The Old Thorns Estate was acquired by businessman Ken Wood in the late 1940s – a decade before he made his fortune with the development of the Kenwood food mixer – and it would take another 30 years to bring to reality his vision of a golf course within his 400-acre property.
Commander John Harris drew up plans for an 18-hole layout in the mid 1970s but sadly his death meant the commission was passed to Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas, a design team then riding the crest of a golfing wave, having recently created the Lansdowne course at Blairgowrie and the Brabazon course at The Belfry.
Such was the influence of Ken Wood in 1982, the year after Old Thorns was completed, he was able to assemble a four ball to mark the official opening of the course comprised of Bill Rogers (current Open champion), Seve Ballesteros (the Masters champion from two years before), Jack Nicklaus (US Open champion in 1980) and Isao Ioki (runner up to the Golden Bear in the US Open two years previously).Fairways are routed over a heavily wooded, undulating landscape that’s part moorland and part parkland in nature with several natural springs and ponds involved along the way. The par five 6th is the longest hole on the scorecard and it features a large tree in the fairway where it dog legs right to the green. On the back nine, the 268-yard 15th is a delightful short par four that plays to a raised green that slopes markedly from back to front.
Unlike most Americans, the first golf course I played in either the UK or Ireland was not one of the big name/renowned courses. On my second visit to the UK in July, 1993 for the beginning of my family moving to England for five years, I landed at Heathrow, bought a golf magazine, found a glowing review of a public course that seemed promising, and played it the following weekend. That golf course was Old Thorns, designed by Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas.
Old Thorns had a splashy opening in 1982 with a foursome of Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Isao Aoki and Bill Rogers. Combined with the article, I was certain I was heading towards a course that would exceed my expectations.
Despite playing on a Saturday afternoon in July, I was a single. This gave me time to hit two balls off each tee, take putts from multiple directions on the greens, or hit multiple shots into the greens. I did not hold anyone up nor did I wait as I had endless time given that my family was not arriving for another week.
After playing the course I walked off thinking: “now I know the value of advertising in a golf magazine in order to get a favorable review.”
Although I had played less than 30 different golf courses at that point in my life, I knew I had played a golf course that offered little in terms of strategy, challenge, uniqueness, or good green complexes. It has a routing that does not maximize the potential of the land. Possibly Thomas and Alliss rushed the routing or were restricted by the owners. The course is crammed into a small piece of land as land was set aside for hotel parking and grounds. The land is somewhat difficult given the elevation changes on part of the course.
There are some positives such as Old Thorns does offer nice par 3’s. The fifth and seventeenth holes both offer a nice long view of the surroundings from the tee, it is relatively inexpensive (true to this day as I checked), and there are several nice holes.
The routing has an awkward crossing from the fifth green to the sixth tee where one goes by the fifteenth tee and again from fourteen to fifteenth tee by crossing over the sixth fairway or going behind the green. There are also a couple of significant elevation changes going to the third tee, the fifth tee and to the fifteenth green.
The course has too many short par 4’s (seven under 400 yards) and short par 5’s (3 of 500 yards or less).
The second hole basically returns one to the first tee which is weird.
Although the course’s routing never has three consecutive holes moving in the same directions which is a positive, the routing has the outward nine at the edges of the property with the inward nine inside the front nine. I think this limited the opportunities to take advantage of the change in terrain for the holes. I thought a better routing would have had more holes take advantage of the higher ground, providing more balance in terms of quality of the land.
There are some truly weak holes on the golf course which is not simply due to them being short; they are merely uninteresting or have intrusive trees. I realize that is what one is likely to fine on a golf course connected to a hotel, but that does not have to be the case. The stretch from holes seven to eleven is the highlight of the golf course. The course is very tight in spots and when combined with the ponds, one can lose a few balls if they are not hitting it straight.
Hole by hole comments.
1 – a short par 4 with a green on a rise after the dogleg to the right. There is a tree coming too far into the fairway on the right. It has three bunkers at the green as defense.
2 – a short par 5 that has a very sharp dogleg at the top of the hill with two bunkers on the left. After the dogleg the hole sits at the bottom of the hill to the right, consequently the green slopes sharply right to left. I did not like the golf hole due to the sharpness of the turn.
3 – I have mixed feelings about this longer par 4 as it defended admirably off the tee on the right with three well placed bunkers at the flat green. Yet the hole has at least 3 trees that are in the fairway, one in the middle, which is dumb. There is a valley after the tee shot before rising to the green with a fall-off in the land to the right of the green.
4 – a nice mid-length par 3 playing slightly uphill with a rise to the left side of the green. The right side of the green has a fall-off that will send a ball scampering pretty far away. I thought the green complex should have at least two bunkers instead of none.
5 – a short par 4 playing downhill from an elevated tee offering a long, lovely view over Hampshire. The fairway tilts right to left. The trees are suffocating on this hole with the small green completely enveloped by them on three sides. There is a small pond near the green to navigate. The view is the highlight of the hole. I really disliked this hole. They could start by taking down some of the trees near the tee to open the view up even more, then continue with cutting back the trees on both sides another 40 yards.
6 – After finding one’s way to the sixth tee, there is a nice long par 5 with a ditch on the right and trees to consider for the tee shot. It is out of bounds down the left side. The ditch later crosses the fairway with a pond off to the right. There is a tree almost in the middle of the fairway for the second shot – dumb. The green sits once again surrounded on three sides by dense trees.
7 – a mid-length par 3 over a pond with the pond definitely in play fronting the peanut shaped green with a bunker on the right. The green has a tilt towards the water. It is a good hole and I felt it to be the best par 3 on the golf course.
8 – another short par 4 and finally one exits the dense trees. A long pond is down the entire right side with a few scattered trees on the left. The green sits closely to the pond but one can come onto it from the left. It has a nicely shaped green. I liked the hole.
9 – another short par 4 with trees and the hotel on the left side. The green is peanut shaped again but angled left to right with good bunkering. There is a ditch cutting diagonally across the fairway but it should not be in play. I liked this hole.
10 - a long par 3 about 220 yards with water to consider as there are two ponds with the second pond edging closer to the left side of the green. The right side has two bunkers to a green sloped right to left. This is a difficult, but fair hole.
11 – a short par 4 that has defense nearly everywhere beginning with a pond on the right cutting into the fairway at its end, a ditch across the fairway connecting to the pond and four bunkers at the green. The hole plays as a slight dogleg right. It is a nice hole.
12 – a long par 4 that is a sharper dogleg to the right with a bunker on the right side and one on the left side at the green. The green is narrow. The hole is ruined by a large oak tree on the right side hanging over the fairway nearer the green.
13 – a short par 4 dogleg left that the second half of the fairway has a chute of trees. There is a nice large bunker at the front of the green which is one of the more sloping greens on the course, back to front and right to left. It is an average hole.
14 – a mid-length par 5 that has a pond on the right to consider for the tee shot, then the second shot is fairly wide open with a bunker on either side and three bunkers near the green. It is one of the faster greens on the golf course back to front.
15 – an uphill dogleg left with a tough walk near the green on this short par 4 that has a well-protected green with a significant drop from one tier to the next. It is an okay hole.
16 – a mid-length par 3 playing slightly downhill but the bunkers are too far away from the green. The green is sloped steeply right to left with a falloff on the left side. It is two-tiered. This hole is visually attractive.
17 – A short par 5 from an elevated tee with dense trees down the left side and another long view from the tee. There is a pond on the right for the second shot to a benign green. It is an okay hole that would be better if it were 40 yards longer with a more interesting green.
18 – a longer par 4 finishes the round with a slope on the right side of the fairway, then opening up, a pond is on the left side, three bunkers front the green that is angled away from you left to right. Another tree hangs practically over the green from the right. This hole has too much in it. Take down the tree near the green and it would be much improved.
In summary, this is a golf course one would play only if they lived close by or they are staying at the hotel for some reason. This is definitely not one of the better courses attached to a hotel. There are some nice holes but many holes are lessened by trees being in the fairway or handing over the fairway. I do not think the designers utilized the land to the best routing. I returned to it more recently in order to refresh a memory of that first course in the UK that I had played. Twice is enough.
Course has great potential, some good holes but then again also some very poor and unusual holes, the club was nice though and had a great sports bar, but course itself was very average
I arranged 2 four balls and played Feb 2019. Very disappointing. The course has clearly not had any money spent on it. The fairways were a disgrace, divots all over, hard to differentiate rough and fairway in many areas.
The greens were poor, balls didn’t run true at all.
Many of the tee boxes were off mats. The course frame is good with a number of interesting and scenic holes, but if it isn’t been looked after, it isn’t worth playing. Very, very disappointing, especially as I chatted through condition etc with the pro shop prior booking.
Cheap rate at £25 a head, but avoid booking here due to the sub standard playing conditions.
I appreciate its January . . . but the course conditioning was AWFUL! Many holes played off mats; fairways bare and in many cases with turf ripped up and left in piles; greens either scalped or as long as carpets (I forgive the hollow tinning, but the green staff behaviour was disgusting - on one green someone ruled their machine over my partners ball! Deliberately!); bunker fill really variable; 9th temporary hole rubbish (but required because the hideous new apartments apparently made the good original 9th hole "a health and safety issue" which wasn't discovered during planning). Again, it was cheap (£25) but not really worth it. We spoke with some other players who agreed with us that the course design is generally good and challenging - but the conditioning was dreadful. So leaving aside the conditioning this week - the general experience. I knew this place when it first opened in the 1980s, run by the Japanese. It was exclusive and everything revolved around the course. First impressions now - the car park is like something from Tesco (and full on a Friday morning!); and the buildings in front of you are also like an out of town shopping centre (and not in a good way). There is even a Starbucks (!) being used by villager mummies and travelling road warriors as a place to meet (goodness help the village centre!). You cannot see the course now as its behind some newly completed timeshare apartments. The commitment to the course can be understood from the fact that to access the changing rooms you go through Starbucks; through the Sports Bar; past the kitchen and toilets and then into the (nice, clean and well equipped) changing rooms. It's a long way from there back to the first tee. You get the impression early that this place now clearly focuses more on the casual food market, conference centre and gym / pool than the golf. Once you find the course, through the labyrinth of buildings, it's actually quite a pleasant surprise! The first 7 holes make the most of the land and the views. The pines are plentiful and beautiful. The views expansive across the tree tops to Surrey. The 1st a fair start (keep it left of the tree!); the 2nd a par 5 with a challenging green; the 3rd is long and stunning; the 4th set in a wonderful pine dell; the 5th the signature drive from high on the hill into a pine corridor toward a pond protected green; the 6th an interesting and challenging par 5; and the 7th a par 3 over a pond, somewhat like the 16th at Augusta. BUT - the 8th tee is right next to a very large (and noisy!) scrap yard which is very visible and audible. The 9th used to run next to very visible 80s houses - but is now a significant walk from the 8th green to access the temporary par 3 green. To be honest the back 9 doesn't really live up to the first 7 holes - the 15th is a bit of a joke hole (who props a green up on sleepers reducing all the playing options??).However the last 3 holes offer a good and tough close (don't go left at the par 3 16th!!!). I know I'm spoilt being a member at Liphook GC (incidentally, we went there for lunch and the course conditioning was amazing - proving what can be managed by effective green keeping just 2 miles away); and that it was cheap. I would even forgive the scrap yard and ruination of the 9th (just for profit) if the conditioning was better. I think that the environment really says it all here - there has clearly been massive investment here in the last 10 years, but none of it seems to have been put into its greatest asset, the golf course. All a bit sad really. Unless you want cheap golf I would spend the extra and make use of any of the far superior courses in the locality at Liphook; Petersfield; Hindhead; Blackmoor; or Hankley Common.
Slightly harsh and as a review I checked out when you said the 7th is like the 16th at Augusta.
It’s a reasonable course that's in great condition in the summer months and is comfortably better than Petersfield.
I agree about the 9th hole though, one of the best on the course has been spoilt
My favourite thing about this review is that it comes almost 12 years after the previous course summary from this reviewer. Glad to discover he’s alive and well!