It was thought for many years that Copthorne Golf Club had been founded in 1903 but club officials were made aware of the existence of a couple of silver medals in 1969, one of which was inscribed “Copthorne Golf Club won by Stanley Russell in 1894”.
Further research revealed an entry in the 1897 edition of The Golfer’s Guide , listing the club’s formation as 1892: “Copthorne is an 18-hole course on the common one mile from Rowfant Station. The grass is short and the hazards are mostly natural. The Ladies have a separate 9-hole course. There is a clubhouse near the green.”
The original course didn’t survive and the club struggled in its early years before it was revived in 1903, with a new 9-hole layout brought into play on the west part of the common, opposite New Town Road. Inside five years, this course had doubled in size to 18 holes.
Major modifications were made to the course in 1930, as detailed in the John F. Moreton & Iain Cumming book James Braid and his Four Hundred Golf Courses :
“A journey was made to Copthorne Golf Club which, by acquiring the manorial rights to the ground on which the course lay, was able to plan revisions. Braid was invited to visit the club, which he did on 31st August 1930. By 8th November, he had submitted his plan and put forward Stutt’s name as constructor.
Braid had two more fields to use than the previous designers, and constructed a course with six holes north of the A264, then a track, and twelve holes on the south side. He left only four holes untouched and his instructions contained attention to precise detail that Stutt and, no doubt, the golf club welcomed.”
The James Braid course remained intact for half a century, until the Copthorne Common Road was widened. Additional land was obtained from the Forestry Commission then Bill Cox was tasked with designing ten new holes – comprising the 5th to the 8th and the 11th to the 16th – and the first four holes of these new holes were unveiled in 1979 and the remainder brought into play five years later.
These days, the course extends to 6,654 yards, playing to a par of 72, with the first and last holes (Braid’s original 17th and 18th) occupying ground close to the clubhouse, to the north of the A264, which is now traversed by means of a traffic light controlled crossing.
There’s a little bit of parkland, a touch of woodland and a hint of heathland at Copthorne though, in fairness, the fairways are laid out on clay, like many of the courses in the region. Nonetheless, new drainage in the shape of ditches at a number of the holes has greatly improved course playability.
The 520-yard 2nd (“Jack Horner”) was changed from a par four to a par five in 2014 and it plays uphill and often into the wind, making this a testing three-shot hole for most golfers.
The 397-yard 5th (“Round the Bend”) is another demanding hole to face early in the round, with a draw off the tee the favoured shot in order to set up a long iron approach into a green that slopes markedly from right to left.
The front nine concludes with “Braids’s Best,” a 436-yard par four where the hole doglegs right towards the green and a stream crosses the fairway 130 yards shy of the putting surface – it’s hardly a surprise to see this hole rated the toughest on the outward half.
On the back nine, the 395-yard 11th (“Goose Neck”) also veers sharply to the right off the tee, past a lake that’s inhabited by Canadian geese during their breeding season, to a really challenging green that slopes both right to left and front to back.
The 467-yard 16th (“Twister”) is the longest par four on the course – it was once a par five – and this double doglegged hole is well worth it stroke index 1 rating. The best advice on playing strategy here is to treat it as a three-shot hole and hopefully walk off marking a “5” on the scorecard.
Copthorne Golf Club celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2017 and it was a very busy year for everybody at the club, with one of the main highlights arriving that June when the course hosted the Finals of the Sussex Amateur Championship. Here’s to Copthorne's next quasquicentennial!
Copthorne was a pleasant surprise, to me and a number of others in our group for whom playing over 10 years ago had left very few impressions. It's a broadly tree-lined parkland course, but with heather in (generally not in play) places. It's lightly bunkered, with protection from ditches (both cross and lateral) and a stream. The course ran fast - it's been a very dry spring in the south east of England. The first and eighteenth are played on the clubhouse side of a busy road, the rest over the far side with access controlled by lights.
The first is a medium long straight par 4, trees and road left, a line of pine trees right. The main protection is the aforementioned stream and a shallow green with a hard stop behind. Scoreable, but demanding precision.
The second is a long, left sweeping, gently uphill par 5. The dog-leg is relatively late, so a long shot to the right is needed to show the green, but the more the green becomes visible the longer the second shot. Back-to-front sloping green. I felt this was the hardest of the par 5s.
The third is the first short hole. Gently downhill to a two tier green - with the higher tier being at the back. Finding the right one matters. While of itself a decent hole, and certainly not easy at 170 yards from the yellows I didn't really find it exciting, indeed, to risk concluding when I've only just started, the par threes were rather samey.
The fourth is the first of a couple of short par 4s. I do like a short par four - they should be easy, and are if played carefully. They do, however, tempt, and temptation is the downfall of many a golfer. This one required a fade off the tee, and a carefully controlled second to a front to back green.
Five, on the other hand requires a carefully controlled draw to set up a chance to go for a fiercely sloped green. My feeling here is that the silver birches have been left to grow tall in a way that impinges on the sensible playing line. By that I don't mean that the fairway should be wider, rather than the 15 yards of tree either side should be heather or longer wispy grass. Blocked behind a tree - one option - sideways; in the wispy grass or heather - two options - the cautious wedge gently forwards, the less cautious, often failing but just occasionally successful full shot forward. Golf is about shaping the ball, putting well, but also about choices.
The sixth is another par five, reasonably narrow but straight, slightly uphill and not very exciting.
The seventh is the second par three for the front nine; rather similar to the 3rd - 170 off yellows - no need to carry the ball all the way. Slightly raised green.
The eighth is a long left leaning par 5. A good drive to the narrower part of the fairway leaves a long approach over a valley (with stream) before the green rises up. The banks to the left can help the ball in, the slopes to right will leave a nasty chip. All in all a nice hole; offering reward but punishing the slightly unsuccessful.
The ninth takes you back towards the road with a long par four. The best drive is to the left, not least because there's less chance of going in the stream. Even then it's a long approach to a tough green. The highest SI on the front nine, and deservedly so.
The tenth is also on the older part of the course and I could picture banks of heather framing the hole and requiring maybe a hundred yards of carry. While there is some heather the green is more tree encircled than heather. It's not a long par 4, though this time the sensible shot unless one hits it a very long way has to be a lay-up to the middle of the fairway followed by a wedge in.
Eleven is another left to right hole. I rather liked it; there is room long and straight, but a power fade will definitely leave one in A1 position, not least because the green is a bit lower than the fairway (for those who have gone straight). It's also well away from the trees and so judging distance is not at all easy.
Twelve is the shortest par 3, but again there's a fairly wide opening to the green and a sea of grass in front.
Thirteen is a bit of repeat of six, slight slope up, straight with bunkers front left and front right.
Fourteen demands a draw, especially as the fairway slopes from left to right. Don't get the turn and the trees await. They also await off the back of the green.
Fifteen is another medium long par three. While the wind direction is different; it was 7 and 12 repeated.
Sixteen is the longest par four on the back nine at over 450 yards, though it is played downhill. Left to right shape needed to keep the ball out of the trees (which again I feel could be replaced with a twenty yards of heather). The green slopes front to back, with a steep downslope off the back. A good hole and perhaps a little easier than the length on its own would suggest.
The seventeenth heads back to the road with a lovely offset fairway. The stream protects the green, as does a large oak to the right. Consequently the best line is as tight to the left hand ditch as possible. A nicely framed hole.
And finally eighteen. Slight rise, slight dog-leg right to left. Nice bunker protecting the front left of the green - thus the tight draw leaves a shorter but tougher second shot; there is room straight, to leave a longer but easier approach.
The turf was nice and springy; the green mostly ran true and were certainly quick downhill. Aesthetically the greens had a number of bare patches of maybe 1 to 3 inches in diameter. The tees were uniformly great.
All in all a decent golf course; with the greatest strength being the par 4s and the greatest weakness the par 3s. A few long walks, especially 1 to 2 and 17 to 18. There's a road to get over, and busy one at that. The pedestrian lights keep golfers and greenkeepers alive, at the expense of the walk. A nice welcome and decent food.
Copthorne Golf Club spans both sides of the A264 between Crawley and East Grinstead. It is far better a course, and far prettier, than appearances suggest from the road. Attractive ditches (many heather lined) come significantly into play on 6 holes and are in view on several others. The course is very attractive and is a lovely place to spend 4 hours of your time; and the view from the newly renovated clubhouse bi-fold doored conservatory is excellent. The negatives - 1 It struggles with its clay base in the winter, although recent money spent on drainage channels has helped with this; 2 The aforementioned road has to be crossed twice (There is a safe crossing). Despite these, I believe the course is underrated and offers value for money for members and visitors alike.