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.
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’.