The Forest course at Bramshaw Golf Club dates back to the mid-1860s, fifteen years before the club was actually founded, making it the oldest golfing layout in Hampshire. Retired Royal Navy Lieutenant Philip Augustus Champion de Crespigny set out the course, though it’s thought he may have built it without first obtaining the requisite planning permissions.
The newly formed club formed an alliance with another 9-hole club which was situated in nearby Lyndhurst and for a time during the 1890s this New Forest Golf Club played on both courses until de Crespigny created a further nine holes at Brook in 1907, allowing members to play a full 18-hole round without a 5-mile journey in between the nines.
Shortly after World War II ended, the club examined the prospect of engaging Harry Colt to advise on improvements but his estimate of £750.00 was deemed too expensive, as was his revised proposal for a partial course upgrade. Instead, renovations were limited to reworking the 1st tee and the 18th green.
The club became a limited company in 1953, with Sir Oliver Crosthwaite-Eyre and his family becoming the new owners, and they have steered the club on the path to prosperity ever since. A second course, the Manor was constructed on neighbouring private parkland in the early 1970s and the modern day clubhouse was brought into use in 1983.
The Forest course is set within the boundary of the New Forest National Park on land owned by the Forestry Commission and it’s subject to many covenants, including locals having the right to graze their livestock. Special restrictions apply here as the property is designated a site of special scientific interest, a special area of conservation and a special protection area.
Following a long period of consultation, the course was reconfigured in 2018 to “enable commoning practices to continue to thrive alongside a leisure activity that is enjoyed by many” and this involved building a new par four 15th to replace the old par three hole and redesigning the old 1st hole (now the 4th), altering it from a short par four to a long par three.
The King’s Garn Gutter stream affects many of the holes on the Forest course and there are bunkers on only one hole, the par three 12th. Of local interest, it’s said that the left doglegged 14th – known as “Rustler’s Oak” – is where the last known criminal was hung in chains in England and a fallen tree to the left of the fairway is a reminder of that story.
Natural, old, beautiful surroundings, grazing animals and totally different, The Forest course is an absolute delight. Most people seem to prefer the Manor Course but I know there are a few of us who veer towards The Forest as a preference. It's a bit like playing Royal North Devon in the New Forest and is not everyone's cup of tea. There are a few bland holes but number of very good holes with lots of natural hazards including gullies, ditches and trees to negotiate. Stand-out hole for me is the 9th (on the new layout) which is a fabulous hole with trouble everywhere and a hole that would grace any course; at only 341 yards it requires an accurate drive (don't go right) to set up a short iron to a small green with a ditch right across the front and down the left hand side of the green, also with trees left and a bank to the right. Other good holes are the tough 1st, the 6th (a real risk/reward par 5 with the green in a hollow beyond a ditch), 7th, the tough 11th, the short 12th (with the only bunkers I can recall), dog-legs at 13 and 14, and I also like the 18th (a short tight par 4 which tempts you to hit driver). The course is a real gem but condition not always great and for that reason I give it a solid 3 ball.
First thing about Bramshaw’s Forest course is that this is a great golf experience and if you do some research and plan well then your expectations will be at the correct place before you hit the first tee shot. This is a heathland course in the heart of the New Forest, which is most famous for the roaming ponies and deer and evidence of them and where they have been is all around! There are many places, especially early in the round where it is difficult the define the holes and this is where you need those expectations set at the right level as this is golf at its most basic level in terms of the course. For me it was when I approached the 6th hole that I breathed a sigh of relief as the site of the green at the end of this par-5 is beautiful; an amphitheatre with the green surrounded by trees and a brook to cross. In contrast, the 200 yard par-3 8th is near impossible – a blind shot that really is hit and hope; yes it’s natural but a good hole? Not for me. Very quickly the 9th gives something back – 340 yards to another great green site and one of the course’s best holes.
Consistently you are reminded of where you are with many holes just being ‘tee-field-green’ – but that is what it is, embrace it or you will have an un-happy time, this is as far from a manicured course that I have ever played – Augusta National it is not. I hear that because of the living lawn-mowers walking the course, the mechanical mowers are only allowed out twice a year.
The par-3 12th is brilliant and the first time you would have seen any bunkers to this point; this hole at 140 yards, crossing the brook again would not look out of place on any of the big hitting heathland courses.
The remaining third of the course continues well and probably gives the best section of holes but still with the New Forest ‘rough around the edges’ feel. The Forest course would probably get 50% repeat business as this will split opinion like no other – I’ll play again without a doubt but maybe I’ll leave it for a few years though. My 3-ball ranking is one with a smile on my face and with a more regular style of course in The Manor also at Bramshaw there is some great variety. Accommodation at the onsite Bell Inn gets my vote too.