The Old course at Sunningdale is one of the British Isles’ most aesthetically pleasing inland courses. Arguably, it was the first truly great golf course to be built on the magical Surry/Berkshire sand-belt. The land was (and still is) leased from the freeholder, St John’s College, Cambridge. It is a Willie Park Junior masterpiece and opened for play in 1901, becoming known as the Old after the opening of the New Course in 1923.
Lined with pine, birch and oak trees, it is a magnificent place to play golf. The emblem of the club is the oak tree, no doubt modelled on the huge specimen tree standing majestically beside the 18th green. It’s incredible to believe that originally the golf course was laid out on barren, open land. Harry Colt was a big influence at Sunningdale; he was Secretary and Captain in the club’s early years and redesigned the Old course, giving it a more intimate and enclosed feel.
In 1926, during qualification for the British Open, amateur Bobby Jones played the Old Course perfectly, scoring 66, made up of all threes and fours (taking 33 putts). This type of scoring was unheard of in those days. Bernard Darwin brilliantly summed up Jones’ round as “incredible and in decent”. “Few joys in this world are unalloyed”, wrote Darwin in Golf Between Two Wars, “and though Bobby was naturally and humanly pleased with that 66 he was a trifle worried because he had 'reached the peak' rather too soon before going to St. Anne's.” Jones went on to Royal Lytham & St Annes and won the 1926 Open by two strokes, beating fellow American Al Watrous.
If you have already played the Old course, you will surely remember the elevated 10th tee, a fabulous driving hole and one of our all-time favourite holes. By the time you have putted out on the 10th, you will be ready for refreshments at the excellent halfway hut that sits welcomingly behind the green. What sheer delight! The 5th, a lovely par four, is beautifully described in The 500 World’s Greatest Golf Holes: “From an elevated tee, the fifth is clearly defined. The fairway is bordered by heather, golden grass and dark green forest. There are two fairway bunkers in the right half of the fairway; a small pond and four sentinel bunkers protect the green. Success calls for two pure shots…” The 15th is also featured in the same book; it’s a superb par three, measuring 226 yards.
Many people regard Sunningdale as the perfect golfing venue. The Old and New courses taken together are probably the finest pair of golf courses anywhere. On a sunny autumn day, walking on that perfect heathland turf, surely there is nowhere better to play golf with a few friends. “If we have not been too frequently ‘up to our necks’ in untrodden heather—nay, even if we have—we ought to have enjoyed ourselves immensely,” as Darwin said in his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles.
Sunningdale Old ranks atop almost every list of great courses in Great Britan and Ireland and it is easy to see why. Willie Park Jr. designed a timeless gem that has stood the test of time over the past 115 years and should continue to do so for many years to come.
The course is an interesting mix of holes. There are 4 stellar par 3's, varying from the relatively short uphill 4th of 157 yards and the long, tight 222 yard 15th. The score must be made over the two short part 5's, 1 and 14, and the short, drivable par 4's at 3, 9 and 11. The remaining par 4's are all challenges of the highest order, perhaps none better than the magnificent 467 yard 10th. The 10th plays downhill off the tee and requires the player to thread two bunkers to the right and one to the left. The uphill second shot is challenged by a sloping back to front green. This is probably the best hole of all 36 on the property. The course finishes strongly with three consecutive outstanding par 4's, all over 410 yards long.
The course was in excellent condition and the greens offer genuine but subtle difficulties. The fairway bunkers that I hit into only offered the opportunity for a wedge down the fairway, and the heather is a perfect rough, basically allowing you the opportunity to wedge out down the fairway but rarely anything more. A day at Sunningdale is a treat to treasure. This is great golf in a beautiful setting on courses oozing with history. This was one of the great golfing days in my life to play the Old and New together.
It was a long awaited visit and for sure I got even more of what I was expecting. After and extense Tour which included The Open, playing in the Liverpool area, then driving to Sandwich to play all 3 and then back to London for a final 36 holes day before my departure to Buenos Aires. Not only the golf course was awaited, as I was going to play along with Schalk Brits current Saracens Rugby Player and former Springbok Legend.
Arrived early after a 5am wake up at Prince's Lodge and met Schalk, who was really excited to finally tick one more of his pending bucket list. We met in Argentina during his match for the Rugby Championship 2014 and our round together was a pending issue which we finally could do in this rainy morning. It was not only the chance to play with him but also have 4hs to listen and learn what the day by day of a high performance athlete is. So couldn't ask for more.
Rain bothered, yes, but what can you expect in the UK in Summer? Just don't complain and go play the course. We had a terrific time and a great match won by Schalk 3/2 (he is a 5 handicapper and can hit it a long way!), but that is just a detail of how much we enjoyed the Old Course at Sunningdale.
My first thumbs up goes for the three short par 4s (3rd, 9th and 11th) all measuring around 300yds but where you have to be extremely accurate if going for it, if not just lay up and go for the small bird. If wanting the big bird you might end up with a bogey or worse. I got +1 in the addition of all 3 which was very disappointing, but the price of hitting drive in all three!
More thumbs up go for the par 3s, specially both at the front 9 with not much of lenght but both uphill and accuracy needed.
Then the tough par 4s 2nd, 10th and 17th were after a good drive the problem is still to be solved, the approach shot is even tougher where 2nd downhill green makes it tough to hold the ball, then 10th uphill shot breaking left to right makes it extremely difficult to aim the shot and finally 17th where a missed drive got me in a mess but was lucky to get off the trees with a very nice cut stinger from 180yds..
And finally 18th facing the big tree is the perfect end to a great course, not long but good and challenging enough to still host top amateur and professional events.
I have already made the review of New, but have to say that this 36 holes Private Club has to be the best in England for sure and maybe in the UK or even Europe. Top Class Club House, extremely helpful staff, charming Locker Room and Members always making sure you are welcome at every corner of the Club.
Some final details of the Course: greens despite rain rolling true and fact, heather being a nightmare to get out (don't be greedy, hit a wedge!) and the mix of forest plus some blind shots make it a true jewel of the game.
If never been here, it is time to do it. Combine it with Walton Heath, St George's Hill and the 3 at Sandwich to make it one of the best experiences golf can give you!
Wow. Simply wow.
I was fortunate enough to play both courses on Thursday last week. The whole place just oozes class but without an ounce of stuffiness.
Every single staff member I encountered was extremely friendly and went out of their way to make us feel welcome.
The course itself is simply superb. It is surprisingly playable and stunningly beautiful. Stand out holes for me were the 7th where the view back along the previous holes is gorgeous and the second shot is simply simply lovely and the 10th. Where the view off the tee is amazing. The par 3's on the Old are not as good as those on the New and this is the only small criticism I can make of the place.
The clubhouse is full of memorabilia and is worth a visit on its own.
Those people lucky enough to call Sunningdale home are truly blessed
Simply Sublime. The Best inland course i have played in England, beating both Woodhall Spa and Ganton for me.
Every single hole is brilliant and the conditioning was amazing.
I think the 8th is one of the best most challenging holes on the complex whilst 10 is also a close challenger.
the 17th and 18th with the clubhouse in the distance were a perfect finish to a wonderful 36 holes of golf
Just wish i could have played the course from tees further back than the yellows as i think it would have futher improved the experience.
What pleases me most is the notable difference between both the Old and New courses. On my first visit I expected each course to be very similar in style and design. Indeed they are both truly superb heathland courses but the New course poses an entirely different set of questions to that of the Old.
The Old is simply an awe-inspiring journey through magnificent wooded heathland. There is a great variety of holes, perfectly encapsulated in the opening four; a reachable par five, a demanding par four, a driveable par four and a fantastic uphill par three. The course continues in similar vein with each hole unravelling delightfully to present something different.
The 12th hole is possibly my favourite on the course and is one of the most beautiful holes you will come across. I believe the falling par three 13th to be the weakest hole of the entire 36 but the 15th is a very good short hole (although it can play up to 239 yards!) whilst the closing three holes will test the best with accurate driving and precise iron-play required.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
As the club describes themselves, “Sunningdale is the quintessential English Club and as close to Augusta National as any club in the British Isles. Golf is the only thing that matters at Sunningdale.” Golf is sometimes referred to metaphorically as a walk in the park; in the case of Sunningdale, it is literally true. The course is surrounded by deep woods and is idyllic and peaceful. It has a stately English clubhouse, a “Stockbroker’s Tudor,” and there are walking paths around the course where people stroll with their dogs in peaceful solitude. Visiting Sunningdale is one of the finer experiences in the world of private club golf. There are few things more satisfying than sitting in the Stockbroker’s Tudor after a round with a pint in hand, reflecting back on a brilliant day’s golf. Sunningdale is among a small group of clubs that combine the best of everything; a world-class set of golf courses with a historic, warm, and inviting club.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs