Review for Royal Ashdown Forest (Old)

Reviewer Score:


I think it’s fair to say I didn’t fully appreciate RAF on my first visit. This was probably because it was the hottest day of the year, I played terribly and it’s a course that needs a second visit. I am therefore thankful that I got the chance to play it again and this time with a member who could provide more colour on some of the holes and the club.

The first few holes provide a relatively gentle opening, albeit with scope to rack up some higher scores. The course really gets going on the 5th, a downhill 500 yard par 5. Normally this length of hole would represent a great birdie opportunity but a ford/stream in front of the green makes it a classic risk/reward challenge.

The 125 yard par 3 6th is a great example of how a par 3 doesn’t need to be long to be difficult. A long narrow green is protected by a stream in front and to the left and a gully to the right and back. My host told me of a Spanish pro playing in Open qualifying who was 3 under on the tee and 7 over as he walked off the green!

The 7th is a very strong par 4, especially off the whites. On my first outing a good drive and rescue to the green meant I didn’t fully appreciate the challenge. This time both my host and I pushed our shots into the thick heather on the right and were then left trying to work out how best to get back to the fairway.

The remaining par 5s are all good 3-shotters requiring accuracy to avoid the heather and all with small, sloping greens. The par 3s are also all strong. On some courses all of the par 3s are between 150 and 200 yards, whereas here they are 125, 143, 249 and 202, providing four very different tests. The 16th and 17th are very strong par 4s, balanced by shorter par 4s in 15 and 18.

The aesthetics of the course are good, with the holes weaving their way through the forest and with a number of changes in elevation. The highlight is the “4 counties” view from the 11th tee.

The heather is the main challenge on this course and, in my somewhat limited experience, seems longer and more tangly than on most of the notable Surrey/Berkshire heathland courses. Once in it the priority needs to be on getting out as safely as possible, which is easier said than done. Those who struggle with bunkers may delight in the absence of them. However the abundance of heather makes it a far more challenging test.

The strength of the course left me scratching my head as to why it is not higher up the rankings. It could be because it is viewed as too difficult. Related to this is that a good shot can sometimes take a bad bounce and end up in the penal heather which some might view as unfair (but that’s golf!) At least the greenkeepers have removed a large amount of bracken over the winter which removes one hazard, albeit I think that only punished particularly wayward shots.

In summary I think this is a fantastic course with a good variety of holes presenting a terrific challenge. Play it if you get the chance but remember to bring your “A game” and good luck avoiding the heather!

(Ed, is there anyway I can delete the previous review?)

Date: May 05, 2021

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