In my opinion any debate about what the best golf course in England is should be a horse race between Sunningdale’s Old Course and St. George’s Hill. There is a reason George Crump selected H. S. Colt to work with him as he designed and built Pine Valley, the man is a design genius. St. George’s Hill has everything a great golf course should have: beauty, a varied routing, a strategic design with long and short holes, challenging greens and changes in elevation. What puts St. George’s Hill over the top compared to other courses in England are the massive hills he had to work with. The course starts off with a bang on the challenging par 4 382 yard hole that plays from an elevated tee down into a sweeping valley, to a green situated at the top of another hill. The third is a beautiful Redan style hole that fits perfectly into the landscape. The short 272-yard par 4 encompasses one of Colt’s design principles to perfection, which is, a short par 4 should have an elevated, well protected green. What should be an easy hole becomes anything but when you stand over your wedge shot and contemplate hitting such a small target. The course reaches its zenith at the par 3 eighth hole, one of the best one shot holes in the world. The setting is large, the green is large and the bunkers in front of the green are large. The visual beauty of standing on the tee is breathtaking. Colt also uses his signature cross-bunkering at St. George’s Hill, most notably on the 5th and 10th holes. They are set at an angle to the fairway and create complete deception because they are set far back from the greens, but they create an optical illusion and throw off the golfer’s perception. Darius Oliver ranks St. George’s Hill as the best course in England in his Planet Golf book. I might give a slight nod to Sunningdale, but it is a photo finish.
As soon as you ascend from the carpark to the fabulous clubhouse and view the heathland below you know you are in for a treat, and lets face it a top heathland course in Surrey with a Harry Colt design is going to be good.
Course condition was excellent. Really enjoyed the greens which were of good pace and had just the right level of difficulty with their size and incidence of subtle slopes and more obvious ridges. Fairways were a touch on the long side which mean't there was little roll and I thought made the course play quite long (par of 70 for in excess of 6500 yards on the Red/Blue nines). The heather was a picture and never have I played a course where it was so abundant and healthy; having said that I thought the fairways were very generous and therefore the heather didn't really come into play that much. Bunkering was phenomal and very much a hazard, particularly those running across the fairways in front of the greens; another test when playing the course for the first time was the number of uphill slopes/runoff's on the green approaches.
Thought the par 3's were the pick of the holes, all four of them being excellent varying from the very short and beautiful 11th (119yds) to the 179 yard downhill signature hole at 8 and the two longer ones at 3 and 14 both from a raised tee; can't be many courses with a better set of par 3's. Only two par 5's, both fairly straight and I thought these were possibly the weakest holes on the course. The remainder of the holes were all of good quality, many with raised tees and many with undulating fairways. Not sure any of the par 4's stood out (ie. all good), but just from a personal point of view my favourites would be the 1st, 10th and 12th.
St. George's Hill is obviously a quality course. It has quite a bold and brash feeling and (unexpectedly) as good as it is I'm not sure that it moves into being one of my favourite heathland courses as it doesn't really have the charm of somewhere like West Hill, Parkstone or even Camberley Heath. At times it felt like playing two nine hole (Red and Blue) courses rather than taking you on a journey like some eighteen hole courses do. For me Notts Hollinwell remains my favourite heathland track.
You needn’t worry about identifying the strategic spot to land your tee shots at St. George’s Hill. On most of them it matters little which part of the fairway provides the best approach to the green. Nor did I find the greens particularly interesting. The third is an exception, a two tiered job which will challenge one’s putting regardless of the tier on which the ball lies on. But the 15th green is identical as is the 10th, though the latter is a mirror image of the other two. Only a handful of holes allow options on the approach shot; most require only the aerial version. And I hope my less than elevated opinion was not influenced by my shot to the 9th green. The flag was so far left that it was obscured by the large mound there. It took me too long to figure out I was not playing for the 18th green.
Funny, pretty sure you didn't play the course!
Big, bold and grand, St George’s Hill is an experience that starts at the private entrance to this opulent estate and doesn’t lower its level throughout. Taking the long drive past the multi million pound mansions to arrive at one of golf’s most iconic clubhouses is mere foreplay; played through pine and birch woodland, St George’s Hill stands equal to any inland course I’ve enjoyed to date.
With elevation changes throughout and complete with raised tees and greens, the vistas through treelined corridors are beautiful and serene. The bunkering across St George’s Hill is a key characteristic throughout, with the cross bunkers on the 5th (Red) and 16th (Blue) being stand out features that add a photogenic quality to these already beautiful holes. The same can be said of the 8th, a magnificent par 3 across a shallow valley, but having seen the old photo of the gigantic classic Colt bunker in the clubhouse, I’d love to see the club return the bunkering here to its former shape. The tee shot on the 9th meanwhile demands a momentary pause to take in the glorious view and makes a perfect closing hole, I have to wonder why they don’t switch nines?
Once you’ve completed the Red loop (there’s very little to choose between the two main nines), you’re then confronted with the opening hole on the Blue, perhaps the best hole on the property. Played over a heathery hump with a fairway that leans heavily to the right, the back nine starts with a visual feast as well as an excellent strategic challenge. The greens at St George’s Hill are to the most part only modestly contoured with the exception being the par three 14th which has a superbly undulating putting surface. 18 is then probably the most unusual hole on the course, a drive to a steeply inclining uphill fairway angling around the trees to the right with the green perched in front of the clubhouse bringing to close one of those unforgettable days in golf.
Take a moment to quaff a well earned drink at the halfway hut between nines or even after the round and soak in the views from up high. St George’s Hill is fabulous, and needs to be experienced to savour one of the best courses that Surrey’s prized heathland has to offer.
We were lucky enough to play St George's Hill on the beautiful May Bank Holiday. It's a private club, but I must mention Secretary Gary Peddie who was very helpful in assisting our visit. From the drive through the exclusive private estate to the last putt, the whole experience was tremendous. For any fans of the peerless PG Wodehouse golf stories, I can't imagine a better template for its nameless club than SGH. One expected to find the Oldest Member on the well appointed terrace with his labrador, gazing across the lovely heathland golf course watching the progress of the Wrecking Crew down the first opining "Golf (resumed the Oldest Member) is the Great Mystery." The lovely touch of prize lists being painted on the stone columns of the stunning club house is most atmospheric. And to the golf - the first and tenth both have elevated tees and challenging drives in opposite directions from the Starter's hut, and the fun doesn't stop until you return back to the club house with tricky raised approaches. There are sensational views and vistas, surprising changes in elevation and brilliant conditioning. We were told that the club is aiming to move back towards Colt's original design, so would love to make a return visit including the Green 9 (which is also being improved) to see how they go ! A brilliant experience.
I want to start by saying that St George's Hill is the best course that I have ever played and I have played quite a lot of big named courses over the years. We played last October and got lucky with the weather in that whilst it was windy, was dry and relatively warm for that time of year. We played all three nines, the blue, the green and the red and can honestly say that there wasn't a weak hole in the 27 let alone one of the nines! Our entire 4-Ball agreed on this.
The Starter was an American chap with a cravat who was very polite and gave us a warm welcome to the course. He also gave us some good golfing tips and was humorous which helped put us at ease.
The course itself was majestic and in perfect condition. Lots of elevation changes and strategy required. Some cracking par 3s one of which illustrated they don't have to be long to be great. Each hole seemed to be perfectly framed by the trees and heather. The bunkers looked aesthetically perfect and in line with their surroundings.
I couldn't eulogise enough about St George's Hill and to top it off, the hospitality in the bar and restaurant area was warm and welcoming and the food was tremendous.
I can't wait to come back and play such a magnificent course again someday.
The rankings are absolutely correct in terms of ranking versus the Surrey courses (ex Sunningdale) and StGH is certainly a level above them, including Swinley, which is ranked 1 place higher. In terms of aesthetics, this course is on a par if not better than the 2 courses at Sunningdale. The gorgeous first hole with the tee shot from a elevated tee is a memorable way to start. It is tempting to go through hole by hole as StGH is that good with no weak holes. The set of par 3s offering both beauty and variation in length - wedge to 3 iron. The only slight downside is that, as a surprising hilly course, whilst the downhill vistas are extraordinary, what goes down must come up at some stage and there are a couple of holes where you cannot see much of the green and flag (I realize this a very personal view). Standout holes include:- 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 13 & 16. In summary, this is a seriously good golf course.
As long as golf is played the debate about which is the best Surrey heathland course will rage.
It's a puzzle that will never be solved because it's such a subjective question. However, what is certain is that St. George's Hill will always be a contender. And a very strong one at that.
Harry Colt has once again created a golf course that takes the golfer on an amazing journey throughout the 18 holes. At times the pace quickens and sets the pulse racing. At other periods the exploration of the course slows but only to once again intensify to another crescendo.
The course winds its way through a very exclusive neighbourhood and gets off to a flying start, under the shadow of the magnificent clubhouse, with a thrilling drive across a valley to a rising fairway before you play to a green tucked away at the top of the climb.
It's difficult not to wax lyrical about how good St. George's Hill is. And it's aptly right up there with the best England has to offer.
In many ways it's poetic golf. The setting is bordering on surreal and the route the course chooses takes you on a fascinating journey through the pines and heather.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.