Royal Ashdown is a bit of a conundrum really. It is a real mixture of a place when you get to it's location. The old clubhouse is a really lovely old Sussex house and attached to it is an extension which is said to be 'sympathetic' in design but is more a pathetic attempt to blend in with the old. Once Inside the clubhouse the distinction is even more bizarre, in the West Course club house extension there is an ugly cafe type bar with some poor excuse of a changing room. In the old club house it is what you'd expect, a beautiful old style clubhouse where jacket and ties rule and the decor is from a century ago and the relics of Edwardian golf are still in daily use. Despite this bizarre distinction btween the pay and play west (membership available) and the old boy old royal course (do you know St Peter? Even he is on the waiting list) this is a very magical place and the welcome from the pro shop (also with old and new entrances) is quite wonderful. The old course itself is also a real conundrum, a magical one though. It is wild, scruffy, criss-crossed by roads, paths, bridleways; covered in heather, bracken and trees and of course there are no bunkers. But there is something undeniably very special about this old place, the location is fantastic and the course is very very tough. You won't believe this from the unimpressive first but after this the course builds and builds and just gets tougher and tougher. Most courses stand out for their par threes but for me it is the par fives which stand out on this course on the first visit. They would all be reachable in two if it wasn't for the danger that lurks in front and around the greens, by the time you finish you are left wishing they had bunkers instead of thick grassy/heathery hollows; banks of bracken and heather and deep sided little brooks to protect the greens. This was my first attempt at this course and for me you need to play it a few times or get a very good caddy, this is a thinkers course with many blind shots. Some of the par fours are in effect double par threes i.e. the 13th; others like the 17th are just complete beasts where you have to hit a massive drive then a fine long iron or some other mad combination. The 11th is a 249yd par three with a steep right to left landing zone so even a shot in the summer needs to be shaped with a fade. Even the stoke index 18 leaves you with a short chip over heathery mounds onto a sunken unsighted green. Even though I played Royal Ashdown on a damp autumn day with slow greens, soft fairways and wet rough I think this course was difficult to the point of unfairness, in a dry summer it must be almost impossible if the fairways bake hard! As a visitor it is all this that makes this such a charming and maddenning place to play, however as a member I would stick to foursomes and match play. I cannot remember a single shot where I dd not have to think carefully about what I was about to do. So unless you can hit good straight drives, shape the ball left or right on demand to take the sloping fairways on with confidence and have a great ability for short shots from heather you will almost certainly lose a few balls and score badly. You really do have to play this place to understand what I mean so pack a few extra balls, a shirt, a tie, a jacket, a lot of patience and come and play this unique and magical part of unique golfing history.
Date: October 21, 2007