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.
Date: January 08, 2020