Crowborough Beacon Golf Club is an undulating heathland delight. The course is laid out on the southern slopes of the East Sussex High Weald, 800ft above sea level, affording panoramic views of the South Downs.
Golf at Crowborough began modestly in 1895, with nine holes laid out simply on the Alchorne estate. In 1905, the course was extended to 18 holes. Can anyone answer the elementary question as to who designed the course? Or perhaps we should assign Sherlock Holmes to the case? The author of the famous novels, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was the Club Captain of Crowborough Beacon in 1910, and he lived close to his beloved course.
We still don’t know who originally designed Crowborough Beacon, but the club recently acquired a rare book, written by Bernard Darwin and published in 1926, entitled “The Crowborough Beacon Golf Club Ltd”. In this book, Darwin refers to ‘ingenious’ work that Dr Alister MacKenzie had carried out at the club. Apparently the Dr redesigned eight Crowborough holes and the club has now officially been added to the worldwide list of clubs associated with the famous architect.
There are similarities between Crowborough and its delightful near neighbour, Royal Ashdown Forest, with spectacular views across the treetops and springy but firm heathland/moorland turf. There are, however, bunkers at Crowborough that punctuate an otherwise natural landscape.
Accuracy, rather than length, is all-important. The course measures a little over 6,200 yards but finding the right position on the fairways is easier said than done, and hitting the small greens is also a challenge. Crowborough has many fine holes, but the signature hole is a par three called “The Speaker”. Measuring 190 yards from the back tees, the tee-shot must be struck across a gully, whilst avoiding a large, threatening pit that lurks to the left of the green.
It’s an enchanting, pretty golf course and also a genuine member’s golf club. But you can be assured of a warm welcome. They will make your visit enjoyable and memorable because they have a long history of entertaining. We’re sure that you’ll be captivated by the charm of Crowborough Beacon.
I attempted to visit Crowborough Beacon earlier in the year and surprisingly, given that I’d expected this to be a free draining heathland course, it was closed for several weeks due to flooding from the heavy early year rain. I eventually delayed my first visit to the club to last month hoping for better conditions. It was playable at least, but it seems that the wet winter conditions followed by the hot, dry spell that followed has really taken its toll on Crowborough Beacon more than most clubs, leaving a lot of bare, patchy fairways. If you’re someone who’s able to look beyond this, I’d give a big thumbs-up recommendation to visiting Crowborough as it’s a little peach of a heathland course with character and charm aplenty, and despite more torrential rain preceding my round on the evening I played, I found it to be one of the most fun games of golf I’ve enjoyed this year.
There are some little crackers around Crowborough Beacon, with the 2nd, 5th and 6th being particularly memorable holes. After a nice wide fairway start on the first to ease you away, the 2nd offers up a stiff challenge as you’re invited to play this 449-yard par four tight to the corner of the treelined dogleg to a fairway that drops way below the elevated tee and is further enhanced by a punishing untidy depression in the land that’s topped with heather and bracken providing an obstacle to clear in front of the green. Similar to the 2nd, the holes at 5 and 6 take you across some more extreme land undulations; the 5th plays down then up over a stream where a lofty bridge offers you safe passage above the depths of the valley before you’re made to face a beast of a climb to the green. The signature hole at 6 then follows which is an all-carry par three over a pit of doom. The course flattens off a little after this to save those weary legs before some country roads then offer another surprising feature through the middle of the round. In total, six live roads are crossed with the beautifully curving par five 7th and the tilted 15th incredibly playing over those roads. There are also lots of footpaths and bridleways that zig-zag across the course which you’re constantly reminded of with a safety warning sign on seemingly every hole.
There is a huge amount of diversity across the course, some excellent, some not so good. The 10th has a crazy tee shot where it appears like you’re trying to thread your ball through the eye of a needle, the 11th has trees in the centre-left of the fairway blocking the direct line to the green whilst a collection of gorse bushes are oddly planted in the middle of the 12th fairway. All quite bizarre, particularly when these are played as consecutive holes, but it works – well, maybe. A cute par three and a par five with an enormous expanse of heather are then negotiated on the next two holes before you’re returned back to the clubhouse via the more extreme landscapes from earlier in the round with features such as banked fairways, grass bunkers, false fronted greens and heather-topped sand traps.
Given how peculiar Crowborough Beacon is, I’m surprised it doesn’t get more attention amongst golf course intellectuals as it’s a delightful variation of quite startling bulky features. It’s justifiably considered as one of the best courses in Sussex but some thinning out of the trees would help open up the land and allow the heathland to flourish whilst those fairways are in need of much more love and attention to bring them back to life.
Nice review of a great course - totally agree regarding opening the course out, period photos show a blasted heath.
Sadly our last few years' weather has been very unkind to traditional unirrigated heath and links courses.
Seacroft and the Addington were both suffering recently, and we cancelled a visit to Ganton based on recent reports.
Let's have some more night time rain please !
I had high hopes for Crowborough and I wasn’t disappointed. The car park and clubhouse sit atop a large hill with miles of the surrounding countryside in view. Only the 1st and 18th are visible though as the course snakes below through valleys, ravines and roads.
It’s a tough nut to crack. The 2nd is a beautiful downhill dogleg par 4 where if you get too greedy trees and a ravine wait. There’s then a large gully to carry. The 4th and 5th are almost as dramatic, number 5 playing over another ravine/gully and a rickety old bridge. The par 3 6th was my favourite hole – with a pure drop off to the left it reminded me of short holes at Austin CC or Kapalua (not a humble brag, just seen them on TV). Anything short or left is dead.
7 is then a tricky par 5 with a severe side-slop, tiny green, a road crossing and all manner of trouble – I think this is the first hole where heather really comes into play. After that the course flattens for a while and whilst there are fewer standout holes, you always have to stop, think and pick a place to land shots rather than defaulting to driver on the tee. I don’t agree with the SSS of 69 from the yellows, especially with much of the course on exposed, potentially gusty ground. Crowborough’s trees and heather quickly swallow anything wayward.
#14 is a potential birdie chance though, a short par 5 where you play short of heather and have a lovely hill-top view towards the sea. 15 and 16 re-introduce hanging lies then 18 is a long, heather-laden par 4 which into the wind plays as a par 5. It’s a stern but suitable finish to what’s now one of my favourite courses (even if I did get beaten up).
Another bonus for me is that it’s a traditional old club but visitors are welcome even on Saturday mornings - £45 in April was a bargain, and though a few fairways were shabby (not a problem, I guess this is more normal at heathland courses) the greens were all true, fast and tricky. Crowborough perhaps gets overlooked because of Surrey’s wealth of heathland courses, but this is a worthy alternative and far more accessible and cheaper. I hope I’ll be back.
I played Crowborough Beacon on Friday and had heard good things about it. In addition to this, the course ranks 76th in England so I thought it was going to be a beauty. Although I enjoyed the course and thought it was a lovely club, I am very surprised that it is top 100 in England because the condition of the course was quite poor. The tees were like rough and the fairways were poorly maintained. The greens were pretty good considering they had been sanded as they still rolled quite well. There were some great holes which I thought were really good for example the 4th hole was a lovely downhill par 4 with heather down the left and a lovely view of Sussex. And the par 5 14th was a beautiful downhill hole with the heather separating the fairway and making it look stunning. The club is very nice with a small number of playing members (around 300) making it a friendly club with members getting to know almost everyone. I think the course has great potential but with the way it was conditioned it should not be top 100, however I still enjoyed the day out as it was a fun and challenging course with some real picturesque holes.
The 1st hole at Crowborough is a relatively benign straight par 4 down a gentle slope to the green which gives you no indication as to what is to come on the second hole.
The 2nd is a huge sweeping dogleg downhill from left to right, from an elevated tee. Once you've managed to find the fairway and see round the corner, you're greeted with an approach shot over a deep ravine to the green. It is a superbly dramatic hole. The 3rd is a short par 3 up a slope. The 4th has the tee shot from an elevated tee to a fairway that dips down and then slopes steeply back up to the green in a concave shape. Lovely hole and a demanding walk.
The 6th hole is one of the most nerve-shredding par 3s in England. I don't think it helped that I had viewed the hole online before arriving. The hole played at about 190 yards for us, where most of the ground leading up to the green is carry in the form of a ravine filled with thick foliage. There is a bail out to the right, but too far right can put you in the trees, with roots and acorns on the ground and a wicked chip down a slope to the green awaits. It pretty much feels like dancefloor or nothing from the tee and is a brilliant hole.
The 10th is a par 5 that's reachable in 2. The 11th is a really quirky short par 4 where from the tee it looks as though there is only a tiny gap on the fairway to hit with trees on the left practically in the fairway and trees on right, with the hole then doglegging to the left. If you don't go right enough, you have an impossible shot through the trees on the left to the green.
The 14th is a clever par 5 with heather breaking up the fairway and making you think about your strategy. The 16th is a great little par 4 dogleg left where you have a short gully to carry off the tee and trees to contend with on the left. The smart shot is to the right hand side of the fairway to leave yourself with a good angle into the green. The 17th is a par 3 where club selection is key. It can be deceptive from the tee.
The 18th is a strong and long par 4 finishing hole. A dogleg right to left, it meanders up a gradual slope all the way to the clubhouse. If you want to par the hole it is likely to require a driver off the tee which brings in trees to the left and heather to the right into play. It is likely that you will have to hit two really good strikes to find the dancefloor on the last. Walking up the final fairway to the classic old school clubhouse behind the green was a very pleasant experience.
The Crowborough members were really friendly and it's a lovely historical clubhouse. The course has plenty of elevations, undulations and doglegs and relies a lot on strategy. It was in very fine condition when we played. We look forward to coming back and playing it again when we can.
Our Society had a great day at Crowborough Beacon today on a still, warm day. When we arrived I assumed that the large group of jocular golfers were another Society, but in fact this was the members' rollup which play team events except in qualifying competitions. They were without exception friendly, interested and proud of their club. This is a great example that I would love my club to follow, and illustrates the outstanding spirit here. Despite our only being a group of 11 we were met by Terry, one of the club's "Meeter and Greeter" team, who forewent playing in the hustle to make sure everything was good for us (it was) and walked the first 5 holes with us. What service, and he was nice enough to root through a tree on the 4th that I had hoiked my approach into from a heathery lie. Sadly the ball lies there still, but not for lack of effort. The course was great fun, but seeing a vintage photo of the iconic 5th in the club house one was struck by how a wide open heathland has been inundated with trees over the years. The greens were a bit soft and patchy in some places, this is in hand by the club, but it's hard not to think that the trees are depriving them of light and air. A tree reduction program is in progress that we should wish all the best. All members enjoyed the club, views and golf, with the 2nd, 5th, 6th,12th, 14th, 16th and 18th standout holes for all. We finished our visit with a drink on the great terrace followed by a superb bangers and mash meal in the small dining room made available to us by the super team. A great day, and the club should be an example to many other clubs of how to make visitors feel welcome, not merely tolerated. We are subsidising the members' green fees after all !
There’s not a lot to choose between Crowborough Beacon and Royal Ashdown Forest in the Sussex rankings and one earlier reviewer suggests Crowborough should be ahead of Royal Ashdown. IMO RAF is well ahead of Crowborough because RAF has at least five world class holes, whereas Crowborough has only a couple. And the first of these is the boomerang shaped 2nd with its do-or-die approach over a deep gully. It’s such a tough par four to encounter so early in the round. The second great hole was the tough one shot 6th but the angle of the tee was changed which architecturally spoilt the hole – thankfully the original tee is being reintroduced.
Don’t get me wrong, Crowborough is a good golf course worthy of its place in the English rankings but it hasn’t got the wonderful canted greensites and the thrilling carries of RAF which in my view is under appreciated.
Crowborough Beacon Golf Club was founded in 1895 and boasts far-reaching views which are just as mesmerising as the golf course itself.
Admittedly I was a little disappointment with the condition on my visit but the strength of course still shone through and it’s easy to see why this venue is so highly regarded. Those taking advantage of a twilight green-fee of £25 certainly won’t be disappointed.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries, is listed as a former captain at this quirky, and at times hilly, heathland layout whilst those who quick-hook their tee-shot from the fourth are likely to spot a monument hidden in the trees which the local member I played with advised is a memorial to mark the death of nine Canadian soldiers killed when a Doodlebug came down on their camp.
The design was influenced by two legendary golf course architects; Harry S. Colt and Dr. Alister MacKenzie. Both have used the natural undulating terrain of Crowborough Common very well to create some dramatic stand-out holes.
The best of these come at the second; a sweeping two-shotter with a deep ravine to carry on the approach, the sixth; a superb par-three played across an old quarry with an option to run the ball in from the right and the tough 18th which plays out in front of the splendid clubhouse under its overlooking veranda from where the views are nothing short of glorious.
At 6,319 yards versus a par of 71 Crowborough Beacon isn’t the longest course and with firm summer fairways the best advice I can offer is to ensure you keep the ball on the short stuff from the tee and avoid the masses of gnarly heather. One must often shape their ball into the fairways in order to keep on the fairway.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Played at the end of a hot summer on a scorching September day. Some decent holes but I'm not sure I'd describe the course as beautiful, although the views most definitely are. A challenging track that favours accuracy over distance with some very small greens, often well protected, although you need both in places as there are some massive carries. Greens were a little baked and in average condition - some bare patches which may be animal related and a little slower than I expected. I'm surprised it is rated this highly but a very challenging round.
I didn't find the welcome particularly warm; the pro-shop was friendly enough but I got the feeling that the members weren't that welcoming. They certainly were lacking in manners. We caught up a 3 ball who teed off 25 minutes ahead of us around the 11th; we let them walk back to the 12th tee before teeing off and as we were playing our approach shots, 2 lady members who were finishing 9 jumped ahead of us then proceeded to struggle with the carry off the tee as we walked back to play it! They then meandered around, hacking slowly without even a look in our direction as they held us up on the way back.
We were fortunate to play Crowborough Beacon at the end of a trip round Wales and just before a flight from Gatwick. We checked top 100 and thought this probably the best course within range of the airport, about 50 mins drive through delightful English countryside. As the reviews say, it is in a sensational location and we were lucky to play it on a balmy early Summer's day. The course is in the traditional members' style with a functional ground floor changing room but airy and scenic top floor bar and terrace to have a quick livener before your round. The staff were without exception incredibly friendly and accommodating to someone being slightly stressed about an upcoming flight time! The first and second are introductions to a personal favourite of elevated tees with a chance to give it a lash whilst having to play to position. The whole course was a lot of fun, with firm springy running heathland turf, at times impressive changes of elevation and forced carries, true undulating greens and some heroic shot options and punitive yet pretty heather, rhododendra and trees for the errant shot. Highly recommended !