Sunningdale is a delightful course featuring a lot of movement in the land due to a central hill on the front nine that also influences several of the holes on the back nine. The back nine is marked more by rises and falls with a significant valley on a short par 3 set in a corner of the property.
The green surfaces have a lot of internal movement to them yet I found them to be less challenging than the greens at Century CC which I had played earlier that day.
I do know that I benefited from some easier pin locations at Sunningdale whereas there were some hole locations that would have been very challenging. As I had time, I did drop balls on several greens to putt to “imaginary” pin locations from several differing spots and saw more of the character of the greens. While there are false fronts, with the most noticeable being on the par 5’s, they are not as punitive as can be found on other courses.
Similar to Century CC, Sunningdale gets a bit “lost” in recognition due to all of the great courses within a 2-4 hour drive from central Manhattan with traffic dictating the longer time as opposed to miles. Yet to be ranked in the top 40 in the state of New York is a real achievement. In the vast majority of other states Sunningdale would likely be in the top ten.
As noted, many of the top “golden age” architects of the era worked on Sunningdale including Seth Raynor and A.W. Tillinghast. Mike Devries, whose work I generally admire was given freedom to optimize the land features to create a course filled with variety augmented by those interesting green shapes. The result is a course that balances a mixture of difficult and strategic holes with “breather” holes.
I found the course to be one where the members would enjoy playing it over and over without tiring of it, even with the weaker holes. Parts of the course are quite beautiful as the holes rise and fall.
The bunkering is well done both in terms of number, placement and shape. There were not many places where I felt a bunker was not meaningful. However, the greens are usually sufficiently large that those with a larger number of green side bunkers should not be as big a hazard as they are on other courses.
From the Black tees the course is 6830 yards, par 70/71 rated 73.4/135. The Blue tees are 6565 yards, rated 72.2/132. The ratings are likely influenced by the longer par 4’s and the undulations in the greens.
1. Par 4/5 - 495/485. As a par 5 it is a gentler starting hole but as a par 4 it would be difficult. The holes falls away from the tee to a wide fairway that has a few up and downs as you near the green. The tee shot has to either play short or navigate a narrow opening between three bunkers left and one on the right with one of those being a cross bunker. A single bunker is on the left about 90 yards from the green. The green is angled to the left with a very tiny section back half on its own shelf representing almost a three tiered green at that point. There is a bunker green side left and one on the right corner. Although the hole is weak as a par 5, the green is very interesting with those tiers and an almost plateau left middle. While the green speeds were slowish on the day (that may be a result of playing Century earlier), it made sense not to have them too fast given the lack of rain in the past month. Overall I liked the hole for its green complex.
2. Par 4 - 420/395. It is a semi-blind tee shot with taller fescue and scattered trees down the left side. The right side features fescue. The green is blind from the tee due to a slight rise but one should get a favorable roll leaving no more than 140 yards into a large green. There are two bunkers about 25 yards short of the green presenting a visual distraction but I felt there should have been built with higher faces. There are two bunkers on the left and back of the green. The green tilts a bit to the right but has various little internal shelves. I think more could be done with this hole.
3. Par 3 - 210/195. This hole plays even longer as it plays over a long valley with tall fescue to a green on higher ground with a false front. The green is angled to the left with the right side being about ten yards closer to the tee. There are flanking side bunkers but the more important bunker is placed front middle. It is an interesting green with a middle plateau and it is strongly uphill. I thought it to be the best par 3 on the course.
4. Par 4 - 340. It is a nice view from the elevated tee across lower ground where a pond is placed followed by the fairway with a significant valley off the left where tall fescue awaits. The pond is not in play and not strategic. The right side is lined with thick trees and out of bounds. This short hole has two bunkers on the left with the deep valley down the left side. The bunkers should be cleared from the tee or played even of them to the right. If short of the bunkers, one will likely have a blind shot to the green. If one goes down the valley on the left their ball will likely come both backwards and into the tall fescue on the left. This valley is likely 50 feet deep as it’s deepest point, so a shot from there will be a guessing game as to distance and direction due to the blind shot. The green has two bunkers left and a central left internal mound. The right side of the green is sloped more to the front. Overall the hole is more visually exciting than in playing it, but the green is very good.
5. Par 4 - 355. This short downhill hole offers one of the most compelling greens on the course due to its small size, narrow opening and break towards the front. Trees are thick down the right where two bunkers are placed which I felt should be more in the fairway. A grouping of trees is down the left. The fairway falls away so one should have a wedge into the green. The green is excellent with a narrow front and two side bunkers defining the narrowness of the front half of the green before each side shoots off another 10-15 yards. Those side bunkers raise the sides of the greens. A front pin position is difficult which I had as one cannot likely get very close to it. I liked this hole.
6. Par 4 - 465/450. Arguably the best hole on the front nine the hole plays downhill with more of the drop as you near the green set in the corner of the property. There are two bunkers on the right spaced about 35 yards apart but the play is down the left center. The green has two bunkers left with the right side having a fall off. It seemed to be one of the easier greens to read on the course.
7. Par 5 - 520/485. The hole offers a very wide fairway with scattered trees and a single bunker down the left and thicker trees on the right. The next fairway bunkers did not seem to be in play given the width of the fairway, the left one coming first and the right one about 90 yards from the green. The green is angled to the left making the two bunkers seem like they are front and rear. The green is set on my higher ground requiring an extra club. The right front of the green is in a bowl while the left side seems to have tiers and plateaus. In sum, all of the interesting part of this green is on the left particularly as you have to account for that front left bunker. It is not a particularly difficult hole unless the pin is on the left. It is backdropped by the remains of a tower which adds to the visual appeal of the hole.
8. Par 3 - 220/180. I did not get quite as good a look at this hole due to the water sprinklers being turned on. Trees and tall fescue are down the right. Two bunkers are to either side of this long green. The green has more subtle movement. This hole plays atop the central ridge of the course.
9. Par 4 - 465/430. This hole could also be considered the best on the front nine due to the excellent green. The hole bends right where three inner corner bunkers await. It is another wide fairway. If you do not hit it long enough you will have a blind shot into a bunker-less green with a fall off at the right and back.
10. Par 4 - 435/425. From an elevated tee you play again to a wide fairway with thicker trees down the right. The fairway has a couple of rolls in it. The green might be the largest on the course, likely the widest along with the seventh. There are more scattered trees on the left as you get within 150 yards of the green. The green has two front corner bunkers and a gradual false front. I had a pin on the front left of this green which was sloped quickly to the front and sides. I liked this hole.
11. Par 4 - 305/300. This hole is an afterthought playing in front of the halfway house. It is at this point that the course gets far less interesting versus the outward nine. The ground falls away from you with scattered trees down the left. The fairway is reasonably wide. There is a cross bunker down the right about 75 yards from the green. The green has four bunkers protecting it placed center and left. Evidently due to an agreement with a neighbor, one is not supposed to hit a shot that goes more than 165 yards here. The green is decent with a left plateau and sloped quickly to the front. It falls off at the rear.
12. Par 3 - 165/155. The drop on this hole might be as much as 80 feet. You hit down to a sizable green flanked by bunkers. The green is angled slightly right. I nearly made an ace but even with that I did not think much of the hole.
13. Par 4 - 460/425. This is the third best hole on the back nine playing to a dogleg left with thick trees down the right and scattered trees left. There are no fairway bunkers and the fairway has various rolls and a tilt to the right. The green is slightly raised with corner bunkers.
14. Par 4 - 395/385. The hole rises from the tee although also banking to the left. There is a rise that if you clear it you will get a favorable roll out. Three fairway bunkers are spaced down the right side. A central bunker is used about 20 yards short of the green and is relatively deep as are the flanking green side bunkers. The green has a good inner movement in it no matter where you are on the green.
15. Par 4 - 400/390. The fairway shares those bunkers from the previous hole as you reverse direction and go parallel to fourteen. Two more fairway bunkers are added bringing the total to five. There are a few scattered trees on the left when I though a bunker would have been better. The green has flanking side bunkers with a sizable fall off to the right. The green surface is relatively flat. The green is set off slightly to the right. Overall, this hole did not register with me.
16. Par 5 - 575/560. A friend and I later discussed this par 5 as he did not like it and I did. It has no bunkers on this hole that I recall and offers a generous fairway to the green. About 150 yards from the green the fairway falls perhaps 30 feet so longer hitters can get close. Near the green on the right is a collection of trees, rocks and taller grass. There is a sharp false front here. I hit my approach perhaps 20 feet into the green and it fell back off of the front but was stopped by the thicker grass. The green is canted strongly to the front but does level off.
17. Par 3 - 160. This is a flat hole framed by fescue. The green seems flat but actually has a lot of slope.
18. Par 4 - 470/450. It is always nice when a hole ends on the best hole on the course. From an elevated tee you play across lower ground of an early wetland not in play to a fairway that gently turns right and rises to the green. Four bunkers are scattered down the fairway, the first one left, two right then a final right about 60 yards short of the green. The green has two deep bunkers on the right to a sort of plateau green with micro movement. This hole blends well strategy, difficulty and visual appeal.
Sunningdale is a course that is a bit unbalanced with the better holes on the front nine. The back nine occupies land that is less interesting or even slightly cramped such as holes eleven and twelve. It does end well with two of the final three holes being quite good. While I liked most of the holes on the front nine, I on,y liked three holes on the back nine where I think improvements on most of them could still no be made. As stated, I do think highly of the course and expect that members know they are playing a course of high quality.
Date: July 15, 2022