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.
Date: August 27, 2020