In my review of Sunningdale Old I placed Sunningdale in the top three clubs in the world with the two best golf courses alongside Royal Melbourne and Winged Foot. What is interesting about all three clubs is both how similar yet how difficult the second course is to the first course, even if occupying essentially the same land.
In the case of Sunningdale, the New course does not offer the same amount of variety in the terrain nor quite the beauty as the Old. However, it offers a sterner test of golf due to one of H.S. Colt’s finest routings, narrow fairways, many doglegs, extensive heather, and excellent bunkering at the greens. Mr. Colt excelled at incorporating hazards and other land forms into his holes, yet always making them appear natural as if a golf hole was always there. The heather on either side of the narrow fairways and the green surrounds are what I most remember when I think of the New course.
Due to excessive play on the Old course as more members found it easier to get to Sunningdale or move close by, an additional 168 acres were purchased by the club. The New course opened in 1923 with alterations made through the mid 1930’s. When first built the thirteenth par 5 was more than 600 yards long, unheard of for its time.
The New course was built on land previously occupied by Sunningdale Heath golf club, who had a nine-hole course. The New eighteen-hole course opened in 1923 for a sum of approximately 8000 pounds, more than double the cost of the Old course. However, holes 6-9 and 10 were heavily criticized due to the higher ground from the Chobham Common High Point as well as the heaving variation of terrain that it occupied. These holes were located to the right of the tenth hole of the Old course and left of the ninth and tenth on the New course. The previous holes are now occupied by a single large estate. When the club acquired another 30 acres, in 1934 Tom Simpson was brought in to design new holes which were located behind the fifth green. However, these new holes were not popular and so H.S. Colt and John Morrison worked together in 1939 to reverse the new loop, making the sixth a dogleg while building new greens for seven, eight, thirteen and eighteen. The tenth was made into a par 3 using the current tee. This is today’s design. One interesting fact is that for many years the members could choose holes from the original Colt routing or the new holes from Colt/Morrison.
In looking at some of the older photos of the course, this was originally a more “open” golf course with fewer trees and more heather. However, trees were planted and grew with the result being a receding of the heather and many tree-lined fairways. Despite some tree removal, the course today has more trees than when first built. Although I do not favor an excessive amount of trees on a golf course, much like the Old course the trees are very well placed and add a bit to the defense of the course, but more importantly add to the beauty.
The course plays to 6738 yards from the championship tees, par 70, sss 73 with the White tees being 6444 rated sss 72 and the Yellow tees playing 6080 rated 70. In my three visits to Sunningdale New I have only played the championship tees. I find the front nine to be more difficult than the back nine, particularly the fourth hole (did I ever finish it in my most recent round). There are three par 5’s and five par 3’s.
My favorite holes on the course are the fourth, fifth, sixth, the superb ninth, eleventh, twelfth, fourteenth and fifteenth. I think the par 5’s are better on the New than the Old. I also find every hole to be interesting whereas on the Old I do not hold the par 3’s on the inward nine in high regard.
From the first time I played it in April, 1995 the course has allowed the heather to become more of a factor both in height and location. I most recently played it in June, 2018.
1 – par 4 465/451. Unlike the Old course, this is a difficult starting hole as the land goes down and up with a final dip before a rise to the green. While the fairway is wide enough, most average length hitters will likely have 200-220 yards to the green. There is a bunker left creeping into the fairway on the rise followed by a dip. Farther down is a smaller bunker on the right with a bit of heather which I believe is there to further antagonize the shorter hitter who has hit to the left and is desperately trying to avoid going out-of-bounds on the left into the tree line while also trying to find the best angle to a green that slopes to the right. The green has a large bunker on the left and a fall-off on the right. It also has somewhat of a false front. I have parred the hole twice but would be happy with a bogey. I am surprised it is the 8 index.
2 – par 3 171/165. This can be a blind shot depending if the pin position is at the back. The hole is uphill and plays a club longer. The green has a smaller plateau for a second tier at the back left where the green narrows. A ball can go long and fall-off the back potentially running into some heather. There is a bunker front left and one on the right. The green site is located at the prime spot of this rise with smaller mounds to either side of the green. It is not my favorite par 3 on the course, but it continues the challenge from the first hole.
3 – par 4 409/395. With a forced carry over heather this is a gentle dogleg left with a bit of eye confusion as the fairway opens to show the fifteenth hole. There is tall heather down most of the right side. But if one plays away from the heather, they could find the two fairway bunkers on the left. Bigger hitters have a definite advantage here as those left bunkers are not in play from the tee. There are two cross bunkers on the hole both with heather to create a tougher recovery shot. There is another bunker left of the green which has ripples in it. I find this to be one of the easier greens on the course.
4 – par 4 457/433. There is no mystery to this hole as it is straight and right in front of you. After another forced carry the primary defense is the heather that goes along most of the right side of the fairway. Heather is on the left as well but farther away. The hole seems to favor a fade (which I tried) from the tee and then a draw into the green. There is a bunker on the right about 40 yards short of the green and one on the left middle. The green is wonderfully placed into the bank of a hill with a false front and a steep back to front tilt. In my last round here, I took a triple as I hit a poor tee shot into the heather and tried twice to be heroic combined with a poor approach into a greenside bunker. My two playing partners made par. I love the hole due to its visual qualities, the challenge and the green site.
5 – par 3 183/167. Playing uphill, this hole sits on a knob atop the hill. Danger abounds everywhere if you do not hit the green. There is a deep bunker about ten yards short of the green lined with tall, thick heather. If one misses on the left they will find more heather. Miss to the right and there are two bunkers right at the edge of the green, shades of Royal Melbourne. Miss long and there is more heather. Hit the green and you have a two- tiered green with a fast slope back down the hill. It is a very good golf hole.
6 – par 5 515/485. The New course definitely has something the Old does not and that is the view from the sixth tee on the New course. To build holes six though nine, 30 additional acres were acquired in the 1930’s. Colt and Morrison expertly laid out these new holes, beginning with the magnificent view from the high point behind the fifth green to a valley down below before rising to the green. The view is long here as you are above the tree line. As you pause to take in the view, one almost forgets the very good hole one is about to play. You play from the elevated tee (the championship tee is worth walking to even if you do not play from it), down across heather and some gorse to a fairway that is a sharp dogleg right. Longer hitters obviously try to bite off as much of the corner as they can but there are two sets of trees and additional heather they have to avoid or carry. If one pulls or draws their tee shot too much to the left, there is more heather awaiting them. My drive was not far enough left and my line to the green was blocked by the first set of trees. I tried to play back to the left but still found the heather on the right as this hole has the heather going all the way to the green. There are no fairway bunkers, nor does the hole require it. The two-tiered green with the second tier beginning about 20% on, is preceded by a ripple in the land and is set atop another rise, with fall-offs to all sides. There is a bunker middle left and two bunkers middle right with the bunkers being fairly deep. I took two to get out of the heather on my last round and was fortunate to one putt for a bogey. This hole is a very good example of how to create a great par 5 without relying merely on length.
7 – par 4 378/368. One plays down a hill after getting over a rise in the fairway. There is a long bunker on the right of the green. There is some nice mounding around this green. The green is long and tricky as I three putted it. It is a nice hole but certainly not at the same level as what came before it.
8 – par 4 399/388. There are no bunkers on this hole which does not require any as the fairway is one of the narrower ones on the course and heather lines both sides. You play over a forced carry over heather and then over a slight rise in the fairway that is tilted to the right. The green is slightly angled to the right with steep fall-offs on the right and behind with a grass hollow down the left side. One needs two excellent shots to make par here. This hole is a good example of allowing the land to make the hole.
9 – par 4 461/424. This is another excellent hole and my favorite on the course despite my double bogey. You play slightly uphill over the heather on this blind tee shot. Heather lines both sides to another narrow fairway that becomes steeply downhill and leaning to the right. The second shot for average length players is likely from a downhill lie into an elevated green that is framed by trees. There is a single bunker on the right side and the green is sloped to run balls into that bunker (mine did). The bunker does offer a decent chance of recovery (I did not). Miss the green to the left and one’s ball can bounce back onto the green as the left side has the higher ground. This hole is beautiful from the tee as you see all of the heather and the beginnings of the fairway but it gets more beautiful as you get closer to the green. I am not a huge fan of trees on golf courses, but they definitely enhance this hole. In my round of 81 (44-37) it was holes four, seven, and nine that did me in.
10 – par 3 217/206. Is the fifth the best par 3, the tenth, or the fourteenth? This hole requires an additional club for most players. The green is surrounded by bunkers with a sharp fall-off on the front left due to a tilt right to left. The bunker on the front left eats into the green. Similar to the ninth, the trees should not be in play but enhance the beauty of the hole.
11 – par 4 446/436. This dogleg left offers a tree as the guiding line on the inner corner for the bigger hitters who can fly a ball 250 yards or more. If the bigger hitters go too far right of the tree there will likely end up in the tree line or heather on the right side. For shorter hitters playing down the right the fairway will send their ball further to the right. There are ripples in the fairway and mounds of heather on either side that add to the texture of the hole. There is a single bunker on the right about 70 yards short of the green. This is the only bunker on the course that I did not understand why it was there but perhaps the bigger hitters can now reach it. At the slightly raised green there is a single small bunker on the front right with groups of heather just beyond. The green is thin and difficult to hold. Parring this hole boosted my confidence for the remainder of the round. This is another outstanding hole for players of all abilities.
12 – par 4 396/385. A gentle dogleg left with heather on both sides again all the way to the green. There is a single bunker set off to the right and then another bunker on the right about 25 yards short of the green. At the green there is a bunker right and an overhanging tree. The green is another plateaued green with a sharp fall-off on the left side below a bank lined with heather. Behind the greens are mounds with heather. The green complex is very good which is why I rate this hole so highly.
13 – par 5 562/543. The longest hole on the course is next but it was once over 600 yards. One must find the fairway or one’s chance for par is nearly gone. There is a bunker short right off the fairway merely for guiding purposes or simply to point out that one is too short from the tees to play this course. There is another bunker on the right for the second shot. There seems to be less heather on this hole until one is near the green. There is a final third bunker on the right about six yards short of the green. The fairway narrows to the green which is long, thin and sloped front to back. It is a nice hole but lacks the beauty of what came before.
14 – par 3 191/181. This hole would likely be the best par 3 on many courses but I have it as the third best on the New. It is a flat hole with a large boomerang shaped bunker on the left side and banked mounding on the back right. This is a difficult two tiered green. The setting and green are stunning.
15 – par 4 431/404. My second favorite hole on the golf course is this dogleg right where the longer hitters again try to cut the dogleg but if their tee shot is too straight they will run through the fairway. There is a pond off to the right that takes a truly bad shot to find it (but many find it), As in other holes there are no fairway bunkers on the hole. The more difficult part of the hole is the uphill approach shot to a green with two bunkers fronting on the right side and three on the left and a few high clumps of heather. Average length hitters will likely only see the top of the flag. I under-estimated the approach shot and under-clubbed leading to a bogey.
16 – 395/376. This dogleg right has a heavy tree line down the right side forcing one to aim to the wider part of the fairway to the left. The approach to the green has to carry cross bunkers about 25 yards short and two surrounding bunkers on either side of the green. While the hole has a two-tiered green the most difficult part of the hole is the tee shot as this fairway looks the narrowest on the course.
17 – par 3 172/168. The seventeenth hole has the least interesting land of all of the par 3’s on the course. The green is angled right to left with two bunkers on the left protecting a back left pin position. There is a fall-off on the right side. Although framed by trees and heather more pronounced on the right side, this hole is not nearly as visually exciting as the other par 3’s. I one-putted for my par demonstrating that recovery is very possible on this hole.
18 – par 5 490/469. Originally this played as the first hole in the opposite direction, but was reversed in 1926. As a par 4 starting hole, it was known for its difficulty. As a par 5 it “frees” the mind knowing one has an extra shot to make par thereby allowing many golfers to finish their round on a happier note. I made a four feet putt for birdie. The tee shot is somewhat narrow with scattered trees down both sides. The fairway tilts to the right as does the green. There are two bunkers on the right side about 15-30 yards short of the green so the line into the green is from the left. At the green there is a bunker on the left and right front. Right behind the hole is a practice green for bunker play which provides some embarrassment for someone playing the eighteenth to reach it (if my friend is reading this - I told him he had too much club). It is a nice finishing hole, but not in the league of the previous par 5’s.
Which course is better? The New is a better course for shot-makers despite having far fewer bunkers than the Old. The Old has the better land from which to better incorporate the terrain and landscape. The Old moves up and down a bit more than the New despite the high ground on the New on the fifth and sixth holes. The par 3’s and par 5’s are better on the New, but the par 4’s are better and more consistently of a higher quality on the Old. There is a better variety of par 4’s on the Old. The Old is more beautiful visually. On the Old you will find yourself admiring the view whether on the tee or for the approach shot into the green. Perhaps if Mr. Colt had not improved the Old, then the New might be the better course. Yet, the New was likely tinkered with more than the Old.
I favor the Old over the New due to the variety of the holes and the overall beauty of the course. Seventeen and eighteen are better finishing holes on the Old which tilts my favor toward it. Finishing under the old Oak behind the green with the clubhouse behind to the left continues the beauty of the Old all the way inside the welcoming clubhouse.
I do not think there is a right or wrong answer as to which course is better which is why Sunningdale is so revered as a golf club and why both courses are used for the famous Sunningdale Foursome’s annual tournament. The members are truly blessed.
Date: July 21, 2020