Hever Castle is set on the northern edge of the High Weald. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a fitting location for one of England’s most historic and romantic castles. Dating back to the 13th century, this double-moated castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I.
Hever Castle Golf Club lies within this ancient estate to the north of the River Eden, 125 acres of which form the award-winning Hever gardens. Golf first arrived at Hever in the 1920s in the shape of a 9-hole course that was laid out for William Waldorf Astor (one of America’s richest men at that time) who purchased the property at the turn of the 20th century and then embarked upon an ambitious restoration programme.
The original 9-hole course was abandoned during the Second World War and fifty years passed by before golf returned to Hever Castle in the form of a modern 18-hole course, designed in 1992 by Dr Peter Nicholson, author of Science and Golf, a book that delves into the scientific aspects of the golf game. Nicholson worked with Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas and was a design consultant and agronomist for many clubs in the UK.
Nicholson’s course (fashioned in two returning 9-hole loops called the Kings and Queens) was joined by the shorter 9-hole Princes course, designed by Hever Castle’s Course Manager David Wood in 1998. There’s no argument as to which of the 27 holes comprise the championship layout at Hever Castle, because it was the Kings and Queens 18-hole configuration that hosted a PGA EuroPro Tour event in 2010, which Matthew Evans won, thus securing his place on the following season’s Challenge Tour.
The Championship course is certainly long enough to test the best, measuring more than 7,000 yards from the tips, but it’s playable for all levels of golfer from the forward tees. A stream comes into play at a handful of holes and poses a real threat at the greensite of the testing short par four 13th, which also features a swathe of water running down the left side of the hole.
While aquatic hazards appear at around half the holes on the card, the main threat to posting a decent score are the trees, which flank many fairways. The one-shot holes are particularly memorable and engaging, including the short 6th on the Kings front loop where its elusive, narrow green nestles among a spinney of trees and water waits to catch anything struck offline to the right. The 164-yard 12th is perhaps the prettiest par three at Hever Castle, which affords lovely views and also threatening water in front of the putting surface.
Most golfers will remember the monster 644-yard par five 17th that will test the mettle of every player so late in the round. It’s the tee shot that’s crucial at this hole, which doglegs to the right with water on both sides of the fairway corner. A par here will feel like a birdie for most mortal golfers.
The architect has made good use of the existing features of the Hever Castle site and there’s enough variety here to keep the members happy week in and week out. It’s also a delightful property on which to play golf and is a thoroughly enjoyable all-round experience.