"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.
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.
The course itself is set in beautiful rolling countryside and has plenty of interesting features. However, having played it today, I was disappointed by the very poor condition of the greens. Very slow, inconsistent, uneven and generally not repaired, which as a mostly members club is surprising. Additionally, the greens and tees are very close together so watch out for errant approach shots.
It seems you were unfortunate to play the week after the summer course maintenance. Like most good courses some essential maintenance on the greens in the summer is advisable, as recovery is usually very quick and the greens return to a smooth and fast surface within a couple of weeks. Regarding the Tee's and Greens being close together. This is certainly not a feature of the course. One of the great things about Knole Park is the sense space as the course is spread out over 200 acres, so the vast majority of holes are well away from each other.