"For very many years this was the home club of Sam King," wrote Peter Alliss in The Good Golf Guide, "third in the 1939 Open Championship and a contender on many other occasions, notably in 1948, when he caught the maestro, Henry Cotton, during the final round but then faded.
The club was founded when the Wildernesse estate was about to be sold in 1923 and a country club set up. Some of the members of Wildernesse Golf Club objected to the plans and sought the agreement of Lord Sackville to build a clubhouse and the present course."
Architect J.F. Abercromby, much in demand after his earlier designs at The Addington, Coombe Hill and Worplesdon in Surrey, was contracted in 1924 to lay out the Knole Park course within an enormous 1,000-acre estate leased from Lord Sackville. According to the book James Braid and his Four Hundred Golf Courses by John F. Moreton and Iain Cumming, Braid had visited the property the year before to survey the estate.
As the authors state, “the preliminary survey was Braid’s. Next was the layout and, in addition to Braid, Abercromby was invited to make a plan. Perhaps surprisingly, Abercromby’s was chosen, the committee as a whole favouring his, Lord Sackville favouring Braid’s. The fascinating element of the two plans is that Braid’s travels clockwise, Abercromby’s anti-clockwise, though both use much the same ground.”
Today, the eighteen fairways still occupy the same parkland setting where the course was originally set out, in the northern portion of the deer park. Knole House, one of the finest National Trust properties in England, is situated at the other end of the estate. The layout was lengthened a little in the 1960s, but apart from changes made at that time, the course is more or less the one that Abercromby designed.
Every once in a while, a course less heralded in the rankings provides a pleasant surprise where expectations are exceeded. My recent afternoon at the picture-perfect Knole Park happily provided one of these such experiences.
JF Abercomby laid out several excellent courses across England during his lifetime and Knowle Park is another cracker. It’s the hundreds of deer that roam the course and wider estate that Knole is probably famous for, but it’s a course layout that deserves greater credit amongst top course enthusiasts. Parkland by name but truly a hybrid of different course terrains, the ’87 storm cleared many of the trees that have opened up the landscape meaning that it’s less penned in than most parkland courses. Knole Park also has a strong blend of heathland, moorland and even downland characteristics woven through various segments of the course. Hilly in nature, but still plenty walkable, the constantly changing physical attributes of the course provide some lovely variety to the routing.
The benched green at 2 and trio of gorgeous valley holes from 3 to 5 mean that you don’t have to wait long for the delights to appear at Knole Park, but it’s when you climb out of the valley at 6 where you’ll discover the contrasting terrain which Knole Park is blessed with. Comparable to moorland in style and sharing its boundary with the walls of Knole House, holes 6 and 7 provide less of a visual feast from what’s been presented previously, due to it being played over anthill pockmarked grassland, but they’re holes that provide a stern challenge and I personally enjoyed the juxtaposition in panorama and the strategic thinking required on these holes.
8’s a delicious par three that offers a wonderful view back into the undulating terrain where you’re greeted with a lovely vista from the tee with three greens stacked one behind the other in tiers. The next few holes immediately after the turn are typical parkland and pleasant in nature, but aren’t graced with the same beautiful terrain that the rest of the course is afforded, so this was admittedly the section of the course that I was less taken by. Having said that, Knole Park then knocks one out of the park at 12. A rip-snorter of a long par three, this hole is played to a raised green over a depression in the ground where four bunkers are then embedded into the hill-face guarding the green from a mis-struck tee shot. But it’s the humped-back ridge through the middle of the green that provides the cherry on the top of this fine short hole. Simply delightful.
Following this, Knole Park then returns to the rolling ground, routed back through the dips and valleys that you visited in the earlier part of the round. I love how the flag is perched high upon a hilltop at 13 as if Sir Edmund Hillary planted it there, staring down on you as you climb your way up the inclined fairway. The big dipper of a par five on 15 returns you to the plateau where the round started whilst the WWII crater on the edge of the 17th fairway to gobble up that pushed tee shot offers another fun architectural highlight.
Knole Park is a true Kent gem, and given its status as the county's premier inland course, would be my recommendation for a warm-up round to those visitors hopping fresh off the plane before travelling to fight with the links on the Kent seaside coast.
As a final side-note, but none less noteworthy than what I’ve written before, Knole Park recently offered free rounds of golf to NHS workers as we came out of the Covid-19 lockdown. Philanthropic golf clubs are a rare breed and the team at Knole Park should be applauded for this generosity.
Knole Park is ranked as the best inland course in Kent which is an accolade they deserve. The routing makes great use of the topography which gives Knole Park an unusual variety of holes which will hold the players attention. The turf is really good to play from…ideal for golf and the drainage is excellent which makes the course playable all year round. The layout consists of 6 par 3 holes all different playing uphill, downhill and across ridges ranging from 165 yards to 200 yards. The 8 par 4 holes play in all directions and range from the drivable 13th to the 447 yard 14th. Knole Parks par 5 holes are where you need to make your score all are relatively short but finding the fairway is key to being able to reach the green in two. The green complexes are pretty good and have plenty of movement, they can get very fast in the summer so much so that it is not unusual to putt off them! As mentioned Knole Park holds the players attention throughout and my pick of the holes are the 4th a mid length par 4 teeing off from and elevated tee into the valley below before a mid iron approach to green with a tier about a third of the way up the green. Hole 8 is cool par three downhill with a pond on the left which is not really in play. The green is relatively small and has bunkers guarding the front portion and a run off left. The 11th is a fun sharp dogleg par 4 to a green set in amongst the trees. Hole 13 is a short drivable par 4 which challenges the player to carry the pond or layup to leave a wedge shot to the green. Kent is more widely known for its links courses but if you’re travelling through I would suggest stopping off at Knole Park for a game…you will not be disappointed!
I’ll be honest, Knole Park wasn’t a course that was high on my “must play” list. Truth be told, it wasn’t on the list at all! As a Scotsman who occasionally slips across the border to play in England, I didn’t exactly have this 18-hole layout in deepest, darkest Kent on my radar, 450 miles away from my cave in Caledonia – not until it was recommended to me by a fan of John Abercromby-designed courses. Because it’s a reasonable ½ hour drive from Gatwick airport and my evening flight home to Glasgow, I was able to squeeze in an afternoon round after playing elsewhere in the morning.
Parkland golf isn’t my preferred version of the game so playing a round in amongst herds of literally hundreds of deer in such a rustic setting has to be one of the most surreal experiences I’ve ever had on a golf course – talk about being at one with nature! Knole Park is full of character, with lots of movement in the landscape over which the fairways are routed. For sure, you’ll not get bored playing here on a regular basis as there’s plenty of quirky little features to keep you both engaged and entertained from start to finish.
I scored the back nine quite a bit higher than the front nine, largely due to the fact that I thought the 6th and 7th were weak holes, despite the former being rated as stroke index 1 on the card! I felt the run from #10 to #15 was by far the best sequence on the course, starting with a terrific downhill par three (played to a newly bunkered, front to back sloping green) and ending with a really tough beast of a par five which played uphill to the green. The closing hole, with a lovely pond to the front right of the home green, is a lovely way to end the round.
I imagine club officials and members will be pleased to see the course ranked in the English Top 100, having entered the national listings in 2018. Currently listed as the best inland course in the county, Knole Park sets the benchmark for all the others to match.
Knole Park is a beautiful public area and I’d long wanted to play there. As a visitor I’ve always gazed longingly over the golf club’s rustic, rather wild charms which look and sometimes feel like a parkland-heathland hybrid. There’s no heather but there is plenty of bracken.
It’s not cheap but I think it’s worth it. I’ve played most of Kent’s big courses now and I’d rate it between Prince’s and Littlestone – certainly the best non-links layout I’ve played in the area. It might also be the most scenic eighteen I’ve played anywhere. It looks so much cooler than your average parkland, a bit browned, dramatic, sort of ancient then of course you have the deer. On the first a large herd immediately left us pondering what the local rule is but apparently there isn’t one, it’s just play and pray you don’t hit one. Thankfully we didn’t have any near misses and they amble off when you approach an area they’re grazing in.
There are many similarities to JF Abercromby’s Addington, including an opening par 3. I think it’s a better course than The Addington though. After that benign start it soon gets hilly and tricky, the greens are deceptively fast and you really don’t want to be leaving your ball above pins. Many fairways also reward a drawn tee shot, this is usually apparent after playing though. Additionally, do not flirt with bracken – it may as well be water as you will lose your ball.
My favourite hole was the par 4 6th, there’s a split fairway, diagonal bunkering and a severe green. Par is an excellent score. The next couple of holes go deep into the public area, nice when I’ve strolled around daydreaming but annoying when you’re playing. People will be noisy and some will stand idling in the middle of fairways. That’s my main complaint about Knole Park but it’s not the club’s fault.
It does have a couple weaker holes too, in my opinion. 11 is a long dogleg par 4 where you can’t really cut the corner, especially as there’s a public path there. The 10th is a relatively boring par 3 but other holes more than make up for it. 5, 8 and 12 are fun, tough and pretty par 3s and I loved the short par 4 13th. It’s risk-reward and is up there with Knole Park’s most aesthetic holes.
On all my favourite courses I’ve not wanted the round to end. I felt that way at Knole Park. Condition-wise it’s not worth the money but it is unique, fun and especially tranquil once the public have gone home. Just you, the course and the deer on a pleasant summer’s evening is pretty special. Knole often gets overlooked, so much so I've read it's Tom Doak's #1 yet-to-play in the UK. If you're anywhere in the southeast then it's worth the day off work and travel.
Knole Park is a gem of a golf course located in Sevenoaks. I must say it didn’t quite live up to expectations but it was far from a shabby golf course. The views that you get from certain holes are particularly stunning however it may frustrate you at times as it is open to the public so you can get some clueless walkers passing by.
A few of my favourites would be the 4th hole which is a great par 4 with a dog leg left from an elevated tee, with bracken all the way down the right of the fairway. The 8th is also a great downhill par 3 playing about 160 yards from the whites and a great picturesque tee shot. However, the 18th was probably my favourite hole with a blind tee shot and the 2nd shot going over a water hazard into a relatively small green with the clubhouse in the background.
The condition of the course is OK but I found the greens a tad inconsistent as some felt faster than others. The course itself was decent but what I really liked about it was the deer. It is the home to roughly 800 deer which roam around the golf course. You will run into them a lot and they really add character to the golf course. It is a unique course that you wouldn’t find anywhere else and make it a great experience.
It is a solid 4 ball course and would definitely go back again in the future!
In the golfing landscape ‘hidden gem’ or ‘well-kept secret’ are well versed terms and both are relevant in the case of Knole Park in Kent.
I knew little about the club formed in 1924 which is located close to the commuter town of Sevenoaks other than it was ranked well enough for inclusion of the famed Top100 courses in England.
The welcome was warm and before I could flick through the Telegraph sports section I was served up a mini fry in the most traditional of clubhouses. The main bar / lounge area had more gold leaf for mahogany honours than like no other and the new sports / TV lounge gave the modern day feel to the place. So far so good…
After a little warm up around the impressive chipping area it was onto the first tee of the J F Abercromby design – we played the white tees which provided a good test on a crisp mid-April morning.
At 192 yards uphill and the typically chillier northern wind on the kisser it was a testing start into what felt like a three club wind. Don’t miss it long and left to a tight left pin if you are reading this review before playing!
I really enjoyed the challenge of the stretch of holes from the third.
3rd hole allows for an early opening of the shoulders from an elevated tee to a blind landing area and on the day this was the first of many sightings of herds of deer.
Approach to the third givers an early indication of the shift in elevation that the course offers. This time uphill to a bunker free small green that I was glad to take my up & down par and skip up the steps to the fifth tee.
As driving tests go you will need to shake off the L plates for the par 4 fourth hole. It looks & is a dog leg right to left 200 yards out from the green but the tee shot asks for a little lemonade fade off the tee. It’s a GREAT driving hole!
Par 3 fifth hole sits perched on one side of the valley and reminded of another cracking par 3 fifth hole – The Tank at Ballyliffin’s Old Course. Missing the green is not really an option for making par!
The highlight of the run to the turn was another par three, 8th hole. Playing downhill to a well-guarded narrow green it was another testing short hole with bunkering to the right & run off to the left past a couple of ponds. If I had brought my oil & canvas the landscape vista from this tee would have been my focal point!
On thirteen the course planned mentioned a potential birdie, at 325yds it should be with position off the tee key and be sure to check the pin position to this deep and undulating green. Try not to miss the approach right – I did and made double!
Fourteen tee shot needs to be kept inside the well positioned bunker up the left wing which on doing so brings a good view to the downhill approach of this cracking par 4. Play front right yardage on approach and take your par & run!
Ge through the tough par 3 sixteen – don’t miss it right, I did & made double – and you have a chance to score on the last couple of holes.
Seventeen felt a generous par 5 thou we did now have that northernly wind on our tail and eighteen find the fairway to set up a reasonable birdie change on the front to back slopping final green.
All in all with six par threes it’s a test of anyone’s long iron or hybrid play given the shortest one on the day was 171yards. The course is spacious and well routed and little surprise that the typical SS is 71 against a par of 70. You need to be on your game here to make buffer not just handicap! That said it is more than fair and the par fives give a little if you can find the fairway off the tee.
Post round there are excellent changing facilities and Doom Bar on draught, yes another double! It was with little hesitation to give the day at this hidden gem five balls on the TP5 reviewer ranking.
I played Knole Park on a perfect April morning in 2018. The course lies on rolling - even hilly - ground, and the hole designs inevitably reflect this fact. There is a lot of "up and down" on this course, which makes for a nice variety of both vistas and golf shots. Since the course lies near (or within?) a game preserve, you'll be sharing your round with dozens of deer, but I saw no evidence of destruction on the greens or in the bunkers, so this presented no problem. Conditioning was excellent (I've yet to run across poor greens on ANY London-area course) and I found the layout of the holes to be very natural and old-school (recognizable to any golfer familiar with Abercromby's work at Addington and other masterpieces). This is not the easiest course to find, but is sufficiently convenient for visitors to greater London. As vacationing U.S. golfers continue to pour into Scotland and Ireland to play the admittedly wonderful and iconic links courses, it strikes me that the sheer depth of courses across England (links, parkland and heathland) - many of them reasonably priced - is generally underappreciated. Knole Park is a great example of this fact.
Stumbling across Knole Park on a balmy May afternoon was like finding a little golfing treasure trove. There’s lots of golfing goodness to be found at this most English of golf courses.
I’m not sure where this course has been all my life but I’m so glad it is now a small part of it. Discovering hidden gems is rare in the modern age where I doubt there is a venue that hasn’t been showcased on its own website, in one of the golfing magazines or on social media etc...
For those outside the region I’m urging you to firstly look up where Knole “Park” is and then immediately go and book a tee-time there as quickly as you can.
I place the word park in quotation marks above because that title is doing it a disservice in the 21st Century. Nowadays any course that isn’t a links or heathland, maybe you could add in moorland, seems to get tarnished with the term parkland. However, there’s a big difference between a golf course built on agricultural or meadowland to what you will find here. Knole Park derives its name from the more stately sense; a ‘deer park’ played in the grounds of the striking Knole House. You are more likely to see shades of brown than green here and the specimen trees are rarely in play and if so used strategically rather than with a penal, fairway-lining nature. Fortunately for golf The Great Storm of 1987 felled over 70% of the trees across the park.
The tightness of the turf and the keenness of the ground all around the estate are more reminiscent of links conditions than anything with the P-word in its title. It’s essentially a fast-running, sandy and bracken blessed piece of land that uses its natural assets to splendid use. The lack of long grass around the greens not only highlights some splendid green sites but gives options on how to play recovery shots.
If nothing else Knole Park must be one of the most invigorating of walks; the scenery, the wildlife and just being out in the Kent countryside air makes one feel healthier. Playing here is a true joy and gives me hope of finding other golf courses just waiting to be discovered by the wider golfing population.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
[Knole Park] “is still very new, but I think, when it is a little older, few, if any, park courses will be better. Certainly none will be prettier.” Wrote Darwin in The Golf Courses of Great Britain in 1925.
“There are the loveliest holes down winding forest glades, full of romantic possibilities in the shape of gentlemen in Lincoln green shooting the deer on moonlight nights. The more open holes are very good too, for the ground is all undulating, and when we emerge from the woods to the ‘plain’ in front of the house, we need not expect a flat lie or a flat stance. As with all Mr. Abercromby’s courses, there is great richness in the matter of short holes and if we are very lucky or very skilful we may get six threes. However, we shall get plenty of fives to make up for them.”
Those who know me are aware that I am a great fan of Bernard Darwin’s musings. I think he is the best golf course writer to have ever put pen to paper. Additionally, I rarely disagree with his golf course assessments and his short passage above is still absolutely valid nearly one hundred years later.
I played Knole Park last Monday morning in glorious early April sunshine with a chilly, two-club wind blowing. It was simply magical to finally get to play here after years of wanting.
The “Park” moniker could perhaps be better named, “Deerpark”, which for me has a slightly different connotation and represents more accurately the essence of Knole.
After completing the first six holes, I said to Brian Ward my playing partner that this is the best parkland course I’ve ever seen in England and by the time I putted out on the 18th (after we’d both absent-mindedly dumped our approach shots into the pond) I was sure my earlier assertion was correct.
I have no idea whatsoever why it has taken me almost three decades to play here and I can promise you I’ll be back. There is more drama here than at any other park course I’ve ever seen and there are hole designs that would never be attempted today (even if land like this was available). The ground on which Knole is routed is exceptional and (at the first time of playing) you could never best guess what to expect next, as virtually every hole has its own unique and often thrilling character. Five of the first six holes could be signature holes on any parkland course.
The whole experience is palpable and I urge everyone who is remotely interested in Golden Age designs to visit pronto. And if you are disappointed by the golfing experience, you should sell your golf gear and take up crochet. In my opinion Knole Park (currently #8) is way too low in the Kent rankings and frankly it’s a better course than a good number of layouts in our current English Top 100. It’s seriously underrated.
As soon as I walked through the gates I knew this was going to be a special golf course with deer wondering everywhere on the course. Holes 3 and 4 have amazing tee shots into valleys below. The course has a feeling of space as it is on a huge plot of land. The views from hole 17 are incredible. Greens were quick and true. Very friendly welcome in the clubhouse. A great golf course that should be ranked a lot higher. Overall a great day out and a must play course.