Royal Ashdown Forest (Old) - Sussex - England

Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club,
Chapel Lane,
Forest Row,
East Sussex,
RH18 5LR,
England


  • +44 (0) 1342 822018

  • Neil Darnell

  • William R. Lee, Harry Hunter, Jack Rowe

  • Tim Cowley


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.

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Reviews for Royal Ashdown Forest (Old)

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Description: Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club is set stunningly, affording fantastic views from the high parts of the course across the forest and the rolling Sussex countryside. Rating: 7.5 out of 10 Reviews: 50
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Jonathan Hawker

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.

March 17, 2017
10 / 10
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David Oliver

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

March 13, 2017
8 / 10
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David E
Played the Old Course for the first time on 1st July on what turned out to be one of the hottest days on record, so perhaps our group of 12 felt a bit jaded by the end of their 'experience' here! Personally, I loved the layout of the course and enjoyed the challenge presented. It is a different test to my home club, but while the SSS is only 1 shot more, I found it a much tougher test from the tee. After a gentle start, things toughen up from around the 7th onwards. Accuracy is required, especially off the tee as the heather, found not too far from most fairways, often makes recovery extremely difficult. I loved many of the holes, the par 5 5th offers the chance of a birdie, but trouble awaits just short of the green, the 6th a tricky short par 3 demands total accuracy off the tee, the long par 3 11th played from an elevated tee some 249 yards out is spectacular, the par 3 14th another excellent test from the tee and the shortish par 4 15th were all among my favourites. The greens, while true, were a little slow. They were not bad by any means, but as a group we felt they should have been a little better/quicker at this time of year. I wonder if the green keeper had not cut them quite as short due to the high temps during the week. Also, some in our group felt 'cheated' as their long straight drives were occasionally punished, especially on the 17th. Should you have to lay up on a 472 yard par 4 played blind over a fairway marker? We paid £58 for our golf and a top notch English breakfast. This was good value for the quality of the course and the service we received from all the staff at the club. I would visit again and recommend to others, but buy a course planner if it's your first visit! The course is quite tough and demands accurate striking, so if you are a mid to high handicapper this may not be the place for you.
July 05, 2015
8 / 10
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Nicholas Kjelgaard
March 25, 2017

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.

Medius Viridus
Played the west course in the morning and old course in the afternoon in sept 2014.the west course is a lovely course in itself,many clubs would be honoured to call it thier main course.after a superb lunch we set off the play The Old course,off the white tees(I wouldn't recommend this unless you know the course or are a longish driver.) I've played many of the courses on englands top 100,to me personally I think it should be much lower,it's simply stunning.After a gentle start the sheer extravagent beauty of the course hits you on each hole,from the tee to the natural charm of the heather covered mound and humps the frame many of the greens,give me an old style course like this over a modern stadium course everytime.... We will go back,many of us in our small society insist we do,and I'm one of them. A truly unforgettable days golf,just not off the whites again.. The staff and office are also quite excellent,many thanks to all at RAF
November 01, 2014
10 / 10
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Jim McCann

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 Royal Ashdown Forest (Old) Golf Course - Photo by revieweron) 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.

Jim McCann

August 05, 2014
8 / 10
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James
I have just played here for the first time in the Men's 36 hole scratch Open. It really is a lovely setting and the course has some lovely holes. I like courses with no Bunkers, especially when the topography of the undulating landscape is strewn with natural heather spurs and hillocks as it is here. Each hole has plenty of room and the routing is sublime. The course feels very old school in its layout and is all the better for that. it stands out against every other course I have played and is well worth the trip. It asks a few unique questions only to be found at Royal Ashdown. They have invested heavily in a watering system and the benefits are starting to be seen on the greens particularly. It was in very good condition, pretty on the eye and hard on the scorecard if you found the ubiquitous trouble flanking all of the cut and prepared. Enter the Men's Open next year, it deserves better support than 28 players. Free Practice round, superb breakfast, Lunch and prizes. As a two ball course it won't be a ten hour marathon either. Well worth the trip. JCB Lay
July 14, 2013
6 / 10
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Matthew Adams
I recently played here for the second time after a gap of 2 years, hoping but not expecting to improve on my poor debut. Playing here for the second time can be more difficult, as the mind wonders forward to thinking of the difficulties to come rather than concentrating on the hole in play. A good start is also imperative to making a good score. The course opens with a friendly selection of holes (1-4) and then keeps building without a weak hole that I can think of. Upon first visit the par 3 9th can appear weak but its challenge is not to be underestimated with a sloped green to be found on the other side of an expanse of heather.Mention is often made of the complete absence of bunkers but playing from sand would make for an easier round. The lack of ‘modern’ yardage should also be disregarded as few tee shots offer a free hit with the driver. Sloping fairways mean that tee shots can run out into heather or rough with many holes offering no straight route all the way from tee to green. The importance of avoiding the heather in autumn cannot be overstated as it threatens most tee shots and even approach shots. Abundant heather gives the course character and an appealing aesthetic but on occasion feels unfair as at the 249 yard par 3 11th, where a ball fractionally offline can be lost within a few strides of the putting surface. The greens are small and run true, even in autumn, although the subtle breaks often confound.The course blends seamlessly into the countryside as would be true of many courses of its vintage, with no where modern earth-moving plan used during construction. The course provides a tranquil golfing experience with no road noise or nearby train lines. On this occasion I was fortunate enough to join up with a member for a few of the closing holes and to hear his views of the course and learn more about the club’s folklore (both distant and recent). The course is not for the faint-hearted but is a real connoisseur’s gem.
October 13, 2011
6 / 10
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Max Monroe
Very good course, no tricks it is all right in front of you for the taking if you can hit the shots from uphill, downhill, & sidehill lies, avoid the punishing heather, the woods, and putt slow greens. There are no bunkers on the course which is unique it may sound like it takes away from the courses' value but it only adds to the experience. You don't have to be a big driver to play well here. Excellent golf terrain and variety of holes. Highly recommended.
July 23, 2011
6 / 10
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Alan
October 14, 2011
Not unique as nearby Piltdown also is without sandy bunkers, as is Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire.
Jasdeep
Royal Ashdown has its own charm. Heather lining the fairways makes it a great test of driving accuracy in the summer, though it really isn't a difficult course for a straight hitter. The layout has elavation changes, and many holes present excellent risk/reward decisions. Having said this, 45th in the land is, in my opinion, rather a major overstatement of the course. The fairways are always in good condition, but the areas around the greens are often scabby, and the greens themselves can only be described as poor every time I've played (5x), i'm afraid - very slow, very bumpy, and different speeds, they make it difficult for a good golfer to putt well. The fact that there are no bunkers here is made up for by some deep swales and slopes, so the short game needs to be top notch (don't try chipping from such bare lies). Overall, a good visit (and a delightful, long walk) it is an enjoyable course in a quirky way, as long as you don't come here expecting a manicured golf course!
June 09, 2010
6 / 10
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david
Played Ashdown for the first time last week. Not the best weather for my first visit, but it will definitely not be my last!What a terrific golf course – playing long because of all the rotten weather but lots of character in every hole. I can’t wait to play it in the summer when they had the Open Qualifying for a few years – even the pros struggled I am told.They have redone the changing rooms recently and the showers are absolutely brilliant – loads of power! Then there was lunch. Great soup, steak and kidney pie and treacle tart (all home made).Friendly staff made this a day to remember – bring on the summer!
February 25, 2010
10 / 10
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