The Forest of Arden is a set amidst the trout lakes of Lord Aylesford’s vast 10,000-acre estate at Packington Park. Founded in 1970 and designed by Donald Steel, the Arden course was a regular European Tour venue and has hosted the British Masters and the English Open.
Despite the fact that the Arden is a modern course, Steel has blended the layout nicely into the natural landscape. The majestic oaks, especially prevalent on the back nine, make the layout seem much more mature than it really is. The Arden’s challenge is significant, especially from the back tees – 7,134 yards. But even from the regular yellow tees, the course measures a healthy 6,500 yards.
This is a quality course, set in very pleasant surroundings. It can sometimes feel a lot longer than its advertised yardage because the ground, especially in the winter, becomes soft. The rough can be extremely trying; it’s invariably lush and thick, making recovery shots very tough indeed. In terms of conditioning, the Arden is usually maintained immaculately from tee to green. If you are fortunate enough to play the course prior to, or just after, a European Tour event, you are in for an absolute treat.
Opening gently with two short par fours, it’s not long before the Arden’s real test begins. The sequence of holes from the 6th through to the 9th is superb. The 8th is a wonderful short par three, where the green is guarded by water on two sides. The back nine is the most memorable, not only for the ancient oak trees, but also for the closing two holes, which are technically excellent and very exciting. The 17th is a par five where a bunker to the left and a lake to the right jealously guard the green. Only the crispest of approach shots will find the putting surface. Beware of the closing hole. It’s an intimidating par three, requiring a long, forced carry across a lake.
It’s always enjoyable to play a championship course of the pedigree of the Forest of Arden, but it’s especially pleasing when the service and the facilities are this good.
I played the Forest of Arden course at the Marriott a while ago so my comments will be brief in case there have been updates to the course. I played here because this Donald Steel designed course had hosted several European Tour tournaments.
Despite the density of the trees, the course has a “big feeling” to it with lots of room for spectators. The golf course is similar to what one will find at many resort courses with large greens, large bunkers, ample-sized fairways as well as a few holes with water for defense. I thought both the outward and inward nines were roughly the same in terms of challenge and variety of the holes.
It starts out with two shorter par 4’s more noticeable for the number of bunkers. The course then kicks up the challenge a bit.
The third is a long par 5 that shares its green with the sixth hole. I thought the third to be a visually attractive hole due to the trees at the back of the green as well as the five bunkers fronting the green. There is a ditch to navigate for one’s second shot.
The fourth hole is a short par 4 dogleg right with the green situated with water on the left side and tress and a bunker to consider from the right. I felt the hole to be too quirky.
I did not care for the fifth, a bland par 3 of 163-195 yards as it there was nothing unique about it.
The best part of the front nine is the sixth to the ninth where all the holes offer reasonable challenge and I thought the green complexes to be a bit more interesting. The short par 3 eighth over water with trees on both sides requires a precise shot. Perhaps the most daunting shot on the golf course is the tee shot on the ninth, a long par 4 that is heavily treed on either side of the fairway feeling like one is hitting down a narrow slot through a forest.
A few of the other notes I made is that the medium length par 5 twelfth hole has a nicely sloped green just over the water.
Thirteen through fifteen are some of the longer holes on the course although pretty straightforward in what one needs to do. I felt fifteen to be too similar to the fifth hole although the greens are slightly different.
The sixteenth is a short, sharp dogleg right where the fairway cannot be missed due to the density of the ferns. A small pond once again fronts the green. Depending on one’s point of view, it is either an odd hole due to the sharpness of the dogleg or a true risk:reward hole for those who can hit a ball long and high enough to cut the corner of the dogleg. I did not like the hole as I thought having both water and a sharp dogleg on the same hole is a bit too much.
Seventeen is a short par 5 that is an odd sort of shaped hole: is it a double dogleg or merely a hole where the trees bordering the fairway were not cut back appropriately? In a sense, the hole shares the pond and the green with the twelfth hole.
The Arden course ends on a long par 3 over another pond but there is plenty of room to either bail out in one cannot hit the large green. I did not find the shot to be intimidating as the water is not near the green.
The Forest of Arden course is a lovely course. It is definitely worth playing if in the area. There is nothing truly unique about it that would draw one to it from more than 100 miles away unless you are meeting up with friends for a golf break that you can walk right to your hotel room. There is adequate challenge, good conditioning and it is a pleasant walk. Selecting the right tees should result in one being able to play to their index due to the width of the fairways and the size of the greens as long as they do not find the water too often.
Played the Championship course here with a group of 30 or so.
While i'm not a fan of most modern hotel resort courses i must say i was pleasantly surprised. Donald Steel has done a great job of putting together a really strong 18 holes of golf.
The front nine is solid although not spectacular, however it is the back 9 that the course really comes to life. Just a beautiful track of land to have laid some golf holes through and Donal Steel has taken full advantage.
You can tell the course has a lot of traffic going through it although the green staff do a good job of keeping the condition of the course to a high standard.
I wouldn't put the course up there with our other top inland courses like, Woodhall Spa, Hollinwell or choice Surrey courses because of the front 9 but well worth a visit and very enjoyable round of golf awaits...
A round on the main Arden course – there is also the par 69 Aylesford course – is very much a tale of two halves and allows you to walk in the footsteps of the stars of the game who competed here just before and after the turn of the millennium. You can count Colin Montgomerie and Darren Clarke amongst the champions crowned here.
The front nine unquestionably suffers from poorer terrain and with the exception of the excellent fourth hole it delivers pretty much what you would expect from a hotel resort-style course; flat fairways lined by lush semi-rough, big American-style bunkers and large greens with minimal movement.
The fourth hole really is the shining light on the outward half. It’s a dog-legging par four that entices you to bite off a little bit more than you perhaps should before playing to a sloping green with water jutting out to protect the front-left side.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with the other holes but, with the exception of the double-green at the third/sixth and the lake-fronted par-three eighth, there are few really memorable moments.
The transformation on the back-nine is quite staggering. The turf is firmer and the landscape has a lovely open, almost heathland, feel to it with mature trees and bracken enhancing the richness of this part of the property. Most importantly though, and undoubtedly as a consequence of the improved golfing ground, the actual holes are better.
The Forest of Arden is often compared to The Belfry, not least because of its proximity but also because the style is similar and their history of hosting televised golf tournaments. There’s no dispute in my mind that The Belfry is the superior course; it has a couple of outstanding holes that the Forest of Arden simply doesn’t possess and it’s consistently better too. That said, the Forest Arden certainly boasts the most enjoyable nine of both courses (in their back-nine) which is just a lovely loop of golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.