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!