Cheshire could easily be known as the “Surrey of the North” because there are a number of high-class heathland courses in the county. Sandiway Golf Club dates back to 1920, when Ted Ray, the 1912 Open Champion, was given the task of designing a course that should remain in keeping with the land.
Ray made fantastic use of the contours of the land and in 1925 Harry Colt made improvements that make up the course as it is today. Sandiway is a delightful wooded, heathland course and it’s quite rightly regarded as one of the best inland courses in the north of England.
It’s a pretty course with tree-lined fairways and many doglegs. Keeping your ball in play is a huge task with the emphasis definitely on accuracy. Measuring 6,400 yards from the back tees, with a par of just 70, this is a stern test, especially as six of the par fours stretch out beyond 400 yards in length. Factor in the rather small greens and it’s easy to see the challenge ahead.
Sandiway holds your interest right from the off with the opening seven holes having a different par to the last. The par three 3rd is a gloriously picturesque tree-lined hole to a bunker-guarded green. The tip here is to trust the yardage as the bunkers are further from the green than they look. The 10th has a stroke index of three and it’s certainly one of the hardest holes on the course. This par four measures 466 yards and the fairway slopes left to right, inevitably leaving a long uphill approach shot to a small green.
The course is respected highly in the game and has played host to several county championships and EGU events. Sandiway was also used as an Open Championship qualifier in 1969.
During WW2, American GI’s were stationed in the area and the evidence is still here. To the left hand side of the 5th and 8th tees there’s a copse of old trees with names carved into the tree trunks… does “Crawford, Ohio 1941” mean anything to any of our readers?
In 2005, member David Garnett had the remarkable feat of two holes in one on consecutive competition days. He aced the 6th on Saturday and the 3rd on Sunday. We reckon the odds for this to happen are approximately 64 million to 1.
There’s nothing like chipping into the hole on the Sunday at the Open – even if it’s the Sandiway Golf Club mixed open.
Yes, as Collin Morikawa was lifting the claret jug, Mrs W and I were proving golf can lift the spirits whatever our respective levels.
Indeed, a three on the 468-yard par-four was a bit of a buzz, especially as I was playing it as a five, such was its length and level of difficulty.
Sandiway is a beautifully manicured course with immaculate tee areas, pristine fairways and greens which are as true as any we have played on our travels this year.
It doesn’t have as many stand-out holes as some but there is plenty of deftness needed to plot a route around the many bunkers.
And then there is the tree on the 17th but more of that later.
We were wise to arrive early at this Cheshire gem so we could take advantage of its sloping driving range and assure ourselves that our Scottish lesson still served us well in a practice pot bunker.
The first, a 402-yard par-four set the tone – a lovely-looking hole with an elevated tee, demanding an opening shot over ferns and between fairway bunkers. I was very pleased to register three points off my 11 handicap.
Sand traps are the course’s greatest defence, nowhere more obviously than the par-three third which requires an eye-of-a-needle approach to a green which slopes right to left.
The par-five fourth is the most attractive on the outward nine in my opinion with a tee which looks down on a hole. Those hitting to the right either with their first or second shots will be punished by woodland but patience and placement will bring rewards.
For me, the second half at Sandiway is more exciting… probably because it is quirkier.
As a prelude, the ninth has a blind tee shot to a sharply undulating fairway down to a green which was harder to hit than initially seemed likely.
The 10th is a belter and, yes, of course, I am biased. Another tee shot over the hill, huge dogleg to the left which leaves mortals unlikely to reach the green but what does it matter if your pitching wedge is red hot?
I was also a fan of the 12th with a green hidden behind cavernous bunkers for those leaking right and one ready on the left for those trying to fade towards the target.
Course management is key to success at Sandiway and, although we scored well, Mrs W and I both think we could have done even better if our glowing card had not given us false confidence.
Thus, we found a new home in the big bunkers which capture overly ambitious second shots on the 15th and the sand on the 16th which gobbles up those who think it is an easy par-five and don’t account for the slope in front of the target.
The 17th would have been the course’s most memorable if I hadn’t chipped in on the 10th (did I mention that?).
It is a short par-four which dips down before rising back up with heavy rough before the fairway.
Even after a good tee shot, a tree blocks all routes. Mrs W found sand when she tried to go around it and I hit the very top branch when I tried to chip over it.
Interestingly, when we were playing Sandiway, I didn’t think there was much variation in its holes but now that I am looking back, a few hours after our round, I realise I was wrong.
There are twists and turns aplenty and even a farmer’s field in wait for the errant.
True, a couple of holes are a tad disappointing – the par 3 11th, squashed between the 10th and 12th looks like an afterthought and the proximity of the next tee to its target could fairly be described as dangerous.
But, on reflection, Sandiway very much deserves its place in the top 100 in England.
I’d long touted Sandiway as the hidden gem that nobody knows about. For not only are we talking about a fine golf course, but we’re also talking about some of the friendliest staff a golfer could ever encounter. I nearly missed my start time due to a greenkeeper intent on discussing the make up of turf!
As you stand on the first tee and look down to the fairway you are immediately shown just how well manicured the course is. The fairways aren’t just striped but criss crossed. The rough either side isn’t deep but uniformed. The approach seems like you should take your shoes off and walk bear footed.
The course winds it’s way around a wooded area. It’s rare on the front nine to see another hole. If you miss the fairway you’ll likely find trees. The front nine is so finely balanced with a mixture of par 4s, two par 5s and two par 3s. The 7th is a long par 4 with the 8th a short one back up the hill. It’s not a long course but with the likes of the 5th hole playing a blind tee shot then into a small green you have everything.
The toughest holes are surely found on the back 9. The 10th is a long par 4 with a fairway sloping to the right. The 11th is then a 200+ yard par 3 with a lovely view of Petty Pool. The 12th is again just a fantastic par 4 running along the lake, although I’d love to see it opened up so the water becomes an even greater feature.
The rest of the back 9 is just as good. It sadly lacks some length with a few holes just playing a wedge in. The last 9 only boasts one par 5, being the 16th along with three par 3s. It’s why I only provide the 5 and not the 6.
If you are down in Cheshire this has to be on the list to play. I make sure I visit here once a year. My season wouldn’t be complete without it.
We played Sandiway on a beautiful May afternoon and found this typical parkland course, flanked by trees on every hole, to be in immaculate condition. The condition of the tees, fairways and greens could not be faulted. The sandy soil ensured that despite recent heavy rainfall, there had been no detrimental effect to the course. Sandiway is a busy members’ Club, and we received an enthusiastic welcome from the pro Gareth Jones.
From the first hole, an excellent downhill par 4, the course felt special and the good holes continued throughout, although I preferred the front nine. My mild criticisms extend to the unusual complaint that the greens did not have enough movement in them, there were a number of blind tee shots and although the holes are consistently good there are few that are memorable.
Sandiway is a solid examination of one’s golfing ability, that will keep its players honest, and if they then play well will reward them with a very satisfying experience and maybe an excellent score. One of our Fourball, an 8 handicap golfer, hit his straps on the back nine and came in with an under par gross score from holes 10 to 18. I could only dream of such heroics but still thoroughly enjoyed playing here.
Sandiway is probably the best parkland course I've played, I didn't see much evidence of heathland that's mentioned. The greens were very good considering the cold spring we've had. The course rewarded good shots and wasn't too punishing on slightly wayward shots so made for a very enjoyable round of golf. Catering staff were welcoming & friendly. On the debate of Sandiway or Delamere, they are two very different style of courses but if I had to choose one it would be ..........
One of, if not the best course in Cheshire, always extremely well maintained and a treat to play. Based on a sandy substructure (clues in the name) thus meaning that it remains in good condition even after heavy rain. A good honest test all the way round and a must visit if your in the area.
Good course to play alongside the I think even better Delamere Forest. Strange how they named these two courses as Delamere has little forestry on the course and is very linksy /sandy and SANDiway cuts through a forest ?! Always in great condition and well worth a visit
We played last week after over an inch of overnight rain, you'd never had known. What a great course. There are 18 very different holes, with some real gems - especially the back 9 with views over the Petty pool. Greens are excellent, all the par 3's are very strong, you can see why a par 70 and an SS of 72. We had a really nice welcoming clubhouse and serve excellent food. The welcome from the pro shop is second to none. Superb practice facilities, it's well worth a visit either a green fee with friends or an open. It's the sort of course you'll never forget, it's that good and you'll return time after time. I asked about membership and am thinking about putting my name on the waiting list, I feel it's is that good and worth the wait!
A round at Sandiway, on a glorious spring afternoon, completed my playing of all the recognised top inland golf courses in Cheshire.
And this one pushes my personal favourite, Delamere Forest, very close to topping the list. There are so many good things to say about Sandiway but I’ll start by saying why it didn’t quite displace its near neighbour as my number one choice in its county.
Firstly the greens just didn’t float my boat. The condition of the putting surfaces was excellent but there simply wasn’t enough movement in them for me. Of course there were slopes, many subtle, and some were titled but overall they were far too flat for my personal taste. The actual locations of the greens, however, are simply sensational. Maybe bold contouring would be overkill but it’s something I would have liked to have seen, at least to a certain extent, and this would perhaps have tipped the balance.
I truly love the openness and the almost linksy feel to the front nine at Delamere. Despite sharing similar brilliantly undulating terrain, Sandiway is more tree-lined and plays much narrower, at times it is overly tight for me. However, there’s no denying this mature woodland course is an absolute joy to play and walking the fairways, in almost seclusion at times, is exhilarating and will be preferred by many.
Anyway, enough comparisons! This review is about Sandiway and there are so many highlights I could be writing for a long time if I were to give a hole-by-hole account. In fact there were only two shots in the entire round that I didn’t really care for; the tee-shot at the par three 11th, a hole that seems out of kilter with the rest of the course, and the drive at the 14th (and no I didn’t slice it out of bounds before you ask!). Those minor irks aside Sandiway is superb.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.