Sunningdale Old Course review: England’s best course?

Bobby Jones hit the nail on the head in 1926. “I wish I could take it home with me,” he said of Sunningdale Old. It may be the only thing he and I have in common but I share that sentiment as I step off the 18th green after a round I’d be happy to repeat every day for the rest of my life.

When you receive the invitation to visit Sunningdale for a round on the Old Course, the feeling is comparable to the excitement you feel as a 5-year-old on Christmas Eve. You know you are in for something very special, you hope the day lives up to the hype and you don’t sleep the night before.

The great American golfer, Bobby Jones

The Sunningdale estate is tucked away behind gates just off a quiet lane near the village centre. Once the gates close behind you, you could be forgiven for forgetting a world exists outside of this idyllic spot. It simply melts away, disappears delightfully into soft focus.

The clubhouse is majestic and traditional in equal measure. The main bar overlooks the practice putting green near the first tee and, of course, onto the famous Oak tree that has become the symbol of the club.

There is a driving range away to the left of the 18th green that is functional rather than fancy and the short game area is extensive and varied enough to ensure even the most dedicated of golfers is ready for the round of their lives.

The beautiful par-4 7th hole at Sunningdale Old

The course itself is a true inland masterpiece. As good as anything you will find anywhere in the world. Willie Park Jr, who designed it in 1900, carved through the Berkshire heathland and forest so carefully, delicately as to create a layout that feels natural. It rises and falls over varied and challenging landscapes and it presents so many wonderful and memorable holes. The condition of the course is, as you would expect, immaculate from tee to green.

Sunningdale Old Course 12th hole

The only reason the best players in the world no longer grace these hallowed fairways is because Sunningdale Old is not a long course. It is not a beast. It doesn’t need to be. It prioritises placement above distance, accuracy above power.

The opening hole is a good example. A 492yd par 5, that invites you to begin your round with a birdie. The second is a gentle reminder that things get harder quickly. A 470yd par 4 with a wicked green that slopes sharply front to back.  The 4th is a delightful uphill par 3 that always and then the 7th, with its blind tee shot, is perhaps the best hole on the course – certainly the most picturesque.

The view from the tee at the 10th

And the long 10th, with its incredible view from the tee, is another instant classic in a round full of them. The bunkering is clever and subtle throughout and the fairways, although not narrow, are framed delightfully by towering trees, vibrant heather and, at times, difficult rough. If you miss these fairways you will drop shots.

“It is majestic. It is beautiful. It is challenging and varied. It is a real joy to play.”

The halfway house is worth stopping at. The sausage sandwiches are wonderful and wholesome. The setting in the middle of a delightful woodland is idyllic and tranquil. A perfect spot to consider the final stretch.

The 12th is another outstanding par 4, stretching 416yds. I could go on, but I won’t. I am sure you get the picture. Sometimes golf courses and luxury resorts receive acclaim that, when you finally get there, does not live up to the reality. Sunningdale Old Course is the opposite of that. To many it is England’s best inland course. It is consistently ranked in the top 5 courses in the UK. And yet when you come to play it, as I have been fortunate enough to do on a number of occasions now, it still manages to surpass your expectations.

It is majestic. It is beautiful. It is challenging and varied. It is a joy to walk and to play. And I think I know what I want for Christmas next year …

Here’s all you need to know.

The scorecard for Sunningdale Old
  • Best hole: The 7th – 393yd Par 4.
    A blind tee shot over a hill, opens up to a truly beautiful fairway and green, in among the forest. When the heather blooms there may be no more picturesque par-4 in all of England. Really wonderful to play and not long.


  • Hardest hole: The 2nd – 470yd Par 4.
    After a gentle start, the Old course reminds you that it is no pushover with this challenging par 4. A drive up to the road that crosses the fairway, leaves you around 170 yards to a green that is down in a dip and slopes front to back. Par is an excellent score.

  • Best Par 3: The 4th – 157yd Par 3.
    An excellent and varied opening stretch is completed with this charming par 3. An uphill tee shot means it is hard to grasp the size of the green. With pin position varying by as much as 30 yards. Heather lines both sides of the fairway and will ensure any wayward shot disappears.

KEY FACTS
Phone Number: 
 01344 621681
Designers: 
Willie Park Jr.
Cost:  £95-£230
Where it ranks: At the very top. 12th in Golf Digest’s Top 100 courses in the world.
Length: 6,329 yards from the back tees. Par 70.

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Fulford Golf Club review: Langer lives on

It was an iconic image that travelled around the world.

Bernard Langer, with a shock of blonde hair, playing from a tree 10ft off the ground. It was a moment in time. A moment of golfing history that put Fulford firmly on the map and ensured it always be associated with one image.

Langer plays his shot to the 17th green

I grew up dreaming of playing there. Perhaps it was the image of Langer, or the 23 successive years during the 1970s, 80s & 90s that it hosted the Benson & Hedges Championship, a prestigious European Tour event.

Winners included Greg Norman, Lee Trevino, Tony Jacklin, Sandy Lyle, Sam Torrance and Mark James. Many of whom are immortalised on the scorecard with the holes named after the famous faces that produced great moments at each of them.

Fulford Golf Club

The images of Langer in his tree endure at Fulford.

These days there is a plaque attached to the tree, just to the left of the 17th green from which he played onto the green. He would drop a shot on his way to a round of 67. And finished second behind the American Tom Weiskopf by, you guessed it, one shot. Langer never did win at Fulford. The event moved to St Mellion in Cornwall in 1990. The German won a year later. All that happened in 1981 and some 37 years later, it was my turn.

A plaque marks the spot where Langer played from a tree

Fulford is only a mile or two from the centre of York, hidden away in the leafy suburb. The clubhouse is imposing and impressive and the pro shop, housed in a separate building close to the 1st tee, provided the warmest of welcomes.

The land on which Fulford sits is mature and varied. Each hole is set in its own amphitheatre. Each carved through woodland and heathland of this beautiful part of North Yorkshire. The first five holes take you out away from the clubhouse. The par-three 3rd is an excellent par 3. A footbridge crosses the A64 to a stretch of eight holes that are the highlight of this excellent layout.

The 10th at Fulford

There is certainly a hint Sunningdale Old when the heather is in full bloom. Throughout the bunkering threatens almost every tee shot. Rarely is there an easy landing spot and the straight hitters will be rewarded over power.

A string of tremendous par 4s culminates in the challenging 13th and at each the fairway appears to narrow at landing distance to make your task of finding the fairway, even harder. The greens were fast and yet receptive to spin on the day we played. The slopes are subtle and you always felt that good putts were rewarded once you found the pace. As with all good golf in Yorkshire, the wind can and likely will have a major impact on your round. The final stretch of five holes back to the clubhouse played into the breeze for us. Making what was a relatively straightforward run into something much more challenging. And, despite our best efforts, we could not get the ball to stay in the tree on 17.

One of the many brilliantly placed bunkers at Fulford

The clubhouse sits close to the back of the 18th green. Only a stumble from final putt to pint.

Fulford is not a club attempting to escape its past and that image of Langer. Why should it? What I found out on my visit to York was a golf course that is so much more than that photograph. I would recommend it to anyone and my feeling is that it is as good as inland course as any you will find anywhere in Yorkshire. It will test you, it will delight you and you would be mad not to add it to your bucket list. That said (and I speak from experience) I do not recommend trying to climb the tree!

Here is all you need to know.

The scorecard at Fulford

Key Facts: 

Telephone: 01904 412882
Designer: James Braid and Major Charles Mackenzie.
Cost: £35-£80
Where it ranks: 77th in Today’s Golfer top 100 courses in England, ahead of Stoke Park and Close House
Length:
6,743yds, Par 72.

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Woburn Marquess course review: UK’s Augusta?

It’s early on another stunning summer morning.

I’ve just finished a hotel breakfast overlooking the pitch at MK Dons, surrounded by mechanics from Ferrari, in town for the British Grand Prix along the road at Silverstone. It’s fair to say the day has begun in the sportiest of ways. Surely a good omen for a trip to one of the UK’s great golf venues?

“There are so many memorable holes on the Marquess”

Woburn is a name that instantly resonates with all golfers of a certain age. In my formative years it was the annual venue for the British Masters, which at the age of 7 I thought was the fourth major. British Open, US Open. US Masters, British … it kind of made sense. Anyway, these days Woburn may not regularly feature on the European Tour but it does boast three beautiful golf courses and two world famous ambassadors in Ian Poulter and Charley Hull, who add a dash of star dust.

The 12th green of the Marquess

As soon as you enter the forest that engulfs this estate, you get the sense you are in for something special. The clubhouse is modern and bright. The welcome is warm and my bag was taken away as a pulled up and all I had to do was walk in and enjoy a hearty bacon sandwich.

The layout at Woburn is excellent. The practice putting green and extensive chipping area is a bump and run from the pro shop and breakfast area. The range is vast and gives you the option of hitting from mats or turf. There is an even bigger practice area across the small road that runs between the clubhouse and 1st tee should you so wish. But the bottom line is that there are no excuses.

The Dukes and Duchess courses may have the history but the newest of the three, the Marquess is now widely regarded as the sternest test at Woburn, having hosted the British Masters in 2015, not long after opening. Since then it has become a regular Open Final Qualifying venue.

And so to the course. And what a course. What a thing of beauty. The 1st hole is as gentle as the Marquess gets.  A drive and a wedge to a flattish green. Things soon pick up, however. And it soon becomes clear that this is a course that rewards the golfer who plots and thinks his way around. Rather than one who simply hits and hopes. The other defining feature of this course is the vast and undulating greens. Which ran as true and fast as any I have ever played in the UK. Granted, Open Qualifying was to be held the next day, but at the time I visited they were running 12 on the stimp metre. My grampa would have said it was like putting on glass. And it was.

There are so many memorable holes on the Marquess. The 2nd is short a dogleg par 5 that vaguely reminds you of the 13th at Augusta. The 7th with its split fairway is a brilliant risk/reward hole. The short par 4, 12th with its island fairway. The long par 3 with a wicked three tier green. The fantastic par 5, 15th and the 18th with a fairway bunker that demands a long straight drive. I could go on. I genuinely loved this course and would recommend it highly. It does have an unmistakeable whiff of Augusta about it. More than enough to make it feel special and to draw me back time and again.

The scorecard for the Marquess

Here’s all you need to know.

  • Best hole: The 9th – 441yd Par 4. This is another beautiful hole to look at it. A long straight drive will leave you around 160yds to the flag but take more club than you think you will need, to find a green that sits atop a ravine and guarded by two bunkers that gobble up anything short and right. Long and left will leave a tricky chip back down the hill. Par is a very good score.

  • Hardest hole: The 14th – 230yd Par 3. Further than it looks and harder than its par. The 14th is a brute of a par 3 and requires a long iron or wood to get you anywhere near. Clever bunkering captures plenty of balls and if you manage to evade those, you will have a very tricky putt from a three tier green. Good luck.

  • Longest hole: The 15th – 558yd Par 5. A really brilliant par 5 that rewards the golfer who plots his way down the hole. From the elevated tee, you can see the many bunkers that challenge your drive. The second shot must be guided carefully down the fairway to avoid more bunkers and should leave you with a wedge or a short iron in to a shallow green that slopes wickedly.

KEY FACTS
Phone Number: 
  (01908) 370756
Designers: 
Peter Alliss, Clive Clark and Alex Hay.
Cost:  £105-£169
Where it ranks: Ranked 37th in England by Top 100 courses.
Length: 7,214 yards from the back tees. Par 72.

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