Guildford is the oldest golf club in Surrey, dating back to 1886, and its fairways are laid out across the North Downs at Merrow, on land that was once part of the Onslow Estate. The 4th Earl of Onslow became the first Honorary President of the club three years after its formation and successive Earls held this prestigious position until 2001, when the first elected President was selected from within the membership.
The club was instigated by Colonel W. Bannatyne, Major W. Pontifex and Mr. E.L. Hooper, with support from the Earl of Onslow. Interestingly, Major Pontifex and another two Guildford members, Colonel Hutchinson and Archdeacon Spate, had helped to found Pau Golf Club, the oldest club in Continental Europe, some thirty years previously.
The original 6-hole layout at Merrow Down was quickly extended to twelve holes and then to an 18-hole course soon after the club’s formation and this layout remained largely unaltered until Fred Hawtree and J. H. Taylor were engaged by the club committee to carry out a number of course improvements in the mid-1920s.
This work included building an additional, replacement hole on the east side of the course at the far side of Trodd’s Lane, the removal of a few blind shots, and the construction of some additional bunkers. These changes then served the club for the best part of seventy years, until Howard Swan carried out further modifications in the mid-1990s.
Today, the course extends to a modest 6,160 yards, thanks mainly to a layout configured with five par threes and only two par fives, and with only three of the remaining holes in excess of 400 yards. Tree-lined fairways are set out across a rolling downland landscape, affording golfers a panoramic view of four counties from the highest point of the course on a clear day.
Highlight holes on the front nine include the slightly uphill par five 3rd, bending gently left past intimidating fairway bunkers to a long two-tiered green, and the longest par four on the card at the right doglegged 6th, which plays to another split-level raised green. Anybody who can walk away with net pars on these two tough holes might just be in for a good round.
On the back nine, holes 11, 13 and 16 form a terrific set of par threes but a favourite of many on the inward half is the downhill par four 15th, routed over an old chalkpit to a green that falls away sharply at the back. The round then ends with a straightforward par four that heads toward the home green from an elevated tee – just avoid out of bounds down the left of the fairway.