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¼ mile S of Sunningdale
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The Old course at Sunningdale is one of the British Isles’ most aesthetically pleasing inland courses. Arguably, it was the first truly great golf course to be built on the magical Surrey/Berkshire sand-belt. The land was (and still is) leased from the freeholder, St John’s College, Cambridge. It is a Willie Park Junior masterpiece and opened for play in 1901, becoming known as the Old after the opening of the New Course in 1923.
Lined with pine, birch and oak trees, it is a magnificent place to play golf. The emblem of the club is the oak tree, no doubt modelled on the huge specimen tree standing majestically beside the 18th green. It’s incredible to believe that originally the golf course was laid out on barren, open land. Harry Colt was a big influence at Sunningdale; he was Secretary and Captain in the club’s early years and redesigned the Old course, giving it a more intimate and enclosed feel.
|The Old course at Sunningdale has seen many great rounds of golf, but these three rank amongst the very best:
1. 1926 - the perfect 66 by Bobby Jones in Open Qualifying.
2. 1986 - a remarkable 62 by Nick Faldo in the European Open.
3. 2004 - an incredible eagle, albatross start by Karen Stupples in the Women's British Open.
In 1926, during qualification for the British Open, amateur Bobby Jones played the Old Course perfectly, scoring 66, made up of all threes and fours (taking 33 putts). This type of scoring was unheard of in those days. Bernard Darwin brilliantly summed up Jones’ round as “incredible and in decent”. “Few joys in this world are unalloyed”, wrote Darwin in Golf Between Two Wars, “and though Bobby was naturally and humanly pleased with that 66 he was a trifle worried because he had 'reached the peak' rather too soon before going to St. Anne's.” Jones went on to Royal Lytham & St Annes and won the 1926 Open by two strokes, beating fellow American Al Watrous.
If you have already played the Old course, you will surely remember the elevated 10th tee, a fabulous driving hole and one of our all-time favourite holes. By the time you have putted out on the 10th, you will be ready for refreshments at the excellent halfway hut that sits welcomingly behind the green. What sheer delight! The 5th, a lovely par four, is beautifully described in The 500 World’s Greatest Golf Holes: “From an elevated tee, the fifth is clearly defined. The fairway is bordered by heather, golden grass and dark green forest. There are two fairway bunkers in the right half of the fairway; a small pond and four sentinel bunkers protect the green. Success calls for two pure shots…” The 15th is also featured in the same book; it’s a superb par three, measuring 226 yards.
Many people regard Sunningdale as the perfect golfing venue. The Old and New courses taken together are probably the finest pair of golf courses anywhere. On a sunny autumn day, walking on that perfect heathland turf, surely there is nowhere better to play golf with a few friends. “If we have not been too frequently ‘up to our necks’ in untrodden heather—nay, even if we have—we ought to have enjoyed ourselves immensely,” as Darwin said in his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles.
I played the two courses at Sunningdale together like many others, and there surely cannot be a better 36 hole day in golf!
The whole place lives up to its reputation in being an immaculately manicured example of heathland golf - with every hole being postcard perfect. The course has everything - reachable par 5’s, testing long par 3’s, driveable par 4’s…it offers so much. It’s one of those golf courses where the land that ties the holes together is also perfect, and the views when looking back down the hole from the green are often the best on the hole.
A day at Sunningdale is over before you know it…I need to go back and play each one as just 18 in a day to really appreciate each course - and you might feel the same. The 36-hole day is a well polished commercial product, and this perhaps takes the shine off the more raw “old school” experiences like Swinley. That’s not to say one is better than the other - just different.
Absolutely lives up to the billing - the course is absolutely immaculate and everything you could ask for from a heathland course. Challenging but fair, both courses provide tests and opportunities for golfers of all levels. Despite the sometimes stuffy reputation of clubs like this, the staff are very friendly and welcoming to guests. If you do get the chance to play, do not pass it up.
What can you say that has not already been said about this place. Spectacular setting, very classy place, loads of history and warm welcome. A true bucket list venue for any golfer. The course despite recent top dressing was in great shape and the greens were lovely to putt on, and with a very short walk from green to tee you no sooner finish one great hole ad your onto the next "wow" moment.
Hard to call out my favourite holes but would say the 2nd, 4th, 10th and 12th have lingered longer in the memory bank.
My only disappointing experience of the day was we had to play off the forward guest tees (yellow) and I personally found the course a little short.
I simply cannot imagine a golf course being better kept or more beautiful. Having played other major courses in the UK this is the best in my opinion, there simply is not a boring hole or one that doesn't give you a "wow" moment on the tee.
Its a stern but fair test - those amateurs that are really struggling will find the going tough, as the heather can be unforgiving, but the flip side is that if you are playing relatively well and keeping the ball in play, the course is not overly long and it is possible to navigate to a decent score.
The greens are immaculate - very quick but very true, and the rest of the course, like many other classic courses in the area, benefits hugely from the sand-based heathland in that Surrey / Berkshire "golf heaven" stretch!
Cannot recommend enough.
Simply the best course I have ever played. It surpasses Royal Birkdale and Royal St George’s. I found I was saying ‘wow’ on pretty much every hole. The 10th is probably the nicest golf hole I have ever seen.
The nicest clubhouse I have visited to date. If you get the chance - go play this awesome course.
Hi James, assume you played one Sunningdale course, wrote the review during lunch, then went back out & played the other. If you had to choose between them?
I preferred the Old to the New - much better course. My review on the New Course was actually for the Old, but the site doesn’t allow me to edit or delete my review.
Wonderful course, combined with the New this is the best day out in golf. Personally, my preference leans towards the New, with its wide views across the heathland encouraging you to open your shoulders off the tee.
The Old is nevertheless a fantastic golf course and deserving the accolades and 6 ball reviews. The 1st is short for a par 5, and I was able to drive the green on the short par 4 9th. There are some long tough holes too, but I like how this course offers you some birdie chances, deftly mixing length and trickiness and difficulty to provide a balanced challenge over 18 holes.
No doubt, no question deservedly a rating of 6 as it is just pure perfection. Golf does not get better than this. Enjoyed an amazing day at Sunningdale today playing both the New and Old but the Old really will stay with me forever and is certainly the best looking inland course I have played so far. Again we had the best of weather conditions and boy did this course show itself off. I lost count of the photos and videos taken as every turn presented another amazing view and hole that enticed you on. Condition, ten out of ten, course layout is fantastic, I cannot speak highly enough of this course. Any chance you get to play it do so.
As per my review of the New, Sunningdale is a magical place that exudes quality. Whilst I had a preference for the New over the Old that probably means that the Old is the second best inland course in the UK! The Old benefits from some drivable par 4s as well as numerous picturesque holes with great elevation changes.
I don’t need to be told how fortunate I am to have even walked through the gates at Sunningdale Golf Club. The fact that my best friend and brother are members, that I caddied here for 2 years and played for the Radley College Golf Team vs Eton College may have helped my case.
I am ashamed to say that I have played both courses at this slice of Surrey paradise too many times to count. It may sound cliché, but the sheer beauty and mystique of the place does not lessen in any way – if anything, my appreciation for it grows.
Caddying for some of the game’s greats (and not so greats) afforded me a completely different perspective when assessing and experiencing both courses. To be able to stop, look up, survey and not worry about swing thoughts makes you appreciate how stunning Sunningdale is. I really do recommend even just walking a course, or at the very least breathe between your shots and cherish where you are.
There is probably no-where else in the world where you will have a better 36-hole experience than at Sunningdale. I believe there are only two other locations on earth that are able to boast the prestige of having 36-holes within the world’s top 100 golf courses – Royal Melbourne and Baltusrol.
Sunningdale Old (ranked #28 in the world – Top100GolfCourses.com and ranked #1 in England – Golf World Magazine) was designed by Willie Park Jr. in 1901 and was tinkered with over the years by H.S. Colt, secretary at Sunningdale. Entering through the Sunningdale gates, it feels like a sanctuary and you are already aware of the essence of the club before you even step into the famous clubhouse and read the names and see the faces adorning the walls of the bars and locker rooms.
Sunningdale is comfortable, hospitable, traditional and has character that you only get through graceful ‘old-money’ – unlike its neighbour Wentworth – more on that later.
Heathland courses such as Sunningdale were developed primarily because of the underlying land’s resemblance to seaside links courses – sandy soils. Most of the area around London has a clay base and thus is not ideally suited for golf. Sunningdale, in the Surrey heathland, is one of the brilliant exceptions.
The course is surrounded by deep woods and is idyllic and peaceful. Its scenic beauty stacks up against the world’s best. The combination of the natural terrain, sand, birch trees, heather, gorse, pines and water come together beautifully to create a unique environment. It feels like one big classic English garden.
I would argue that Sunningdale has one of the top routings of any golf course ever built. The shot variety, change in direction, change in elevation and mix of holes is sublime. Aside from the routing, the other defining features are forced carries over heather and scrub and the very well-placed cross-bunkering.
The well-stocked halfway house off the tenth green offers an array of traditional treats and if you don’t ask for a sausage sandwich – who are you? Dogs are welcome at Sunningdale, all most a concrete requirement for becoming a member. The canines are treated just as well as the players by the lovely ladies at the halfway hut.
You cannot finish your day at Sunningdale without spending at least an hour in either the Members Bar or ‘other’ bar. A change of shoes will be necessary, but you won’t mind as both member’s and visitor’s locker rooms are some of the most modern and functional, I have seen.
I have had few finer experiences than sitting in the Sunningdale clubhouse after the round of golf with a pint reflecting on a brilliant day’s golf and company.
Bobby Jones sums up the club in one succinct statement that perfectly captures my sentiments:
“It’s a wonderful course, Sunningdale, I would I could carry it about with me. I wanted to bring it back home.”
Sunningdale is the best of British heathland golf and it’s an absolute delight to spend a day here. A visit to Sunningdale is widely considered to be the best single club golfing day in Britain, perhaps even the world, and whilst it’s an expensive day, please do yourself the favour and treat yourself, you will not go away ruing any lack of value for money. The facilities available at Sunningdale are all-world level wonderful. A tremendous practice area, well stocked pro-shop and mouth-watering food on offer at one of the most majestic clubhouses in the game all combine to make this the grandest of days out, but the standard of golf here is just pure unadulterated joy from start to finish. Whilst the New course is excellent and rightly considered one of England’s finest in its own right, the Old has to be considered the club’s showpiece.
Each hole across the Old is crafted superbly through towering trees and sprawling heather whilst being set amongst perfectly undulating ground. A wonderful combination of varying green complexes are positioned at the end of fairways with jaw droppingly beautiful curves adorned with heather topped mounds and sculpted bunkers that fit effortlessly into their surroundings.
It would be easy to lavish praise upon each hole in a love letter to this golfing land that borders on perfection but in an effort to not bore readers who I already congratulate for making it this far, I’ll start with the magnificent view from the 4th green which gives a beautifully elevated vantage point straight down both the 5th and 6th holes. This view through two holes slotted through a treelined corridor summarises the essence of Sunny Old for me. 7 is another triumph. If you can get over the fact that the tee shot is completely blind, when you climb to the crest of the hill, the most audaciously rolling land is presented in front of you. A wide fairway is gentle recognition to the fact that you’ll be unsighted from the tee, and the green site is sublime, set naturally into the seat of the hill, it’s one of my favourite green sites in Surrey.
The 10th tee at the highest point of the course provides likely the most memorable outlook across the eighteen. This tee overlooks another sweeping fairway that’s pitched way below the tee, but I may prefer the short yet strategic 11th. Is there a better short par four in England than Sunningdale Old’s 11th? A wall of heather and a cavernous bunker set into the hill are intimidation enough from the tee where you’ll have to commit to your line over the marker post whilst guarding against leaking a drive to the right, for deep heather awaits as well as the likelihood of being blocked out by the row of pines that hide the upturned green. If 10 and 11 aren’t enough to have you in raptures, surely the 12th will win over the most ardent of cynics who hasn’t yet been won over by Sunningdale’s beauty and diversity? A softly curving hole where line and length from the tee are paramount before a string of diagonal bunkers and a tricky raised green attached to the side of the hill make this probably the toughest test on the back nine.
I must also mention the magnificent end to the round with the view along the 17th fairway earning comparisons with the earlier scene from the 5th tee where you are once again gifted a glorious vista through the next two beautiful golf holes. This time the view is the homeward stretch to another beautiful piece of rolling land that’s littered with bunkers like golfing landmines before a final green that’s set under the shadow of Sunningdale’s iconic grand old oak tree.
If I was to reach for a weakness to Sunningdale Old, there are only two par fives on the course and both are comfortably reachable in two. And as a whole, I wouldn’t consider Sunningdale’s Old course a genuine championship test (not necessarily a negative) and I was struck by the step-up in difficulty when playing the New which I found to be much more demanding of my game. Otherwise, Sunningdale Old is virtually flawless. Conditioning plays an unfairly weighty roll in the opinions of many an amateur golfer’s appraisals, but Sunningdale ticks this box as it is always in impeccable shape. Sunningdale Old represents my first 6-ball rating for a course that’s set away from the linksland, but it strongly competes with any other course I’ve played. This is one of golf’s most magical places and the only question you’ll be asking yourself when finishing a round here is whether there is still time for another eighteen? 36 holes at Sunningdale – what a treat.