The Forest of Arden is a set amidst the trout lakes of Lord Aylesford’s vast 10,000-acre estate at Packington Park. Founded in 1970 and designed by Donald Steel, the Arden course was a regular European Tour venue and has hosted the British Masters and the English Open.
Despite the fact that the Arden is a modern course, Steel has blended the layout nicely into the natural landscape. The majestic oaks, especially prevalent on the back nine, make the layout seem much more mature than it really is. The Arden’s challenge is significant, especially from the back tees – 7,134 yards. But even from the regular yellow tees, the course measures a healthy 6,500 yards.
This is a quality course, set in very pleasant surroundings. It can sometimes feel a lot longer than its advertised yardage because the ground, especially in the winter, becomes soft. The rough can be extremely trying; it’s invariably lush and thick, making recovery shots very tough indeed. In terms of conditioning, the Arden is usually maintained immaculately from tee to green. If you are fortunate enough to play the course prior to, or just after, a European Tour event, you are in for an absolute treat.
Opening gently with two short par fours, it’s not long before the Arden’s real test begins. The sequence of holes from the 6th through to the 9th is superb. The 8th is a wonderful short par three, where the green is guarded by water on two sides. The back nine is the most memorable, not only for the ancient oak trees, but also for the closing two holes, which are technically excellent and very exciting. The 17th is a par five where a bunker to the left and a lake to the right jealously guard the green. Only the crispest of approach shots will find the putting surface. Beware of the closing hole. It’s an intimidating par three, requiring a long, forced carry across a lake.
It’s always enjoyable to play a championship course of the pedigree of the Forest of Arden, but it’s especially pleasing when the service and the facilities are this good.
A round on the main Arden course – there is also the par 69 Aylesford course – is very much a tale of two halves and allows you to walk in the footsteps of the stars of the game who competed here just before and after the turn of the millennium. You can count Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke amongst the champions crowned here.
The front nine unquestionably suffers from poorer terrain and with the exception of the excellent fourth hole it delivers pretty much what you would expect from a hotel resort-style course; flat fairways lined by lush semi-rough, big American-style bunkers and large greens with minimal movement.
The fourth hole really is the shining light on the outward half. It’s a dog-legging par four that entices you to bite off a little bit more than you perhaps should before playing to a sloping green with water jutting out to protect the front-left side.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with the other holes but, with the exception of the double-green at the third/sixth and the lake-fronted par-three eighth, there are few really memorable moments.
The transformation on the back-nine is quite staggering. The turf is firmer and the landscape has a lovely open, almost heathland, feel to it with mature trees and bracken enhancing the richness of this part of the property. Most importantly though, and undoubtedly as a consequence of the improved golfing ground, the actual holes are better.
The Forest of Arden is often compared to The Belfry, not least because of its proximity but also because the style is similar and their history of hosting televised golf tournaments. There’s no dispute in my mind that The Belfry is the superior course; it has a couple of outstanding holes that the Forest of Arden simply doesn’t possess and it’s consistently better too. That said, the Forest Arden certainly boasts the most enjoyable nine of both courses (in their back-nine) which is just a lovely loop of golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.