"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.
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.
The land is sandy and so free draining and very undulating with natural hollows, dells and valleys which the course has been draped over. The comments I have read say this is like an inland links, whilst I can see the similarities in the ground the ever changing elevations mean that in reality this is a sandy downland course. The beauty of this course is in its slight rough and ready manner, this is a course that has been gently laid out on the land and not been placed or manufactured and thus has that wonderfully natural feeling. It is in every way the perfect design approach to the environment it is in. You also have to admire the stunning views of the palace, the park itself, the north downs in the distance and the beautiful trees that punctuate this course so majestically.
The course itself begins with a tough uphill par three and starts it’s visual display on the third where you play down a large valley with a shared fairway and then onto a tiny green perched on a bank surrounded by tall impenetrable ferns. The course continues in this vein all the way through and there are really no weak holes and all six par threes are real challenges, the par fives are a little weaker but the general trend is tee off down hill and play up to greens perched on the side of banks. Whilst the six par threes and four par fives mean this is not a long course it makes up for itself by having hard bouncy surfaces and a lot of rough that is three foot high ferns ……… I.e. lost ball territory. There also seem to be a selection of “green tees” not on the card which would make this course a lot tougher.
This was my first visit and I must admit to being smitten, but in my view this is one of the great classic courses and sits alongside some of the great old quirky Surrey heathland courses, Swinley Forest without the heather or as many trees for example (but a better course). It should be regarded as such and celebrated for being the epitomy of great English golf design I say visit this course as you will never be disappointed with the golf, the views and the environment the course sits in.