- +44 (0) 1342 822018
1 mile SE of Forest Row
Welcome – contact in advance
William R. Lee, Harry Hunter, Jack Rowe
Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin had many adventures here in the dark and mysterious Ashdown Forest. Winnie invented “Poohsticks” on the edge of the woods, a game we reckon is even more popular than golf! Oh, and by the way, watch out for bouncing Tigger.
The Ashdown Forest & Tunbridge Wells Golf Club (as it was originally called) was founded in 1888 by four men; brothers William R. and Francis A. Lee, (who selected the site), the first Secretary, Robert Birch and Reverand A.T. Scott – the course opened for play the following year.
According to the club’s history, W.R. Lee designed the original layout. Harry Hunter made changes in 1892 before he and Jack Rowe (Ashdown’s professional) made additional modifications in 1897 – Jack Rowe made further changes in 1922. Queen Victoria bestowed royal patronage in 1893 and “Tunbridge Wells” was dropped from its name in 1901 when the club became known simply as Royal Ashdown Forest.
It was originally a short course, measuring only 4,900 yards. Between 1910 and 1920, it was gradually lengthened to its present 6,400 plus yards. Little has changed since. The tremendous golfer, Abe Mitchell, was a member of the Cantelupe Club, Royal Ashdown Forest’s Artisan section. Mitchell had the 1920 Open at Royal Cinque Ports in his grasp, but he lost to his greatest rival, George Duncan.
In his book, Golf Courses of the British Isles, Bernard Darwin wrote: “It is only at the end of a round that we realise with pleasurable shock that there is not a single hideous rampart or so much as a pot bunker”. The only bunkers here are natural grassy pits. In fact, the whole course is natural. The challenge comes from the undulating land, streams, heather, bracken and, of course, the many trees.
The Ashdown Forest is protected by Acts of Parliament – no alterations are allowed to the terrain without the conservators’ approval. It is doubtful that the course would have remained so naturally beautiful without having these restrictions in place.
The 6th, the “Island Hole”, is one of the best short holes anywhere. It’s only 125 yards long from the medal tees, but it’s fraught with danger, surrounded by a deep stream and a gully. If you hit the green, well done, but two-putting is not easy. There is a ridge running right across the middle of the green. The 17th is a captivating downhill par four, measuring 480 yards from the back tees. A decent drive, with a bit of draw (for the right-hander), will leave a long second that needs to carry across gorse, bracken and a path.
The club installed new drainage on fourteen of the greens in 2016, as part of a process to improve course presentation. An investment was also made in new machinery to cut back invasive grasses and allow heather to regenerate, along with starting out on a 10-year tree clearing program, the early results of which are really encouraging on holes 3 to 6.
Make no mistake, the setting is gorgeous, affording long views from the high parts of the course across the forest and the rolling Sussex countryside. The resident professionals obviously like it here too. In Royal Ashdown Forest’s long history there have been only five head pros.
Martyn Landsborough (former Head Professional at Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club) wrote the following article for us, which was published in our Top 100 Golf Courses of England book:
“If you go down to the woods today at Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club the only surprise you will get is that after over 100 years of play very little has changed. The fact that the course has no sand bunkers at first seems to detract from the difficulty of the course but nothing could be further from the truth. The sloping fairways, well-protected greens and the heather infested rough immediately respect your attention.
Each hole is different, each memorable, each with its own challenge and each surrounded by the quiet magnificence of Ashdown Forest.”
Needless to say, A.A. Milne and his son Christopher Robin were both Ashdown Forest members, the latter playing mainly on the West.
Footnote: In March 2021, historian Colin Strachan, author of Fair Ways in Ashdown Forest, contacted us to state that Archdeacon Scott did not originally design the Old course. Our accreditation and commentary has subsequently been altered. Colin also mentioned that on the 100-year anniversary of Christopher Robin’s birth he tried to get Disney, who hold all the rights, to run an under 10 competition on
the course which sadly failed to get off the ground.
Played the course today in a South East Golf Tour tournament. It was excellent in every sense. I was unsure what to expect from a course famed for its lack of bunkers but their absence was most welcomed. The natural defences on this course are heather (there's a lot of the spongey stuff but it's not overbearing on most holes) and elevation changes. And of course the wind. It was certainly quite hard to read the wind in such a forested environment, until we reached the higher holes.
The standout holes, for me, were the par 3s. They start off looking fairly innocuous on the scorecard. Number 6 is only 125 yards. It is devilishly difficult. Stay only slightly left and you are in a brook. Right and you run off. Short and it's water again. A cleverly testing little hole. Number 9 is 143 yards uphill over a valley of heathery sin. All short shots are doomed. The elevation changed ensures many suffer that fate I suspect. Clever, if you've not played the course before. But greater challenges follow. Number 11 offers the longest par 3 in Sussex and the longest I've ever played at 249 yards, downhill with heather lining the route to the green. Again the elevation change makes club selection hard. It plays short, but how short? Depends on the wind. Getting a 3 here is a great score. Finally number 14 is 202 yards long with trees left and right and heather surrounding the green. Who needs bunkers to make this downhill shot a real challenge? The elevation and heather plays a full part once again.
Of course it's now all par threes, I'll leave it to others to tell you about the par fours and fives. But to me, the par threes illustrate why this is a top notch course that when played will be cherished. I was truly impressed.
Finally, I thought the clubhouse was lovely. Reeking of history but not stuffy. Good food. Good service. Comfortable and welcoming. Everything a visitor like me could hope for but rarely finds. The range is good. You hit off mats with limited distance balls but it's enough for a warm up. The practice green and chipping area were in great condition, as indeed was the course. The turf on the fairways was a delight; the greens ran true and were well kept, and the heather was damned ubiquitous. The greenskeepers and staff should be commended. Many thanks to all.
Played 13 March 2017. The first 4 holes are ok but bear with it, the course ramps up significantly at the 5th which is a classic par 5, lay up or go for it, with 2 streams in the potential target areas. 6 and 7 are solid holes, whilst 8 and 9 are very scenic. 11 is a 249 yard par 3, which fortunately is down hill. A beautiful beast of a hole. I only hit 1 decent shot all round and hit driver to 20 feet. The par 5 12th is stunning, 13 and 14 are decent and 15 is a short but beautiful par 4, which has a very attractive green surround. 16 is a good solid medium length par 4. The 476 yard par 4, 17th is just wow, with as good a view at an approach shot as you will play. I have played 90 of current top 100 B&I courses and this is in my top 10 holes. Worth the green fee by itself. 18 shares the fairway with 1 so is a bit quirky. If 17 was the closing hole ........!!!! In summary, a very good golf course awaits you from 5th hole onwards with 17 the undoubted star. Cheers Oliver
You will be happy to know they are redoing the greens. 6 were laid in the autumn I believe last year and we couldn't tell which ones they have taken that quickly. They are doing he next 6 this autumn and the final 6 after that.
The late architect Frank Pennink’s home course, the Old course at Royal Ashdown Forest was such a joy to play yesterday. It has all the natural ingredients to make a round of golf such a pleasure: a fine collection of intelligently routed heathland fairways that tumble across a rather hilly landscape, a terrific set of bent grass greens (that were a tad on the slow side but a delight to putt on) and a “proper” clubhouse to return to, where informality is the order of the day.
There’s so much to enjoy here; from blind and semi-blind shots to intimidating tee shots across swathes of fern and scrub, from greens protected by streams, gullies and heather outcrops to an old-fashioned routing that sees the 1st and 18th holes cross each other.
The four par threes on the card are as diverse a set of short holes as you could ever imagine and they measure between 125 and 249 yards, playing uphill (at the semi-blind 9th) and downhill (at my favourites, the spectacular 11th and14th), though the wonderful “Island” hole at the 6th is rightly regarded as the best of the short holes.
There’s a certain understated ambiance about the course (and the club) but don’t let that fool you into thinking you’ll not be challenged out on the Old course. Far from it, as it’s a tough track that plays to a standard scratch that matches the par of 72. Ranked in the Top 50 for England on this site, it’s also knocking on the door of a Top 100 position in the GB&I chart and deservedly so.