Founded in 1910 and often described as an inland links, Sandy Lodge Golf Club was designed by Harry Vardon and is one of Hertfordshire’s jewels.
“It deserves its name in that it is wonderfully sandy.” Wrote Bernard Darwin in The Golf Courses of the British Isles. “It is a fine training-ground for the driver, and also for the putter, for there are no better greens near London.” More than one hundred years later, Darwin’s comments still hold true.
Sandy Lodge was formed by a frustrated London businessman called James Francis Markes who was tired of playing golf on the muddy parks around the capital. Markes soon realised that the land at Sandy Lodge Farm was perfect golfing country and he enlisted his close friend and six-time Open champion, Harry Vardon, to fashion a golf course.
The result was a wide-open, windswept, inland course that resembled a seaside links and Sandy Lodge remained that way until the outbreak of the Second World War when it was turned over to grazing. Fortunately, the course was restored after the war, but unfortunately large sandy waste areas were grassed over and tree and shrub growth ensued, changing the look and feel of Sandy Lodge.
Despite its changed outer look, the Sandy Lodge golf course remains true to its original roots. It may not be the longest golf course in the area – measuring a little less than 6,500 yards from the back tees – but it’s still a fair and enjoyable challenge for golfers of all levels.
With six par threes and five par fives on the scorecard, there is no shortage of variation at Sandy Lodge. The pick of the half-dozen one-shot holes is the long, downhill 15th called Markes’ Pride which is ringed by a quartet of bunkers and numerous trees. Laddie’s Cockpit, the 7th, in contrast to 15, is a bunkerless par three but it’s a very attractive one shotter that requires careful club selection in order to mark par on the scorecard.Sandy Lodge is a not only genuinely sandy, it’s also a very hospitable club and the membership is very fortunate to have such a lovely course to tee it up on every week.
I put this ahead of Moor Park and well ahead of Berkhamsted in the Herts rankings. The course was in immaculate condition and a variety of holes I’ve rarely seen outside of Berkshire Red. Everything from a 90 yard par 3 (a 3 putt bogey on a easy green) to five par 5s. I rarely find par 5s to be highlight holes but this is a great collection, the downhill 11th 3rd shot and the excellent arcing 17th being my favourites. The variety on the 3s and 4s is also strong - the 15th is a majestic 3 (similar to 15 at West Hill) and the 4s feature both tight strategic short iron tee shots and chances to open the shoulders with driver. Chipping/putting green also first class. The only thing that stops this being rated higher is the land; it doesn’t have the character of tranquility of the top Surrey tracks and there a quite a few electricity pilons. However if I was local to here I would definitely join; an endlessly interesting and playable track.
There’s much to admire at Sandy Lodge but I found it hard to warm to. No doubting the quality conditioning, the tees, fairways and greens were some of the best I’ve played all year but in contrast I felt the architecture a little underwhelming. Set out over relatively small site on what feels like the crown of a wide hill the holes rise and fall, the result is a lot of blind shots, both from the tee and fairway, in the breezy conditions you’ll typically encounter a recipe for lots of time looking for balls in the rough. Playing in high summer and with perfect growing conditions thick rough lines almost every fairway, only a narrow strip of first cut before the knee deep stuff, it does become pretty tiresome after a while seeing shot after shot bound off into the rough even with the broad fairways and not being especially wayward!
I appreciate it’s a link style course so the rough is an integral part but just allow a bit more first cut! And as a links course I think it would really benefit from some tree clearance, there are what seems to me too many trees which look relatively young dotting the course and out of place, I can’t understand why they were ever planted. The layout is on the quirky side with 6 x par 3’s and 5 x par 5’s, the par 3’s being a mix of long and shorter holes which I felt were the best bits of the course, the uphill 18th is a like a Pete Dye experiment run wild. The clubhouse and service are 5 star, I recommend dining there pre or post round. Overall for me 3.5, despite the great condition and service they aren’t enough to make me want to return soon.
Beautiful inland links course, always great condition throughout the year. Definitely worth a visit.
A lovely course with great variety. Every hole is rememberable, specifically the par 3s which all vary in length. There s enough land movement to make it interesting, but not too much to make it a difficult walk. The closing par 3 is a quirk I really like too.
Awesome greens in great condition (October 1st), of good speed (I would guess around 10) and with some interesting and difficult slopes. My first visit to Sandy Lodge and course presentation was excellent throughout with tees, green approaches, bunkers and practice areas looking good; fairways have obviously suffered during the dry summer but did not detract at all from the day. A very friendly club as well.
An unusual course layout with six par 3's ranging from the short 101 yard 8th (with devillish green) to the 213 yard 15th. Pick of the par 3's was the 10th, appropriately named 'The Table', which was set on a plateau with sleeper bunker front right and steep banks all round; with a firm undulating quick green and playing 186 yards it really was a difficult hole. The 18th, also a par 3, was for me a disappointing finishing hole, but I must confess to a dislike for uphill par 3's where you can't see the bottom of the pin.
To counterbalance the par 3's there are five par 5's. I thought the 1st was probably the worst hole on the course as it is rather modern looking with mounding and totally out of character with the rest of the course; if I was guessing I would think it has been re-designed to accommodate the driving range. The other par 5's seemed to have an unusual feature in that the second shot (being a lay-up for me) all seemed to be played semi-blind with no view of the green. The par 4's were the pick of the holes for me. Arguably the 2nd with the carry over the sleepered bunker to the green was the best and would be a great finishing hole. Back to back long par 4's at 5 and 6 were the toughest holes but my personal favourites were 9 and 12, not overly long but requiring accuracy. I thought some of the fairway bunkering was excellent which made it an interesting driving course; on both the par 4's and par 5's it was only when you reached the ball on the fairway that you realised how tight the gap was.
Overall I thought Sandy Lodge was a pleasant fairly open course to play but the greens were fabulous and worth the trip alone; there are parts of greens that will take many trips to understand (the tier at the back of 17 looked particularly tricky !) . Comparing with for example Berkhamsted I would say course layout/design is not as interesting but course conditioning is so good it makes up for it; I guess it's a case of making the most of what you have got and they do at Sandy Lodge. Looking forward to going back next year
Sandy Lodge is a course with tight, firm fairways and lots of interest throughout its 18 holes. When I played here in March the course was in fabulous condition, it was extremely dry underfoot and the greens were nicely paced and true.
There are many unusual features that elevate this course, situated near Watford inside the M25, towards being one of the most enjoyable I have played in this area.
The wooden sleepered bunkers found at the second and 10th give the course character and it’s a shame there weren’t more of these throughout the round. Incidentally, and regardless of the bunker-style, these are two of the best holes on the course. The latter in particular is a truly exceptional short hole with a deviously raised green.
The course ends with the loveliest par three played across a large depression to a wickedly sloping green flanked by trees and defended by spectacle type bunkers.
Sandy Lodge is never going to be recognised as one of the UK’s great courses but it perhaps deserves slightly higher recognition than it appears to get.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Sandy Lodge may never quite be good enough to make the English Top 100 but it is without doubt a very enjoyable round of golf and one of Hertfordshire’s better courses. The attractive clubhouse and all year round playability must be a good selling point for prospective new members particularly following such a wet winter. The routing and design of the course certainly stands up to scrutiny and has a nice balance of challenging long holes and shorter birdie chances. After a friendly opening par-5 the 2nd is an early favourite of mine with an attractive sleepered bunker sitting 40 yards short of the raised green. The 5th and 6th are where the course really begins to show it’s teeth, both long par-4’s, the 5th heavily bunkered with a tricky two-tier green and the 6th measures over 450 yards with even more difficult slopes to navigate when putting. The 7th interestingly named “Laddie’s Cockpit” is a cracking par-3 that doesn’t have any bunkers but is beautifully framed by a number of mounds. The 8th is another par-3, this time only 100 yards long but par cannot be guaranteed due again to the severe contouring of the green. After another good short hole at 10, complete with plateau green, we come to the well designed 11th. Cross bunkers 50 yards out provide a thought provoking risk and reward option followed by a downhill approach to an attractive green located in an amphitheatre of trees. The 12th is a fine dogleg hole where you must drive over large mounds and the 13th is a short par 4 where gorse, bunkers and another undulating green mean achieving par can never be certain. The 15th is a beautiful but difficult 200 yard par-3 with plenty of sand to catch any ball that is not perfectly struck. Then we come to the wonderful 17th which is by some margin my favourite hole on the course. Bunkers narrow the landing area from the tee as the fairway gently rises and curves left to a wonderfully positioned green. Finding the correct part of the green is important here as a large tier divides the front from the much lower back half. If I lived within a few miles of Watford I would be more than happy to be a member at Sandy Lodge. Brian W