Described by Bernard Darwin in May 1913 as "sandy and heathery, long and difficult, costing enormous sums of money and laid out with the most consummate ingenuity," Camberley Heath Golf Club is a Harry Colt gem that’s set in 135 acres of glorious heathland, flanked by towering pines. Many of the master architect’s original design features remain intact, which is a great credit to the golf club that celebrated its centenary in 2013.
Opened by Prince Albert of Schleswig Holstein, Camberley Heath’s Royal connections have continued down the years. For instance, a match was arranged in 1929 between “The Admirals” and “The Generals” to mark the club’s involvement with the Staff College and Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst. Both the Prince of Wales – later to become King Edward VIII – and the Duke of York participated in the game.
Measuring 6,426 yards with par set at 71, the course boasts a fine set of par three holes that vary in length from 162 to 235 yards but its main attribute has to be the quartet of delightful short par fours found on holes 4, 6, 15 and 16 (which also contains a water hazard). The terrain is undulating in places – especially over the closing three holes – so first time visitors should not expect a casual heathland stroll but a rather demanding golfing challenge that requires accurate and thoughtful shot-making when playing here.
An on going program of heathland and forestry conservation is in place around the course, and this, along with an irrigation system served by an on-site bore hole, keeps the sandy free-draining fairways in pristine condition all year round. A multi-year bunker renovation programme commenced in 2015 under the architectural stewardship of Frank Pont. Bunker specialist, George Waters, was enlisted, whose previous projects include Pinehurst No.2 and Pasatiempo.
I played Camberley Heath last week with absolutely no expectations whatsoever and was absolutely blown away by the front nine. Granted, the inward half – which is routed across more wildly undulating terrain – didn’t impress to quite the same extent but, over the piece, the course was way better than I might have anticipated beforehand.
On the front nine, the three-tiered putting surface of the plateau green at the par three 2nd was a big surprise – as was the tunnel under the road to access holes 4 to 12! I liked the short par four 6th, with its heavily sand-protected raised green squeezed into the northwest corner of the property, and the long par three 8th, played from a gun platform tee position in the hillside down to a raised green that’s designed to repel all but the most accurate of tee shots.
My notes for the 9th state “shades of Notts” which is high praise indeed and this comment could easily have been applied at either of the two previous holes, where the tree-lined valley fairways would not have looked out of place a hundred and fifty miles further north at Hollinwell.
The back nine begins with a bit of a strange hole, played blind to a fairway that slopes wickedly from left to right, across a large heather bank to an elevated green. The next three holes were also a bit lacklustre in comparison to what had gone before, though the heavily contoured fairway of the par five 13th was something of a thrilling big dipper ride.
The all-carry par three 14th, played across a deep gully to a green in front of the clubhouse, gets the pulse racing again and it’s quickly followed by a couple of lovely short par four holes, the second of which features a small pond in front of the green.
The final two holes are then routed along the southern boundary of the course, with the fairway of the 17th falling off sharply on the right side, whilst a huge heather-clad hill dominates the same side of the fairway on the 18th. On both holes, the preferred line off the tee is down the left, with the home green located on top of a ridge, requiring a semi blind approach shot.
The visual aesthetics of the bunker work that Frank Pont has undertaken so far are first class and there’s absolutely no doubt that such an ambitious renovation project (led by somebody who’s as well versed in Colt’s style of bunkering as Frank is) can only reinforce the course’s English Top 100 aspirations.
The fact that a course as good as Camberley Heath is 20th in the county ratings is a testament to the quality of golf available in Surrey. Camberley Heath is best characterised by the pine trees that line the fairways and the interesting land formations found across the property, most notably the bulbous heather topped mounds you need to hit your ball over on the 3rd and 18th fairways.
Other than the dogleg 5th which is an absolute beast of a hole, the course is relatively short and very scoreable for a player in reasonable form. I found myself hitting lots of pitches into greens so the course doesn’t offer the same test as other top courses in the area, but it still delivers on visuals and forces the player to choose wisely off the tee.
The best holes can be found around the turn; the excellent, long downhill par 3 8th hole is followed by a par 5 that appears Hindhead-esque from the tee, as you hit across the heather bank from the left into a valley shaped fairway. Then comes the 10th which was my favourite hole on the course where you’ll need to hit over a double dip in the fairway and another one of those heathery humps to get to the green. The cherry on the cake then comes with a very well stocked half way house that greets you as you finish this hole. Other than the 17th which comes with a slightly farcical tee shot that sees anything other than a drive tight left to the out of bounds falling away into the rough, the back 9 continues in this enjoyable manner.
At times, the course is eccentric, no more so than the closing hole which is another undulating gem and whilst the course has no doubt suffered by the distance the ball travels in modern day golf, it’s still a lot of fun to play.
Camberley Heath is a golf course that I think you will be hearing a lot more about over the coming years.
The Club recently celebrated their Centenary after its foundation in 1913 when Harry Colt routed this wonderful heathland course on a narrow but undulating strip of land on the famous Surrey sand-belt.
Camberley Heath has always been regarded as one of Surrey’s finest courses but residing in a county that is arguably the strongest in England for top quality courses, certainly inland ones, it has not always made it on to a visiting golfers ‘must play’ list. That I suspect may change.
There’s a real energy about the course that encourages you to be creative with your shot selection. And whilst there are many demanding shots you aren’t going to get beaten up with a catalogue of long par fours. There’s a certain feel good factor about playing golf at Camberley Heath.
The reason I say you may be hearing more about this course in the future, and that its stock may well be about to rise, is that the one consistently weak part of the course, the bunkering, will soon be renovated by architect Frank Pont of Infinite Variety Golf Design, a specialist in restoring the work of Colt.
A quote from Pont that appeared on golfcoursearchitecture.net earlier this year explained his intentions. “Our particular focus at this stage will lie in restoring the bunker style back to the heather style that Colt used so successfully at neighbouring courses such as Swinley Forest and Sunningdale Old and New,”
He added. “In my view there is no reason given the quality of the underlying design why Camberley Heath won’t be held in the same high regard as these famous Colt courses in Surrey after we are done with this restoration project.”
Ambitious words indeed and whilst I don’t think it will ever truly compare to the courses at Sunningdale or Swinley I do agree that it has the potential to become much more widely know than it currently is.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
If Harry Colt had been a politician he would no doubt have been a Tory. The boy loves a cut. If you find yourself as far left as Jeremy Corbyn on most of his holes no doubt you are in trouble. Camberley Heath is a very attractive course and tests your bravery and strategic ability over a delightful journey that makes the most of the regal setting, amongst the mature pines, the undulating rolling landscape and of course, the heather. It's a course of infinite variety. Colt was a master at creating Golf holes that are unique, not only within this charming 18 but pretty much within his cannon; at no time do you have a sense of Deja Vu. Our society (The Old Edwardians) were positively evangelical about the condition, the service and the course. Some however did find themselves on the ropes for the afternoon. Never sustaining the hay maker of a knockout blow some courses can deliver but enduring jab after jab inflicted over the 18. As ever with Harry Colt courses, Camberley encourages you to punch back and inspires confidence. You might succumb to one of the infinite shot choices you have before you and occasionally you may even have the joy of landing a few blows of your own to satisfying effect. I highly recommend a trip here. Camberley still punches above her weight. JCB LAY
The clubhouse is nice, but of very much in the mould of the new modern era. It is huge and has a first floor where they host wedding receptions. For me, I personally like a golf club to focus solely on golf and their golf course; not to be focussed on external revenue streams such as weddings. The staff at the pro-shop were friendly, but the pro-shop itself was very poorly stocked and not very inviting. The fridge was warm with only options of lukewarm bottled water and slightly melted Kit Kats (other chocolate eating material are obviously available, just not here at Camberley Heath).
Overall, a good course, but with its faults. The land itself has the potential to make an excellent golf course, but investment and perhaps greater attention to detail (especially the greens) could see it become a much better place to play golf. Other comments that Camberley Heath should be rated in the Top 10 courses in Surrey seem very misplaced. To even contemplate this at this stage is very wide of the mark. It has a long way to go before it can touch courses like Hankley Common, the three W’s, New Zealand or Hindhead. For me, the course is where it should be (23rd in Surrey at the time of writing) for all the reasons I have stated above.