the first, fourth and eighteenth holes. Let’s hope the membership welcome an opening up of the heath and the air being allowed to circulate and dry the course at the same time as a re-generation of heather programme.
There is only one par five (the first, where two new drive bunkers have given more definition to the hole) and five par threes within this par 68, SSS 73 track and perhaps only at the 9th is there perhaps a weakish hole, that has now been extended with a new back tee.
The Club is lucky to have as a member Donald Steel (who is also a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel) and he has tightened up the drive at the 3rd with some new bunkering but resisted changing the approach to the green.
I have to agree with Andy Stubbs the Secretary, a past Devon County player that the fifth hole (158 yards) is wilfully deceitful in the supposed innocence of its devilishly difficult green and holds its head up well among five quite outstanding short holes.
The run of holes from the tenth to the fourteenth are simply gorgeous. All strategically challenging from the tee with the exception of the thirteenth that nevertheless some feel is the best hole on the course with a ‘through the air’ approach over tight bunkering to a gathering green and a typical Sussex, sheltering halfway hut behind. It certainly gives a beautiful picture.
It has to be said that unlike that other nearby fine course on Hayling Island where the true, firm, fast greens are 80% fescue grasses, there is not a fescue yet in sight on the greens here (though plenty on the running fairways). Nevertheless with the over seeding with Browntop bent and the reduction in fertiliser and pesticide use, putting performance should improve as a more sustainable route is taken.
It is worth mentioning in comparison with so many of the ugly, bulldozered lakes featured on modern target courses, the beauty of the natural pond in front of the short 15th set in an idyllic, peaceful dell.
It is most heartening that a course of less then 6300 yards off the white tees was chosen by Golf World to be 83rd in their world ranking. The magic of the undulating land, the white sand and dense heather that has bewitched golfers for eighty years has been recognised at last (!) but that will not bother the members much.
Be warned, this is predominantly a two-ball club with quick play encouraged and plenty of foursomes played, with well-behaved dogs welcome, giving time for what Frank Pennink called “one of the best, self-service luncheons, within my ken at any rate, should make up for any number of visits to those silver-sanded traps, which are another feature of this attractive and challenging course”.
This is a members’ club with no wish to hog the limelight of televised golf and well worth a long drive for a visit where you will remember every hole for some time.
Reviewed and updated by Lorne Smith, 2015.
Have played West Sussex in the past.Reminiscent of Sunningdale and a great example of a course not requiring length to be enjoyable.Magnificent short holes.On August 20th, 2009 software developers Said:
Hey, that was interesting.
The nature is so beautiful in sussex and this is why I enjoy visiting there so much.
Thanks for bringing this up.On May 24th, 2010 robin brown Said:
Played West Sussex today in balmy conditions.A great experience, short course but very challenging and requires lots of different shots.Plays like a links course with fast running fairways but greens a little slow.
Par 3’s all memorable but 16th certainly toughest hole with heather everywhere.
Good welcome from members and fine catering.
Up there with the three W’s in Surrey and Sunningdale.On September 6th, 2010 boiler expert Said:
My husband visits a few times a year and loves it. I’ve been a few times and I loved the nature surrounding the area. I recommend a visit to everyone.