I thought my usually reliable Sat Nav had gone on the blink as it took me up a country road telling me that I was arriving at Piltdown Golf Club. This looked like I was arriving at someone’s “escape to the country” home, but no, this half-tiled redbrick building really was the clubhouse for Piltdown Golf Club. And by and large, on arrival I was very impressed by the homeliness of Piltdown. A traditional clubhouse and practice area are located on one side of the road, whilst on the other lays what is recognised as one of Sussex’s best golf courses. Sadly, like so many courses this year, Piltdown is another that’s succumbed to the last twelve months of crazy conditions and it’s not currently in its best state. The entire 2nd fairway was GUR when I played it as they’ve reseeded it to try and get some growth back. The club has kindly reduced visitor green fees to recognise that it’s not playing to its full potential right now whilst “lift and place” is being practiced on all fairways whilst the improvement work is ongoing.
The 2nd hole closure and course conditioning aside, I still had fairly mixed feelings during the opening nine. Given that it ranks higher than Crowborough Beacon where I’d played and enjoyed just a few weeks earlier, and the inaugural National Club Golfer rankings places Piltdown as high as 43rd amongst England’s top 100, I was left a little underwhelmed as I approached the halfway point in the round. The opening hole has a tricky green where my approach shot succumbed to its false-front and I’m sad to say that I didn’t share the same love for holes 3 and 4 that play around Piltdown Pond as other reviewers before me, good holes even though they are. Some interesting clumps of heather were arranged in a concertina effect towards the entrance to the green on what I think was the 6th hole, and to the course’s credit, through the use of heather, swales and mounding, the lack of bunkers was hardly noticeable.
All pleasant so far but nothing outstanding. Personal opinion maybe, but I felt that it wasn’t until the 9th where I started to get a taste of why others refer to the course as a local gem. The entry to this hole is pictured and has a combination of lovely troughs and wrinkles in front of the green; I’m not sure if these are natural, man-made or a sign of where bunkers have historically been removed, but they work very well as a visual deterrent to the under hit or fat approach shot. These handsome features then become a pattern for many of the holes through the incoming stretch. Various fairways are split in two by stripes of heather, the short 12th and 16th being the most memorable examples. Added to this, 13 is an excellent dogleg featuring a blind tee shot to the crest of a bank and then turns towards a small sunken green. More swales and heathery troughs are again apparent with holes such as the 14th having a small heather-filled crater eighty yards from the green whilst the following par three is similarly decorated with clumpy ground. The best green is left until the 17th, alongside the 3rd, comfortably the toughest two holes to achieve par on across the course, but the penultimate green is wonderfully shaped like a drunken biarritz that’s just had a stroke. Coupled with this, there are quite a few small greens to get to grips with. The greens are usually demanding of good ball striking as there isn’t much room for manoeuvre given the interesting shapes around the greens if you’re hoping to get down in two.
Comparisons with nearby Crowborough Beacon and Royal Ashdown Forest are going to be inevitable when finishing the round. Neither Crowborough or Piltdown are as grand as RAF, and I would give Crowborough the nod over Piltdown for sheer drama due to its undulating site, Piltdown being flatter than both of its peers, but there’s a lot to like at Piltdown, and that back nine does give Royal Ashdown Forest a run for its money.
Date: October 06, 2020