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 G. 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.
Guildford is a course on the North Downs to the east of Guildford. It’s perhaps too much to say that it is a downland course: too many trees and greens too soft. It’s got some good holes, a few genuinely tough holes and a few interesting ones as well.
The most interesting were 1, 15 (played blind over a quarry or perhaps old bomb site) and 18, the toughest, at least the hardest to get a par, felt like 17 and 14. I also thought 3 and 4 were good holes, and a really nice contrast from the uphill par 5 3rd played to a huge green and the short downhill birdie offering 4th which invites the drive.
But overall I felt the trees and scrub had grown up too much over the years, not directly affecting the playing line yet, except perhaps on 2, but changing the feel of the course from one with 360 degree views to one in which the views were limited and predominantly northbound towards Woking. For example the trig point behind, I think, the 3rd green looked only north; I have to imagine when sited there would have been views south east and west as well. We were a bit late for Pyramidal Orchids, but I didn’t see any wild marjoram which should be characteristic of mid-August chalk downland.
The hugest points on the course are I think clay over the chalk, and here could be found a little well tended heather, but, if the geology is right, it would be interesting to see if the course could have a mixture of heathland and downland. Then it really would be interesting and contrasting in a way few courses are, of those I’ve played Farnham (Sands) would be one, and even there the geology is sand all 18.
I have to say playing Guildford today was one of my favourite rounds of the year so far. Maybe because the weather was so beautiful, maybe it was because my wife had one of her best rounds so far or maybe because the course is stunning! The elevation over the surrounding countryside really sets the seen for the majority of the undulating holes sprawled across this wonderful course. A tricky back nine really tests your ability off the tee with a several risk reward par 4s tempt you. Stunning condition from tee box to green. Worth a trip to play.
Unfortunately, due to travel restrictions the world seems to find itself under, the entirety of the UK has decided to holiday at Guildford Golf Club, or that is what it seems! I’m not sure if Guildford is Golf Course that allows public access, or a public park that allows golf, but for me this is the antithesis of what constitutes and enjoyable round. I don’t mind public on a golf course, but when an entire family walk across a fairway without looking or cyclists with dogs cycle right across your tee box during your backswing, it ceases to become and enjoyable experience.
Guildford itself is an average downland course with some enjoyable holes. The 1st is a very nice start. A nice driving hole which plays across a valley and back up hill for the approach into the green. The 2nd is a nice short Par 3 over a tree. Pin position here can make the hole tricky. Despite the next stretch of holes being rather average, the views are not and you can see for miles across Surrey and Hampshire. On one hole you can even see the London skyline, which would make it a 50 mile view on a good day.
Other standout holes are the sweeping dogleg right Par 5 8th, with a downhill approach into the green, again which offers some lovely views and the 17th which is another great driving hole, playing into the same valley from the 1st. It shoots sharply uphill for a long approach which makes Par a good score.
On the 18th a drunk couple came and sat on the bench behind us drinking Desperados to cheer on our tee shots, so if you want the full PGA experience, there is a tick in the box for Guildford.
We sat in the clubhouse at the end and watched groups come in down the 18th. The staff were very nice and even they were amused when a young girl cycled right across the 18th green.
For a local pay and play, it’s not bad, if you can block out the hundreds of guests, but not one I will be returning to in a hurry.
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Played Guildford in 2018. In places felt a bit downland with open fairways and slopes, but in other places felt like open parkland. Most interesting holes seemed to be at the start (1st was a nice opener) and end (17th a nice tee shot) but I felt course lost it's way in the middle with some average holes and some holes that felt a bit like infill. Ok, but plenty of better courses in Surrey to visit.