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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Phil Bonsall
I live in Sussex, and Royal Ashdown is a bit of a rarity.......a great golf course in Sussex.Played here a lot, and the layout is brilliant.Steeped in history and tradition, the course has generous fairways, but if you miss them you will be punished with heather and gorse.True greens with some tricky slopes that can be very quick in the summer.I will definitely be back.
September 25, 2008
8 / 10
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Carl Tushingham
This is a very difficult course, I would imagine it would be easier after you've played it more than once. Its not the longest of courses, but it doesnt need to be, and as for no bunkers, well I didn't notice due to all the other trouble that lies in wait. Mounds of heather protect many greens, especially on the wonderful par 5's, and the little streams that meander through many fairways come into play. The heather here seems extra thick and it is hard to locate your ball at times. Cracking greens with wicked undulations. This is a real test of golf and is hard to score well on, it gets harder as the round goes on and heather gets thicker and thicker!! A great course and well worth taking the golfing test.
August 12, 2008
8 / 10
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Carl Statham
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.
October 21, 2007
10 / 10
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Harrison Brown
January 01, 2013
In amongst all that, I think you just described the perfect days golf, 36 holes is as good as it gets days around RAF.
Shaun
Warm welcome and good food at this traditional golf club. Enjoyable course in good condition, however a little quirky in places.
June 02, 2007
6 / 10
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richard valentine
As a member of Cantelupe artisans at Royal Ashdown Forest there have been some subtle changes made to the course in recent years. New tees have been constructed on the 7th and 13th holes. These have made the course longer off the white tees and are a more demanding drives. However, the course is more playable and and represents a greater challenge off these tees. The 5th hole has been reshaped, the fairway has been brought in from the right, and with a new tee box for the yellow tees has transformed the hole into a very pleasant right dog-leg. Some trees and furze bushes have recently been removed which has vastly improved the course. A fantastic round of golf, the course is playing better than ever.
July 10, 2006
10 / 10
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Martin Pitt
Played here a one of the hottest days of the year. What a lovely course. Not too long but plenty of variety and some carries to concentrate the mind off the tee. Greens were excellent. Smooth and bobble free but never easy.Will definitely want to return , not least because of the freindly attitude of all the staff we spoke to, from the secretay's office to the pro shop and bar staff.
June 30, 2006
10 / 10
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Phil
A terrific course in a beautiful setting. Always in good condition when I've played it although it can get quite hard and bouncy in summer. It's not a course for novice golfers as some of the carries are farly daunting (c150-200 yds) and there is thick, ball eating heather wating if you miss the, albeit wide, fairways.However, if you want a fun, not overly long, tricky, challenging golf course then this is for you.PS No four balls. Singles and foursomes only!!!
July 23, 2005
8 / 10
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Andy Newmarch
Last time I was here was around 1995 so not the most up to date review but here goes. Royal Ashdown Forest is set in a beautiful forest location and the land for this course is really special. Wandering around here during the summer is a delight and the course is quality. Very natural and very old school but still top drawer. If memory serves me right I class this under the 'Ashridge' umbrella for classy golf through stunning woodland. Having no bunkers does not make this easy - just try getting out of the gorse ! The 12th hole was my favourite, long par 5 downhill right to left. Another memory was more around the club than the course - felt a tad dated with the 'long sock rule' with shorts, men and ladies having seperate bars and the feeling of club members not giving the warmest of welcomes. I hope this has changed and looking at the pictures of the new clubhouse and the relaxing of the 'essential' shirt and tie rule in the clubhouse, the 21st century may have arrived here. Closing note - the course is well worth visiting and I hope to play again in 2005.
December 08, 2004
6 / 10
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Hugh
Special is the one word that comes to mind when I think about Royal Ashdown Forest. It's simply delightful in every respect, totally natural and ever so tough to score well. There are lots of sloping lies causing all types of shot-making difficulties. Play it in the summer when the heather is out and the fairways are hard and links like. It's superb. You can certainly get lost in the forest here. The West course is also worth playing it's very simliar but much shorter, an ideal warm up course for a fantastic day's golf - 36 of nature's best.
December 04, 2004
8 / 10
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Billy
Beautiful setting, excellent course. All so natural and unspolit - babbling brooks around the greens...stunning. Very peaceful.
March 31, 2004
8 / 10
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