The West course at Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club follows in the bunker-free footsteps of its slightly elder brother. Cutting swathe through the Ashdown Forest, it may only be of modest length (par 68), but the West is the perfect accompaniment to the heathery Old course, both of which are 100% au naturale and sheer golfing delights.
“Royal Ashdown Forest is fortunate today to have a second course, which owes its origins to the Ladies’ Section,” commented Mike Berners Price in The Centurions of Golf. “The Ashdown Forest and Tunbridge Wells Ladies’ Golf Club was formed in 1889, less than six months after the formation of the main Club. A contemporary journalist wrote that: ‘to my mind there are few Clubs in the South so well regulated as the Ashdown Forest LGC. Miss Andrews, Miss Birch, Mrs. Green, Mrs. Lucas and may others insist on golf being played without any slips or deviations.’
The ladies’ course was enlarged to 18 holes in 1932 and became the longest course in the country designed specifically for ladies’ golf. The opening was celebrated by an exhibition match between four of Britain’s greatest amateur lady golfers, Cecil Leitch, Joyce Wethered, Diana Fishwick and Wanda Morgan. During the Second World War, Ashdown Forest was used for Army training and the ladies’ course slipped into disrepair so that by 1945, only three or four holes remained in play. In 1965, the main Club and the new owners of the nearby Ashdown Forest Hotel arranged to restore the old ladies’ course to eighteen holes and these joint arrangements continued until 2003/4 when the club took full control of the West.”
Following the closure of the Ashdown Forest Hotel (which was located a mile or so to the west of the main clubhouse) Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club renumbered the holes so that the West course would start and end near the clubhouse. The West measures only 5,606 yards from the back tees, but despite its humble length, it’s not an easy course on which to post a low score. As is true of the Old course, the West is anything other than flat. Small greens with devilish runoffs provide a serious workout for the short game, and you’ll need to keep the ball on the straight and narrow. Interestingly, the long par three 11th becomes a par four for the ladies – par 69 (4,945 yards).
The renumbering has arguably left the best hole until last. The home hole measures 435 yards from the tips; it’s not the longest par four on the card as that arrives at the 450-yard 14th, but the 18th is a tough hole to negotiate in regulation. A left-to-right tee shot must negotiate a stream that twice snakes across the fairway. Many golfers choose to play this excellent finale as a three shotter, hoping their last pitch will herald an up and down for the win.
If you go down to the woods today just to play the Old course (as do so many visiting golfers) stay a while longer and tee it up on the West. You’re sure of a big surprise. Also, try your hand at “Poohsticks” – who knows it might catch on.
In reviewing this course, it is difficult not to judge it by comparison with it's big sister, the Old course. This would I think be a grave injustice. In it's own right this is a lovely course and one well worth playing by itself if in the area. It is also a great place to hold a society day, with excellent food and drink served in the clubhouse.
One of the few similarities between the two Ashdown courses however is the total absence of bunkers, and like it's neighbour, the West course more than amply makes up for this in the variety and challenge of the green sites. Unlike the Old, the fairways here are tight, and the greens are smaller and sometimes severely sloped. Most holes require a specific shape of tee shot either against a slope in a narrow fairway or round a tight corner. All these things combine to more than make up for the lack of yards and you will definitely not get away with playing copy and paste golf. The club host the Sussex PGA every year with one round on the West and one on the Old, and by all accounts the scoring to par is rarely much different between the two!
The 5th hole (a 385 yard par 4) requires a faded tee shot (for a right hander) to get round the trees on the right, into a fairway sloping from the right and away into trees lining the left side of the fairway. Tug this a touch and watch your ball bounding into the woods. The green is one of the flattest on the course, but first you have to hit it! A small square shaped green perched on a little pedestal, with dead ground short and trees behind.
Round the turn the course picks up a bit of pace, with the approach to the tenth my personal highlight just for visual delight! A downhill approach with a short iron in hand, but you need to know your numbers here, with anything short of the green being thrown off down the slope to the right. Pure fun.
If ever a bogey was a good score, it's on the 11th. A 240 yard par 3 with a green sloping severely right to left, and trees on the left in front of the tee ground. Draw it round the trees and your ball will never hold the green. Opt for a fade against the slope of the green and watch out for that tree in front. I hope you aren't trying to hold your round together at this point!
12 is a great short par 4, requiring a drawn tee shot against a left to right fairway and a very accurate approach into a green surely no more than 7 or 8 yards wide. 13 swings back the other way, a fade needed against the right to left fairway and a semi blind approach into a rumpled green.
The closing stretch from 14 in is just pure enjoyment. Each hole is completely different yet they fit together sublimely. Starting with 14 the first challenge is picking your line off the tee. A blind shot from a raised tee for this 445 yard par 4, over the hill and round the corner from right to left. The safest shot would be a draw around the corner which will also save you about 60 yards on your second, but fail to pull off the draw and you're looking at 200 yards in, assuming you find the ball!
15, swooping round from left to right this short par 4 is a real birdie chance, but if you're going for the green beware the thick woods running down the right. 16, a downhill 120 yard par 3 is just out and out enjoyment . I could hit 50 tee shots here and would still want to try just one more!
17 is a great par 4, swinging from left to right and slightly downhill, with the pond short right of the green being the first time water comes into play. One of the flatter greens of the course, this is probably your last real chance of a birdie.
The 18th hole is arguably the best of the 36 at Royal Ashdown. 435 yards from the white tees with a stream stretching down the left and the forest, in all it's glory along the right. The stream cuts across the fairway at about driver distance from the tee, and again just short of the green (Carnoustie 17th esque!). Hit driver and risk the 1st stream, lay up too far short and you might be laying up again! Truly a brilliant hole which would be at home on any championship standard heathland layout.
As unremarkable as the front few holes may be, the final third are surely remarkable enough for anyone, and are worthy of a 4 ball rating alone. Definitely enquire about a round here if you are ever in the area. A perfect compliment to the Old course if you are lucky enough, but a brilliant course on its own promising a bucket load of fun!
The West Course is great fun. It’s challenging and tactical from start to finish and if it’s windy you’ll need a combination of luck and skill to navigate your way around this fine example of nature and golf combined. When playing here you actually feel like you’re out for a really nice walk and you have the luxury of a golf course to play while you’re here. It really is one of the truest examples of using the land in front of you to create a golf course, whilst making it first class. The best bit of advice I can give to anyone playing here is don’t hit driver! You can use it on one or two holes but it’s really not necessary. This is the type of place I can picture many older generation golfers with a pencil bag and a half-set plotting their way round and breaking par, vs the modern day golfer with the 9 degree driver and 60 degree lob wedge barely breaking 100! Definitely a course for the purist and one to enjoy for what it is. They certainly don’t make them like this anymore!
This is a good course which is great in places. More woodland than the heathery Old, this is a great fun, beautiful layout with some devilishly small and tricky greens.
The front 9 is nice enough but no particular holes standout.
10 is a lovely short par 4 - the approach playing over a ditch to a small green in the woods.
12 is a great short par 4 which is driveable for some (not me!) but with a great green that falls away to the right. You then walk up a hill to the elevated 13th tee. This is a lovely par 4 that doglegs slightly to the right.
14 is a beautiful sweeping hole that doglegs to the left - requiring a shaped shot off the tee. A truly brilliant hole.
16 is a good fun par 3 that drops massively from tee to green, making club selection a real challenge.
Finally you reach 18 which is one of my all time favourite holes. A brilliant long par 4 that doglegs left with streams splitting this hole into 3 islands. Your drive lands on the first island and then you have to decide whether to go for the green or to layup short of the next stream. A great hole that really makes you think - as all great holes do.
Definitely give the West a try if you’re coming here to play the Old. This is a great fun accompaniment which, in places, more than matches its older neighbour.
I am a fan of the West course and in some places and on some holes I have a preference over the Old course here. That may sound like sacrilege but there is a little half an hour on the back nine from the 14th tee to the last green where the West is first class and may rival the Old course for sheer enjoyment.
The West is a short course, under 6000 yards and even shorter in the winter (a specific winter card says 5179 yards / par 68) but although not long, this is all about quality, fun and enjoyment and one of the best winter options in the south-east.
The longest par-4 on the front nine is at the first hole at a modest 354 yards - only some dead-ground short of the green the real problem. The West only has a single par-5 and it is at the 3rd - reachable in two for some at 483 yards with the second shot having to cross the driveway to the clubhouse.
As the course names states, this like the Old has forest all around and is just a beautiful walk, the golf is a bonus.
The early part of the course to the 6th would be in the good category but the middle third delivers to the next level in my opinion. The seven holes; 7th - 13th only cover 1855 yards and are like a little standalone short course; most holes are close by each other and the 12th is my favourite of the group - here is a 292 yard par-4 to a very slim green at the far west of the course.
As mentioned at the top, the final five holes are the strongest part of the course, with the 14th tee being as good as anywhere across both Royal Ashdown courses. To picture this hole, think of the par-5 4th on Wentworth’s West course - about 100 yards shorter but the same right to left tee short a must. The 15th, another slight dogleg (to the right this time) is an obvious birdie chance - then on to the 16th. This is a downhill par-3, a little over 100 yards and the best looking short hole here bar none. The closing hole is the toughest par-4 on the course - 417 yards turning a little left after 300 yards and then your approach needs to cross a good looking brook just short of the green.
Royal Ashdown Forest has always been on the map with the Old course featuring in the top 2% of courses in England but my advice is to allow time to play 36 holes as the West has plenty of its own merits and is definitely ‘golf with a smile’.