Some say St George’s Hill Red/Blue is H.S. Colt’s masterpiece, rating it above Swinley Forest and Sunningdale New. This higher position is due to the routing which had to successfully incorporate the many hills on the property. I do not share this opinion as I rate those other two courses higher as well as Rye Old, even if Rye has been modified by others. However, St George’s Hill is an outstanding golf course.
It is a long debate as to which course in the London area is the superior. Note that I believe that a scratch player who hits a ball 300+ yards with his driver and 160 with his wedge will likely choose a very different course than most people; probably Walton Heath Old, Wentworth West, The Grove or Queenwood. But for most players the debate would be among: Sunningdale New, Sunningdale Old, Swinley Forest, Woking, or St. George’s Hill. Members of a few other clubs would likely include the two courses at The Berkshire, Hankley Common, West Hill, The Addington, or New Zealand.
Personally, I have Sunningdale Old as the number one course in the London area but there is a close call as to which is the second best among Swinley Forest, Sunningdale New and St. George’s Hill (this is my order). If Walton Heath Old changes the first hole and replaces it with a good hole, then it would come under consideration. I do not have a high opinion of Woking and although I like Worplesdon, The Berkshire, and New Zealand, I do not see them in the same class. I have yet to play West Hill, The Addington and Hankley Common. But one should play all of these courses and play them more than once such is the beauty of these courses, the quality of their routings, the naturalness of the designs, the shaping of their greens, and the overall joy.
Much like driving into Sunningdale or Wentworth, the heart begins to race as you see the St George’s Hill clubhouse as it is magnificent. But as good as the clubhouse is, it is not a match for the golf course which kicks off with a strong starting hole where the fairway narrows as one climbs towards the green. If one does not find the fairway, then one is bringing a double bogey into play. One has to avoid the two bunkers left which I did by pulling my drive even further to the left into the trees. There is a small bunker on the right and two well placed bunkers short of the green. The green is slanted back down the valley. It is a short par 4 of 387 yards but plays closer to 420. It is perhaps the best starting hole of the courses surrounding London with perhaps only Wentworth East’s course being superior.
If the first was not difficult enough, the second certainly is as a 458 yard par 4. It is a somewhat blind shot over a brow in the hill down to the green. There are only two bunkers on the hole, both nearer the green. Longer hitters have to consider the stream crossing the fairway. The green is slanted back to front and anything short of the green will not make it on the surface.
A longer par 3 at 198 yards is next which plays a little shorter due to the elevated tee. The green has bunkers surrounding it and is two-tiered. I found this to be my second favorite par 3 on the course.
A decision awaits one at the short par 4 fourth hole, playing downhill and only 272 yards. Does one try to drive the green or at least get as close as possible, or does one sensibly lay up in front of the green, wedge on, and try to hit it close for a good look at a birdie? A series of bunkers form a stern blockade shaped liked a “V” in front of the green with trees pinching in from the left side. Another bunker is on the back left. The green has a defined spine almost like another “v” running through it and is speedy to the lower level. It is one of the finest short par 4’s one will ever play.
The fifth is a short par 4 less than 400 yards but because the land goes back up near the green it plays a club longer for the approach shot. Two bunkers are on the left for the tee shot with a large cross bunker short of the green. The green has multiple defenses with a bunker left and right, a false front, and it a fair amount of undulations. After playing the hole, I thought it was not quite as memorable as the four before it, but it is a strong hole.
Six is the longest par 4 on the Red side at 468 yards and the most difficult due to the carry over the heather, the tightness of the tree lines on either side and the bunkers fronting the green. The green is tilted back to front and is one of the trickier ones on the golf course. I think it is an excellent hole for players of all abilities.
Seven is a short par 5 of 476 yards. Six bunkers are scattered on this slightly downhill hole with two fronting the green and one each on either side. Simply put, technology has made this a par 4 which would make it possibly the best hole on the course. As a par 5, it is one of the weakest holes on the golf course, despite the beauty and the wonderful shaping of the bunkers. Some might say that par for a hole is a somewhat arbitrary number, when the most important number is the total score for the round. Indeed, Gil Hanse at Ohoppee Match Club has introduced the concept of half par’s to put the focus on enjoyment of the game rather than the plus/minus par for a hole or round. Indeed, Alistair Mackenzie proposed a similar concept in his day. But for me the reason par for a hole is important is that it dictates how a hole ought to be played. At the time that St George’s Hill opened, a 480 yard par 5 that is well bunkered would have been a daunting hole. Now it is not.
Eight is the second par 3 on the golf course and the most memorable hole of the entire 18. It plays at nearly 180 yards across a chasm with three bunkers fronting the green built into the side of the hill and one on the left nearer the green. The bunkers are set well back from the green so they are really only there for intimidation purposes. The green slants towards you at the front but is relatively flat. Going long is to be avoided. I understand that at one time the hole was even better before they changed the front bunkers. That is a pity as this could be one of the finest par 3’s in the world instead of perhaps one of the best in the London area.
Nine is simply fabulous starting with the wonderful elevated tee with a view of the hole and the grand clubhouse behind. I say the tee is elevated on this 389 par 4 playing about 425 but it really is not since the fairway goes steeply uphill after one clears the valley. One cannot miss with their first shot to the left due to the bunkers and the out-of-bounds while if one tries to play it too safely down the right but misses they will be in tall grass. The green has a bunker right and because it is very elevated one cannot be short or they will come very far down the hill. The green tilts down towards the low ground with various humps and borrows in it. It is a splendid finish to the front nine.
The Blue nine starts off with a bang. As good as the ninth hole is, the tenth is its equal, if not better. It plays downhill at 434 yards with a semi-blind tee shot to a fairway sloped left to right. There is a cross bunker and a large swale filled with heather to be avoided. The green is well defended with two bunkers on the right and two tiers on a green sloping right to left. The aim to the green should be to that left side as the ball should release slightly to the right. Much like the rest of the course to this point, the routing takes full advantage of the terrain.
Some might like the short eleventh at 119 yards. It is pretty and has adequate defenses with a bunker front right and left and another bunker on the left as the right side has a steep hill that will take a ball very far away from the green likely leaving a blind shot. A smaller hill awaits the shot hit long. I feel the green is too flat and too easy to hit so I do not really value the hole.
I also did not think highly of the twelfth, a short par 4 of 348 yards with a fairway and green sloped left to right. There are three bunkers near the green and one cannot miss to the right of it as the ball will scamper away perhaps even into the trees. However, I feel the hole lacks strategy and sufficient challenge.
The thirteenth is a nice par 4 that plays slightly longer than its 427 yards as the green is elevated. The drive must avoid the bunker on the left and clear a mound on the right. The green is well defended with three bunkers near it as well as a false front. The green is sloped back to front but I do not find it a difficult one to judge the pace. It is a good hole but at this point has one played too many straight holes because land was saved for housing?
Fourteen is the longest par 3 at 211 yards but plays downhill. Still, one does not want to be short of the green as there are two bunkers and a pitch at the front of the green. There is a pond and a bunker well short of the green that rarely will come into play. The green has a hump in the middle. It is a nice hole but for me not the equal of the two par 3’s on the Red nine. I was not inspired by the hole standing on the tee.
Eight bunkers await the player on the longest hole on the course, a par 5 of 547 yards. I liked the hole due to the placement of the bunkers but also because the green has more subtlety to it as well as a nice right to left slope.
Sixteen is my favorite hole on the Blue nine, a par 4 of 438 yards. It feels like it is a slight double-dogleg given the tilt of the fairway from right to left and two bunkers left. Approaching the green one has to get over the cross bunkers coming from the right side. There is another bunker on the front left and a steep fall off on the left side. The green is tilted back to front. It is a gem of a hole offering difficulty, decision making, requiring good shot execution, while being very pretty.
Seventeen is a fine golf hole, a par 4 of 452 yards (we played the 417 tee). Everything on this hole goes slightly to the left. There is a mound to clear on the right side (difficult from that back tee) and two bunkers on the left. A single bunker on the right awaits at the green. This is a good hole from 417 but a much better hole from the back tee.
Finishing the round is another sharply uphill par 4, although not as pretty as the end to the Red as one does not see the clubhouse until they arrive at the green. This dogleg right is listed at 390 yards but can play 425 much like the ninth on the Red. One simply cannot go to the right as they will end up in trees or a pot bunker. I went right and tried a heroic shot that if I would never try again. There is a bunker short right of the green and the left and back side are surrounded by bunkers. Much like the ninth on the red, the green is steeply sloped in line with the terrain going down to the lower ground. It is a lovely end to an outstanding golf course.
St George’s Hill is an outstanding golf course with a routing that takes full advantage of its terrain whether going uphill, down to lower ground, or playing alongside of hills. The bunkering is quite good and the greens are interesting both on their surfaces and with the many fall offs, false fronts, and swales nearby. I can see it as a World top 100 course for those reasons but for those who do not see it that high one can understand their likely point of view. The par 3’s are good on the Red but not nearly as good on the Blue. The Red course has one truly weak hole which is the seventh while the Blue has 3-4 weaker holes. Nevertheless, this is a fabulous golf course and the members can be very proud of it. There is a lot of acreage on the property, much of it with trees, so perhaps there is a chance to lengthen a few of the holes to bring the strategic elements that Mr. Colt designed back into play.
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.