The enchanting Ashridge Golf Club is set amongst thousands of acres of National Trust-owned woodland. The scene is set as you drive to the clubhouse. The long approach road takes you through parts of the ancient Ashridge estate, giving you a fleeting glimpse of the 8th and 9th holes between the beautiful mature trees (more about the 9th later).
Founded in 1932, Ashridge was originally designed by Sir Guy Campbell, Major C K Hutchison and Woodhall Spa’s Colonel Hotchkin. Around 1939, Tom Simpson made a few minor but significant changes. These architects made perfect use of Ashridge’s gently undulating land and inherent natural beauty. The great Sir Henry Cotton was club pro in the late thirties and during his time at Ashridge, he won the 1937 Open at Carnoustie. Alex Hay was also another famous Ashridge pro, staying here for twelve years from 1964.
The par threes are very strong at Ashridge, with prominent bunkering providing clear definition from the tees. There is a noticeable split between the front and back nine (par 35 & par 37) and the inward nine plays significantly harder than the shorter par 35 outward nine. Accuracy, rather than length from the tee, especially at the turn, will be rewarded and mistakes will invariably be punished. At first glance, the greens at Ashridge appear fairly flat, but do not be fooled as there are many subtle borrows, leaving you questioning your eyesight. These greens are very tough cookies to read. The only minor criticism is that there is currently only one genuine three shot hole (15th) and that, too, is relatively short. On the plus side, there are birdies on offer.
Ashridge was one of the very first private clubs to pioneer “society days” by welcoming groups of visiting golfers; the club continues this approach to the present day. Societies are treated as day members and many groups return year after year because a warm welcome is guaranteed. The club does not insist on visitors using the red and yellow tees. The whites can be used if desired, leaving the choice to the player and not the club. There are three starting points (1st, 10th and 13th) all within 50 yards of each other, close to the new clubhouse. These loops of holes make up the “clover leaf” shaped layout of the course and provide a number of options for players not wanting to play a full round.
Probably the most memorable hole is the par four 9th (stroke index 7). It’s not a long hole, measuring 337 yards from the yellow tee but the drive is to a blind landing area and the approach shot must carry across a valley to a kidney-shaped plateau green below – four is a great score here. This hole is affectionately named ‘Cottons’ after the great man.
The freshness of spring and the autumn colours at Ashridge are breathtaking. Oh, and keep an eye out for the deer. They have life membership and a habit of grazing to the right of the 17th hole.
We will let Bernard Darwin bring Ashridge to a close: “The romantic and traditional names have not been lost. Witchcraft Bottom and Nob’s Crook, Thunderdell – a wood of splendid beeches where blasted trunks bear witness to its evil reputation; Princes Riding – a long avenue with a stately monument at the end of it; were there ever more thrilling names? Today they have been transferred to appropriate holes upon the course, and the holes are worthy of the names.”
I’ve known of the Ashridge Estate for many years now, having once lived in Berkhamsted and having visited the business school that lies within the beautiful grounds there. But those were the days when golf wasn’t so high on my agenda and my taste in golf courses wasn’t as refined as it is today (you can also read “snobby”). And so it was a joy to return to my old neighbourhood to visit Ashridge and visit what is a fabulous club.
My first impressions of Ashridge were excellent, and I was immediately taken by the facilities in and around the clubhouse. The practice range is first class and sits next to the car park so there’s no reason to tee off the 1st hole feeling rusty. The clubhouse is also perfectly located with its first floor balcony overlooking the undulating terrain and many of the golf holes.
The course itself is very good, with pockets of excellent stuff. My favourite holes were those that converge around the clubhouse around the end loops of both nines. 1, 9, 10, 12 and 18 are all very strong and their tees or greens are within a stone’s throw of one another making for some excellent post-round viewing with drink in hand. It’s also a course that offers different landscapes as you thread your way through the course. The opening holes are excellent valley-type holes, whilst 3 to 8 play through slightly less interesting terrain and is more treelined than the rest of the course, but this area still has a smattering of very interesting greens. In fact, most of the greens have some thought-provoking slopes and gradients to the point where much of Ashridge’s protection often comes on their putting surfaces. The new bunkering is also pleasant. Unusually for an inland course, many of these updated bunkers are revetted, including, in places, the backs of the bunkers which I found a little odd, but I’ll give Ashridge a pass here.
The 9th is the best hole on the course and returns to the land in front of the clubhouse that’s more open and comes with more arresting visuals. It’s a hole that has a peculiarly raised green-site and is surrounded by three bunkers and punishing slopes. The next few holes then dodge back and forth along the same rolling ground before disappearing again into more typical parkland. The closing couple of holes then play alongside the main Ashridge Estate and are fun golf holes across the heaving ground that returns you back to the clubhouse with a beautiful view down to the closing green.
I was fortunate enough to play the course in May when the rough was very playable and before the vegetation in the south of England had its growth-spurt this Summer, but I was warned by my host that the rough grows to brutal lengths to that described in Neil’s write-up below, although I can’t speak to that from my own personal experience. My overriding memory of Ashridge was one of a very tranquil and picturesque course to play, so choose your timing carefully and you’ll have a very enjoyable round. Just remember to close out your round with a drink on that balcony or you’ll have missed a key part of the Ashridge experience.
“I hope you have a lot of balls in your bag,” quipped the club member out walking his dog. It took us just one hole to realise that he wasn’t joking but giving us a well-informed dire warning.
Ashridge’s rough is more severe than any I have experienced and will be the abiding memory of my two rounds there rather than the prettiness of its holes, its cunning slopes or its astute bunkering.
It was as if the course had been set up to defeat the golfer rather than allow them to have an enjoyable round. The long, dense grass was two-feet deep with no graduation – so any balls which slipped off the fairway would rarely be seen again.
Fair enough, if a shot is truly wild, it should be punished but this was too penal, in my opinion, because even if a tee shot landed on a fairway, inclines meant that it could easily run into disaster.
Ok, this sounds as if I had a bad round and I did. But I don’t like to be bullied and, after chastening morning society singles, I vowed with my partner to take revenge in the afternoon greensomes.
Our determination paid off with a win but, in all honesty, there were still several balls which were lost off the tee.
In the words of another playing partner: “The rough is like water but at least with that you don’t waste time looking for your ball and can take a drop.”
I had been looking forward very much to Ashridge after reports of how good it is and, apparently, in previous society visits, the rough has been nowhere near as thick.
However, I have to say that I was rather uneasy from the off because the starter had been keener to examine the colour of our socks before play and the shoes we were wearing in the clubhouse than give us a friendly welcome.
I contrasted this with the recent bonhomie at the likes of Stoke Park, Muirfield, Moray, Goswick, and, of course, Skibo Castle.
Anyway, without these distractions, I could have concentrated on the best bits of Ashridge.
One of which was that a member of our society nailed a hole in one at the marvellously named Knob’s Crook – the par-three eighth.
This would have been impressive in any event but it must have been a truly cracking shot because my experience of hitting straight at the flag was to see my ball diverted to the left by the bank in front of the green.
This is typical of Ashridge. Often what seem to be good approaches are taken on unexpected routes by hidden undulations. But greens need a defence and I found them fun.
There are also some fiendishly steep run-offs which reminded me of our recent links golf experience in Scotland.
This is especially true of the 9th which is my favourite on the course. The second shot is the key, down to a green which runs dramatically right to left.
As I discovered in my first round, anything short seeps down the hill. I was prouder of my second attempt which seemed to be straight at the target but it lolloped off past the hole and down the slope at the back of the green.
There is exciting variety to the length of holes at Ashridge – with five par-fives and five par-threes. The former giving plenty of opportunities to score if the ball can be kept straight while the latter are all tricky in their own ways with hollows, bunkers and narrow entrances.
Its fairways are in grand shape (I always like the split between dark and light green grass to create a central line), the tee boxes are smart and the greens true.
And I have to say that there were people in our group who scored well (interestingly, both the top two went out in the afternoon and, under advisement, neither used a driver for fear of the rough).
So, on reflection, I can see many merits but if I play there again I will be hoping the long grass has been made into hay.
Played here early November 2019, conditions were still great for time of the year. I arrived and the course was overall quiet, but 1st tee had a 2 4 balls of members teeing off. So the Proshop pro let me play up the 13th, which I thought was a nice touch as I would have been waiting around a long time before I could start playing. I felt like I had the course to myself for the day and only came across a 4 ball teeing off the 1st on my way back around. These 4 didn't waste anytime in letting me through, which again was a nice touch.
I enjoyed my round here, I look forward to coming back in the summer to see how it plays in its prime.
Lovely course layout and everyone I came into contact with were very friendly and helpful.
I would recommend playing here if you get the chance too.
Designed by Sir Guy Campebell, Major C K Hutchison and Colonel Hotchkin, and later updated by Tom Simpson, Ashridge is a very pleasant and enjoyable golf course to play. While there are challenges here, it is a golf course that is straightforward and should not tax one’s game too heavily.
One of the highlights of playing here is the name of the holes such as “Devil’s Den, Pook’s Hill, Witchcraft Bottom, Highwayman’s Hide, Knob’s Crook, Thunderdell, and Hoo.”
It is situated on National Trust property and there is a lovely view of the Ashridge manor if you decide to go have a look. You can spy it from the second hole. In playing Ashridge, it feels as if you are walking in one long garden or park, such is the beauty of the surroundings.
Although some fairways are tree-lined, they are generously wide. The ground on either side of the fairways sometimes have a “bowl” like shape that can bring a slight mis-hit back towards the fairway.
The course is well conditioned. The greens are flattish with subtle breaks but not overly undulated.
In terms of defense, given the width of the fairways, I felt the course could have used another 20-30 bunkers to increase the strategy and decision-making.
It begins with a mid-length slight dogleg left with a wide fairway that is slightly downhill. The green has three bunkers but none are really close to the flattish green sloping slightly front to back. It is an easy starting hole.
A short par 5 playing downhill comes next and again has a wide fairway sitting between the rises on both sides. There are bunkers to navigate but they should be easily avoided. The green has a subtle spine in it tilting to the left. This is a definite chance for a birdie. The hole could use a few more bunkers.
Surrounded by trees and playing slightly uphill, the mid-length par 3 third has two bunkers fronting it and is a fine hole.
Another fine hole follows with the par 4 fourth which is well bunkered, the trees seem to make the fairway feels narrower than it is, and there is a bunker on the right to catch any ball that is hit down the right. This fairway slopes to the right. The green is tilted back to front and two bunkers.
The fifth is a par five that is too short with the back tee at 530 but the next two tees at 478 and 436. This dogleg left and has a set of cross bunkers well short of the green leading to a decision to go for the green or to play over them. This hole has a single bunker at the green and likely needs two more.
Six is a longer par 3 with a nicely sloped green right to left. There is a single bunker right of the green and despite the length, I felt the hole could have used a bunker on the left side.
One of my favorite holes on the front is the par fourth seventh where you hit through a chute of trees to a green that is has two raised bunkers fronting it and two additional on the sides. The green is slightly angled to the right.
The second par 3 is a mid-length with a lovely walk through bushes to a sloping green. I thought there should have been three bunkers here instead of one.
The par 4 ninth links the two nines together, finishing right in front of the tidy clubhouse. It is a short hole, but the best hole on the outward nine due to the downhill shot into a green that has good slopes to it and is surrounded by three bunkers. There is a tree on the right side of the fairway that pinches in a bit and is to be avoided.
The inward nine kicks off with a short par 4 that is another birdie chance.
The mid-length par 3 eleventh I thought to be the best on the course with good greenside bunkering and some nice slope to the green, particularly if you are short with the tee shot.
There are no bunkers on the twelfth which is a mid-length par 4 slight dogleg right. The green sits on a shelf with a fall-off to the right.
The way-too-short par 5 thirteenth is at 472/464/446 yards and plays as a dogleg right. It is uphill so it plays a bit longer. The green has no bunkers which I think is a huge mistake or convert the hole to a par 4.
A mid-length par 4 comes next and is a slight dogleg left. There is a single bunker on the right side of the fairway and another at the green. The
green is relatively flat. I would add bunkers to the hole.
The par 5 fifteenth is a mid-length hole that has five bunkers scattered down it but two of them are very tiny. It is an okay hole but could be made better by making the bunkers more raised. The only real defense to the hole is the narrow green yet it is pretty flat.
The sixteenth offers the final par 3 with a mid-length hole requiring one to avoid a tree on the right side that seems to encroach on the green. There is a single bunker on the left side. I like the par 3 holes on the golf course but thought this to be the weakest.
The final par 5 seventeenth is another short one at less than 500 yards. It offers a generous fairway with the fairway bunkers on the left as the major obstacle. It plays as a dogleg left and has two bunkers more at the back of the green. I liked the hole.
The finishing hole is a longer par 4 with a fairway that tilts left to right. There are two bunkers on the right side and then two at the green. The green is two tiered. It is a nice finishing hole.
Ashridge is a player-friendly course. It is a course that will build one’s confidence in their game due to the short par 5’s and generous fairways. I do not think one will improve their game by repeatedly playing here. The par 3’s are good although not in the class of many other better-known golf courses. Technology has made length less of a factor in defense and this course should either tighten the fairways a bit or add some fairway bunkers. Many of the greens are flattish and also could use additional bunkers. Any bunkers added should be consistent with the character of the golf course
It is a very natural course, not as beautiful as any of the courses in Surrey or Berkshire, yet lovely. The course does offer a very chance at recovery which is something I value in a golf course. If the philosophy of the golf club is to have a course that is a lovely walk and a fun round, then they should not change a thing. I certainly would rather play at Ashridge than at a course such as Hanbury Manor.
I played Ashridge on a cold and wet November and for the time of year, I thought the course was exceptional. The greens were well maintained and rolled really smoothly, the tee boxes looked fantastic and very well kept and the course looked in great shape. The fairways were a tad muddy but that is expected as we've had a lot of rain and in fairness, there weren't any puddles on the course at all. We were made to feel very welcome and the staff and members were very friendly.
A lot of the holes were fairly similar in looks and so I don't really have a standout favourite, however the par 3 8th was fairly unique to the rest. It reminded me almost of links golf with the gorse going through most of the way up to the green and the well cut grass path leading through the middle. The par 4 9th is also a great golf hole with the approach shot going into a tight green and overlooking a few of the other holes on the course. The par 3 11th also looked fantastic, a narrow tee box with a slightly elevated green and a drop off on the right with a bunker on the left, a great looking golf hole. The 18th is also a magnificent finishing hole with the lengthy downhill approach shot going into a 2 tiered green overlooking the clubhouse and the first tee. White pin definitely makes the hole play much harder!
Overall I think Ashridge definitely deserves its spot in the top 100 in England with its ranking being pretty accurate, was going into the day feeling rather worried as there isn't too much talk about it but it truly is a great course. Would definitely recommend to play it if you get the chance.
I enjoyed my dad at Ashrigde. The course was in excellent condition and we received exceptional service all day.
The course itself however I found rather underwhelming. It made me realise that parkland golf just isn’t as good as Heathland or Links.
There were very few memorable holes (the 7th was probably the best hole - which ironically looked the most ‘heathland’)
A top 100 English course? Maybe.
Better than Blackmoor or one of the Woburn and Wentworth courses? Absolutely not
Variety and ambience abounds at Ashridge and tranquillity is very much the order of the day.
Each of the 18 holes has its own personality but significantly there is only one time in the round when the following hole has the same par as its predecessor. The par of the holes is as follows; 453453434434545354. This helps produce a varied sequence of shots with five par threes, five par fives and just eight par fours in the total par tally of 72.
The mature course, officially opened in 1932, is laid out in three distinct loops emanating from the centrally located modern clubhouse at the low point of the estate in an almost goldfish bowl setting. More golf can be viewed from the attractive balcony at Ashridge than at any other course I can think off with the first, 10th and 13th tees easily visible as well as the superb ninth and 18th green complexes. However, even with the putting green in close proximity, it doesn’t feel cluttered or cramped.
The trio of returning loops consist of nine, three and six holes, if starting at the first, and throughout each one you have some lovely changes in gradient where the holes blend seamlessly together. Each one takes you through areas of outstanding natural beauty close to the edge of the Chiltern Hills.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I played Ashridge midweek as part of a large society and had a cracking time. The clubhouse and changing rooms are smart and spacious and although the first few holes were marred by some early morning fog, the course really came into its own as the weather cleared. It's a fine parkland course, that provided some challenging rough and the greens were slick and true. I did think the par 3's were quite uninspiring but the par 4's and 5 were much more interesting with some dog-legs and blind tee shots which put some premium on placement, even with the fairways being generous off the tee. It was a fun round and the course was in great condition, I would happily play the course again and the staff were attentive and very pleasant. I'm only giving it 4 balls as I am going to be a harsh critic, but in my eyes a good is still high praise for a solid and interesting course.