The Stoke Park clubhouse/hotel/manor is a treasure and one of the finest places I have ever dined or stayed in. It is truly remarkable. As for the golf course, it is pleasant and beautiful with the grounds laid out by Capability Brown, perhaps the finest landscape designer ever in the UK. The golf course, designed by Harry Colt, takes a backseat to both the clubhouse/hotel as well as the garden-like environment. This parkland course is lined with Oak and Fir trees with a few holes featuring rhododendron bushes. The ideal time to play the golf course is when those bushes are flowering and the less ideal time is in the fall when the leaves are falling. While the trees are beautiful and create a peaceful atmosphere, they are dense at times offering limited chances for recovery should you enter the tree line. The course is one of the more heavily bunkered courses one will play. Sand is seemingly everywhere which overall leads to a feeling of “I’ve played this hole before.”
There are some nice holes here, but only a few are truly memorable. I give the course high marks for its playability with generous fairways and obvious lines to the greens. Most of the greens have wide openings despite the number of bunkers. The course is well conditioned and the greens are smooth but not overly sloped or undulated. The biggest plus to the golf course is the improved bunkering. I played here a few times in 1993-1998 as part of society days and when returning after the renovation, the bunkering is the obvious feature that stands out on the course. The slight negative is that many of the greenside bunkers are similar in their shaping, raised above the height of the green with manufactured mounds added.
This course will not test the better player’s game and certainly not the best players as it lacks adequate length for the width of the fairways. A few of the holes are slightly uphill which adds to the drama of the better holes. The stronger holes are the par 3’s with the par 5’s all representing birdie/eagle possibilities for the longer hitters. I thought the best par 4’s to be the sixth, eighth and seventeenth due to the length, bunkering, and the green complexes.
Of the holes I noted, the long uphill par 3 of 218 yards is a gem. For those trying to lay up in front of the green there is a long stretch of bunkers on the right side beginning roughly 60 yards short of the green as well as a bunker left. The green is nicely sloped back to front.
The sixth hole plays uphill and has numerous bunkers scattered to navigate throughout the hole. There is a cross bunker about 50 yards short of the green which should not come into play but adds to the visual appeal of the hole. The green is sloped back to front with the more serious slope about halfway through.
The seventh, the model for the sixteenth at Augusta National, is a fine par 3 of 171 playing from an elevated tee to a hole with water down the right side of the green angled away from you. Two bunkers are placed on the left side, one of which is basically the length of the green, sitting below a rise in the land. There is another bunker at the rear of the green for those attempting to take the water out of play by hitting an additional club. Fall short of the green to the right and the slope fronting it will carry your ball into the water. The green is similarly tilted towards the water. Hitting into that long bunker on the left likely results in playing out sideways rather than toward the flag such is the steepness of the green towards the water. This hole is a visually appealing parkland par 3. I left it wondering whether the right side of the green was the inspiration for the fifteenth at Augusta National so steep is the slope of the green and the “rough” between the green and water.
The eighth, a par 4 just under 400 yards is perhaps the best defended hole on the golf course with seven bunkers including two each on either side for the tee shot.
The ninth hole has both a lovely view of the clubhouse/hotel behind the green and a slight false front at the green.
The eleventh is a nice mid-length par 3 well bunkered with a pond before the green and a slope between the pond and green. It is another fine par 3.
The seventeenth is a longer par 4 dogleg right of 420 yards requiring a second shot to carry a stream on the right that is enlarged to form a pond on the left. My only complaint about the hole is that there is too much room between the water and the green.
Eighteen is one of the longer par 4’s on the course and the finish is notable for the seeing most of the clubhouse/hotel as well as a nice tilted green.
Stoke Park is a course one plays for other reasons; for the opportunity to enjoy the clubhouse and the dining, but also because it is a lovely walk.
Date: January 26, 2020