Not only does Sunningdale have two courses of the highest quality, but what makes Sunningdale particularly special is the contrast between these two golf courses that lay side by side. Whether you’re a fan of trees on heathland courses or not, there’s an argument that the heavily treelined Old course is enhanced by its trees. Rarely do they come into play due to the expansive width from the tee meaning they provide framing rather than an obstacle. By contrast, segments of the New course have been opened up somewhat in recent years so the wide expanses of heather are more obvious and come into play more regularly. Part of this is because the fairways play narrower, hence the New course being more unforgiving from the tee. It also plays marginally longer than its older sibling and hence provides more of a championship test.
The New course is boosted by the fact that it backs onto Chobham Common giving parts of the front nine a slightly more open environment, and this is where two of the best holes in Surrey can be found. Somewhat disappointingly they don’t come at the 1st and 18th, holes which I think most people find slightly out of character with the rest of Sunningdale. The opening and closing holes mainly serve the purpose of taking you ‘away from’ and ‘back to’ the clubhouse, but the rest of the course is unquestionably excellent.
As mentioned, the very best of the course is found towards Chobham Common. The 3rd hole is the first to approach this area and provides a birdie opportunity, but what gives with one hand is immediately taken back at the challenging 4th hole. The 4th is hugely demanding with a narrow fairway and benched green where heather pinches in throughout, but it’s the next two holes to which I was referring to earlier and are superb. I think it would be fair to argue that the short par three 5th and the reachable dogleg par five at the 6th hole are the best two holes at Sunningdale. These are well photographed holes, so I’m not going to describe each, but both benefit from beautiful, raised greens where steep slopes on the sides of the plateau greens narrow the target. Those steeply graded sides of the green are a feature used more prominently across the New course than the Old and are another reason for the New course being the greater challenge. Miss the green by a small margin and you can find your ball rolling away into heather requiring a challenging lob-shot recovery from a thick, tangly lie.
Brilliant holes continue through to the 14th. I’d pick out the 9th, 10th and 12th as all being world-class. 9 again is typical of the smaller margin of error that the golfer is allowed at Sunningdale’s New course where an unduly tight fairway rolls down over the brow of a hill following a blind tee-shot. 14 is also a very pleasant short hole with some interesting shapes and ditches between the tee and green whilst 15 that bends and climbs around a pond contributes to the enjoyment. Whilst the closing holes don’t quite hit the same high notes, the beautiful middle section of the course gives rise to the reason for the New course’s strong reputation. Admittedly, it may be heresy for an amateur like me to talk of making changes to a course so acclaimed, but where the Old course in many ways benefits by the trees that line the path to the hole, I’d be tempted to go in completely the opposite direction with the New Course and open it up entirely, making the most of the visuals that come with the undulating land and thus allowing for some increased fairway width.
Some rankings would have the New course ahead of the Old which I can only think is either an audacious marketing ploy in an effort to create a headline, or that difficulty has too much of a bearing in their rankings. That being said, Sunningdale’s New Course does far more than provide the understudy to the Old, and I’d have no qualms in any individual having a preference for the New course as it’s unquestionably a fine course at the most sought after club in the land.
Date: November 26, 2020