Concealed inside a patchwork of residential streets, Sundridge Park Golf Club is something of a hidden jewel in the suburbs of Bromley, with its 36-hole golf facility located less than ten miles from Big Ben, as the crow flies. The club might be a little out of sight but it’s easily accessible from Central London to the north and from the M25 motorway to the south.
Formed in 1901, Sundridge Park operates two championship golf courses. The East is the more challenging of the two layouts and it was used as a regional qualifying venue for the Open during the mid-1990s. The shorter West, though it doesn’t have the same tournament pedigree, complements its younger sibling beautifully with all the charm you’d expect to find on a century-old layout.
Willie Park Junior advised on setting out the first 27-hole layout at the club, comprising an 18-hole course for gentlemen and a 9-hole track for ladies. On 25th April 1903, four days after the Ladies’ course was unveiled, the main 18-hole course was officially opened by James Braid and Sandy Herd when they played an exhibition match to mark the occasion.
Braid returned a decade later to remodel the course, lengthening the layout by altering three holes and installing forty-eight new bunkers, all of which were constructed by Fred Hawtree, who was then the club’s head greenkeeper, At the time, the course was described as “sporting, difficult rather than easy” with “magnificent greens.”
When the East course was developed by Sir Guy Campbell and C.K. Hutchinson at the start of the 1930s, the West course was also modified and seven new holes (the 3rd to the 9th) were added to the layout on new ground and the redesigned course opened for play on 20th May 1933 with a 36-hole exhibition match between Percy Alliss and Alf Padgham.
Nowadays, the course can be stretched to 6,019 yards from the back tees, playing to a par of 69, with only two par fives on the scorecard at holes 6 and 11. The River Quaggy comes into play at the 1st, cutting across the fairway 100 yards in front of the green, and this tributary of the River Ravensbourne is crossed several more times during the round.
The back nine finishes with three terrific holes: the short par four 16th offers a real birdie chance for those who don’t get too greedy off the tee, the 17th is the longest par three on the course with the strongest short hole stroke index, and the tight par four 18th rises steadily uphill and slightly left to a heavily sand-protected home green.
The start of this course is wonderful and by someway better than that of the East course, in fact this front-nine is difficult to fault in terms of variety, quality (greens and presentation) and fun to play. The strength starts at the 1st hole – a big par-4, downhill and then uphill over a ditch hazard, this is SI-7 and with SI-5 (another par-4) at the second, this course has a strong opening. Two good looking par-3’s close together at the 3rd and the 5th with the later as pretty as a picture and at only 140 yards is there for the taking! The 6th is a par-5 and one of the best parkland long holes I have played for a long while; 520 yards, mature trees on both flanks, no bunkers at all and a little downhill then turning right towards the green halfway down the fairway, just a delight. The 3rd short hole comes at the 7th and then the toughest par-4 on the course is at the 8th, this hole is severely uphill and a toughie; it is worth the trouble as by the time you get to the 9th tee, take time to get your breath but also to take in the vista of south-east London – this is a reminder that London Bridge is only 9 miles from here. The 9th tee shot can flatter even the most modest length of hitter, the 8th hole uphill becomes the big downhill now and a 300 yard drive is likely for most. Both nines are around 3000 yards, so a pretty even split with one less par-3 on the back-9 giving a par of 69 for the course.
The back nine is not as strong; if it was we would have a Kent Top-5 contender but it is not to be – I am sure that there could be a way to make a composite of the best of this course with the best from the East which would be a great initiative. The issues that the West’s back-9 has is that it is much more open, holes are a little close to each other and the variety drops – still enjoyable with the conditioning and presentation as good but the first half of the course has the wow factor. Favourite hole on the home nine holes would be the last; six bunkers at the green at the end of an uphill par-4, just a little reminiscent of those first nine holes.
If we ignore some of the real big named courses close to London, I would say Sundridge Park is the best of the rest as a 36 hole club so close to the capital.