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0.25 mile from Sunningdale Station off the A30
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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 Surry/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.
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.
Sunningdale goes about being great in such an unassuming way, you get tricked into wondering why all golf courses aren’t like it?
No pomposity at all that you sadly can get at clubs just outside the top bracket, who’s members for some reason feel the need to be unwelcoming and jobs worth’s.
Greens were fabulous and consistent. Tee boxes perfect. Numerous pretty shots, particularly approach shots. Bunkering clever and in great condition.
It’s not overly difficult but still a challenge. Just a great golf course and club.
I enjoyed as much sitting in the club house afterwards with a beer just looking over the various holes as the land falls away from you, with the fantastic putting green with all beautiful foliage around it.
Only possible thing I would say would add to it would be if there was a more water in play, would be the icing on the cake visually on a few holes.
As for whether it represents “value” that’s a subjective thing as the green fee is frankly insane.
Get someone else to pay or wiggle on through work somehow and you won’t be disappointed.
Note. Having two courses, and therefore the luxury to make one a two ball course for the day really works.
Simply put - a day of 36 holes at Sunningdale is one of the best days in golf. From the time you pull into the car park you sense you are somewhere special. The hospitality, facilities, food and of course golf are all first class. Once inside the gates you no longer feel like you are in a major metroplex but rather a world apart. Such is the ambiance of Sunningdale. As a Yank I have to say I love the customs and traditions of the English people. It's a pleasure to experience such civilized formality, and Sunningdale has it in spades.
Now on to the golf. We started off with the New course, which was of course excellent. Then we had the included light lunch that was just as high quality as the golf. After playing the New one wonders can the Old really measure up to the high quality of the New. Absolutely it can. The Old course is at such a high level. Between Willie Park, Jr. and Harry Colt they created in my opinion the best inland course in the UK. The flow and sequencing of the holes is outstanding. The short par 4s particularly stand out to me. 3, 9 and 11 are all excellent in design. That is not to say that the longer par 4s are of lesser quality, because they aren't at all. 7 may be may favorite hole on the entire course. I love the blind tee shot and the heaving fairway. From there it's a challenging approach to perhaps the prettiest green site on the course. 10 is an unbelievable par 4. What a view from the tee! Make sure to stop by the excellent half way house after holing out. The previously mentioned 11th hole has one of my favorite green complexes I've ever played. I could go on about every hole. Needless to say 12-18 is chock full of outstanding holes. I particularly want to highlight the view as you round the dogleg on 17. What a view it is past 17 green, through 18 all the way to the famous clubhouse! It's as good as golf gets and we were honored to play there.
The members at Sunningdale are very fortunate to have two such wonderful courses at their club. Not only are they excellent quality but both are walkable in under 3:30. English heathland golf is truly special. Sunningdale is the crown jewel.
Lovely course and very accessible. I have played several times including as a guest at a corporate day. Id say the course could warrant 5.5 if you look at each hole in isolation as a varied test of the game. I gave it a 5 for 2 reasons - as an inland course, the views are never breathtaking and more importantly, it is a stuffy place (by design). Over the knee socks are required and there are too many rules in my view for a club in 2020. I have had more enjoyable golfing experiences at courses further down the list but among the best 18 holes of inland golf outside the US.
Enjoyable review . Interesting perspective on the inland vs links course debate. While I agree that it would be hard for any inland course to have the equivalent of Ailsa Craig (Turnberry), the Irish Sea ( Portrush) or the Pacific ( Pebble, Cypress Point) I am not sure that should really factor into the ranking of the golf course. Whilst I enjoyed Turnberry and it’s view when I played it a couple of years ago I don’t think it’s a patch on Birkdale, RSG or Birkdale. Over the knee socks? Nope. Over the ankle white socks are all that is required. It’s a rule grant you but not the most onerous. Would be very curious to know what other rules you found stuffy? Club is pretty relaxed these days.
Thank you for the correction on the socks. I was certain that I was told that was the requirement when I first played in 2011 or 2012 after I had just moved to London (and distinctly remember wearing trousers because of that) but the dress code is right in plain sight on the website. It was also a bit instructive to see your reply to my review because it led me to re-read it and the day after it reads more critically than I wish it had. You can see by my memberships (Trump National and Beaverbrook) that i prefer a style of club with relaxed rules (no jackets in the dining area, etc), however the jacket requirement is prevalent at many courses that I have played in the UK&I. As luck would have it, I changed jobs and moved to a different company 6 months ago where we host our annual golf outing at Sunningdale in June (but of course this has now been postponed with the lockdown), so I am certain to play it again soon and will post a second review.
Those of you who have read my review of the New Course, will know that I prefer the Old. The Old is spectacular, and has everything you look for in a great golf experience.
Starting off the course, the clubhouse, the locker room, the lunch, the pro shop, the range and the halfway hut are all world class. There are few places that combine all of these things with 2 truly world class courses. Royal Melbourne, Winged Foot, and maybe Merion are the others in the discussion.
The real strength of Sunningdale is world class architecture, mixed with variety and fun. The course isn't hard or long, but it doesn't have to be. You aren't playing in a major, you're playing a casual round at a great golf course, and its nice to make birdies sometimes.
A bit like its younger sibling, the Old starts off a bit slow, with 1, 2 and 3 all being really good holes, but lacking compared to the next 15. 1 is a nice friendly par 5 to start, whilst 2 might be the hardest hole on the course. 3 is a lovely short par 4 which is really well bunkered. The course comes alive at 4, a beautiful short uphill par 3 over heather which begins perhaps the strongest 4 hole stretch anywhere. 5 is gorgeous downhill par 4 where you must negotiate heather, water, bunkers and mounts. 6 is an equally beautiful par 4 with a forced carry over heather off the tee and on the approach. You then come to 7, which is my favourite hole on the course, and one of my favourite holes in the world. You hit a blind tee shot over heather and a bunker, after which the hole double doglegs through tall pines, heather and fescue. 8 is a lovely par 3, but not a standout, whilst 9 is a very underrated short par 4. 10 is the most famous hole, a long downhill well guarded and all round spectacular par 4. 12 is one of the best designed hole you'll ever play, with outstanding cross bunkering. The same can be said for the cross bunkering on 14. 13 and 15 are nice par 3s, but maybe the courses weakest holes. 16 is a great par 4 with crazy bunkering, whilst 17 offers one of the best views in world golf up to the clubhouse. 18 finishes off the round with a stout par 4 towards the famous Oak Tree.
The genius of the course is the half par holes. You will probably make more birdies than you usually do when playing the Old, but this will likely be offset by more bogeys too. The reason for this is there are lots of half par holes (short par 5s, long par 4s, short par 4s, long par 3s), which make it a fantastic matchplay course. These holes are 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 18.
Sunningdale Old is truly deserving of its rank inside the worlds top 30. A 36 hole day here is hard to beat.
Nice review Peter. Personally I think this is the best course in England and I prefer it to the very wonderful links at Royal St George’s which is also a very fantastic track in my opinion. Perhaps I prefer inland heath to seaside links though. Although not as difficult, perhaps this is still a course that most club golfers would find challenging especially from the longer tees although at 6,000 yards off the visitors tees I feel it will yield a score with accurate ball striking. Would love to try and play the course off the very back tees which I think would be very challenging with so many bunkers right in my hitting areas.
Nice review by Peter and interesting response by HDM. A couple of years back I wrote very long reviews of both courses at my home club and find them hard to separate. I do think that it is worth repeating that had the Old not existed the New would be far more highly ranked - to that extent I disagree with Peter’s review about the New’s place in the Top100, it should be far higher. How you compare the best links in England with the best heathland courses I simply have no answer! I personally prefer Birkdale over RSG but rather like England’s heathland courses, its links are very underrated, not just within in the U.K. but globally. I have had the pleasure of taking some of my US friends to Sunningdale. (and recommending the likes of West Sussex, Woking, Swinley, Berkshire etc) and on mini-tours to play in Kent ( RCP, Princes, Littlestone) and Merseyside (Birkdale, West Lancs, Formby) and they have been universal in their praise of the quality of the experience. Perhaps as part of our effort to boost golf tourism in the England when lockdown eases then EGU can be encouraged to market our finest courses more aggressively in the US.
Hi Timothy! First off I should say I am very jealous of you being a member here! However I do disagree with your position the New would be higher if the Old didn't exist. It is already above Portmarnoch, Swinley Forest, Lytham, Cal Club and Woodall Spa to name a few, and is in the same territory as Seminole, Tara Iti and Riviera. Whilst I love the New course, I struggle to see how it ranks amongst these, with holes like 2, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18 that would;t look out of place on a course not even in the Top 100. They aren't bad holes, and 15 and 16 are more to do with the more parkland feel, but are good enough to be on a World Top 50 course?
Read your comments with interest.
One of the main issues tied to English golf -- especially those clubs not on the Open rota or those located along the coast is overall exposure. As an American who has been to the UK and Ireland countless times spanning 40+ years the primary reason for ignorance on the other side of the pond stems from the constant and most successful efforts tied to Tourism Ireland and Visit Scotland in their overall promotions for their respective areas.
The English side of the story is just not told that well. No doubt, the upper crust of golf aficionados is fully aware of several of the courses you mentioned and no doubt others of equal or greater pedigree. I know I have played a representative sampling and concur with your thoughts.
The issue is one of having a clear and sustained marketing effort that truly touts the virtues of English golf -- beyond those in the immediate metro area of London and those along the coastal areas showcasing a links intersection.
It's amazing in my global travels how sometime you find courses that are quite inferior from a golfing standpoint but the marketing / branding effort has been nothing short of brilliant. Case in point places likes Hawaii and Thailand come quickly to mind. I make my golf plans not based on what magazines say -- but what a limited network of key people provide me in terms of what they have experienced.
I dare say -- if you ask most Americans when contemplating a visit to the UK / Ireland the main focus will center on going to Scotland and Ireland. There's no question about the virtues of English golf -- in all its varied settings.
Sad to say, but true, a number of English clubs have failed to capitalize on their strengths and in a number of ways have been too insulated -- too disinterested in raising their profile. Perhaps a new generation of members and a much more coordinated effort that really showcases what's available can make a difference. All they need to do is copy the playbook Ireland and Scotland are doing now.
It may look like a missed opportunity for a fast buck, but if English golf wanted more American visitors, would they not already have focused their marketing efforts in that direction? London isn’t exactly a naive commercial backwater.
The English courses Timothy lists surely already have full tee sheets and healthy memberships. An influx of American visitors may just reduce members playing options & inflate green fees -with increased revenues balanced by the cost of better conditioning. Maybe it’d be an attractive option for second tier clubs, but then I’m not sure golfers will cross the Atlantic using up precious holiday allowance for that. Would be interesting to know the English Golf Inion’s view on this.
It’s not a strategy I’d wish my club to pursue (tempting as it might be to have additional visitors subsidize my annual dues). Likewise, I’m sure many Sunningdale members are very happy to have their two enviable courses - for the most part - to themselves
You missed the points I raised. The issue is NOT whether Sunningdale needs more players -- from America or anywhere else for that matter.
English golf has the product -- it's the amplifier that's missing. That's especially so -- as I point out -- regarding what Tourism Ireland and Visit Scotland consistently do so well. You'd be surprised to know that the efforts of Tourism Ireland and Visit Scotland have been quite successful in opening up the eyes of visitors -- Americans and others -- on the qualities of courses that are even more fun and playable than those at the very top of the heap. Tourism Ireland and Visit Scotland understand thoroughly how golf can play a role in opening up other points of emphasis. As a media member, I can tell you how active each is in getting information out on what's happening.
My comments were not about the elite few clubs already in fine shape -- both membership and balance sheet wise. The missing element, which Tim stated, was how he personally mentioned an assortment of OTHER courses in England that fly considerably under the radar and are fine golf options to pursue. I can remember being advised to play Littlestone during a visit to the Kent area a few years back because I could not secure a tee time at RSG. The recommendation was most welcomed and quite enjoyable.
There are Americans -- and likely avid golfers from other countries too -- that would like to play more than just the upper, upper tier of courses. One of the clear strengths of top100golfcourses is how it provides a depth of information exposing the full array of golf options worth considering. As you are likely aware -- far too much time spent by the biggest media outlets is concentrated on the .01 percent of golf courses.
Hi M James, if your point was that the amplifier for English golf is missing - and that Ireland & Scotland have done a great job is this regard - then I agree. That's kind of why I made the first comment to try to explain why this might be the case.
I feel that this is comparing apples & pears. The key question is "does English golf need or want this amplification"? To use an example from your own back yard, does Shinnecock Hills need or want this kind of amplification from marketing? The answer is no. Many Irish & Scottish golf courses presumably both need and want this. A large part of their total revenue comes from those visitors, so of they've invested in marketing to maximise that opportunity.They even sell lifetime memberships to Americans.
Does a course like Sunningdale need this amplification? As with Shinnecock, no. Do they want it? - to some degree yes - they are welcoming to visitors - which is wonderful - but not to the extent that they wish to spend significant sums on marketing. They are already in a healthy financial position and presumably they look after their members first. For a variety of demographic & economic factors, English golf is therefore different. This difference - perhaps with a dash of good fortune - helps promote sustainability and resilience. There will be exceptions - perhaps more remote tracks Silloth & St Enodoc would welcome a significant increase in visitors from overseas.
I am in no way disparaging the approach of those Irish & Scottish clubs - necessity is the mother of invention - and I really hope they can weather the impact of no American visitors this summer. They have found an effective economic formula that enables them to persist, thrive, and therefore be enjoyed by everyone.
Luckily for English golf, I do not speak for English golf - but the economic reasons they do not match the marketing efforts of Scotland & Ireland seem very clear to me. And my own view with regard to perceived quality, I don't need to see convoys of minibuses to validate English golf. The congnoscenti opinion from the likes of Tom Doak, Ran Morrisett, yourself, and many other contributors on this website, is enough for me!
You can’t really beat this - everything is just perfection. From the lovely clubhouse to the halfway hut - and more importantly the course.
Whilst every hole is strong, a few of my favourites are worth mentioning. Par 4s 6 and 7 are great fun with a blind approach on 6 and a blind drive over the bunkers on 7. The approach to 7 is simply stunning.
10 is one of the best holes on the course. Fantastic drive and a long uphill approach to a huge green before reaching the haven of the halfway hut.
11 is a great short par 4 with a blind drive into what looks like an ocean of heather. 12 is a solid par 4 with some good cross bunkering short of the green. 15 is a lovely long par 3 to a green surrounded by heather and 16 is brutal with an uphill approach needing to cover what seems like dozens of bunkers.
You can’t beat the view on 17 and 18 with the traditional oak tree and clubhouse in the distance.
Really cannot wait to get back here.
Whilst Sunningdale Old is very very good, and I would not say, probably that it is overrated, I do think that it does have the inevitable bandwagon effect whereby it is lauded as flawless perfection whereas I do not think it is that. I think its best par 4s are of exceptional quality. For me 7,10,11,12,16. There are a good gathering of very good holes not far behind. However, whilst fine I do not think for instance that the par 3s are as good as say the par 3s on The Berkshire Red. I also think that the land the course starts and finishes on which effects 1.17, and 18 is not the same as the land on the rest of the course and this puts is at a disadvantage in my mind to The Berkshire Red which is a more consistent journey. In general I do not find the land as peaceful, special and pretty as the Berkshire or Swinley. Nor am I a massive fan of the clubhouse or its views. I also think that there are too many short par 4s, 2 or which are unexceptional. I think the high points being its best par 4s are exceptional and I think that is what cements the courses reputation. There are average holes like the 1st, 3rd and 18, and I do not think that the round is as consistently strong as The Berkshire or Swinley... its high points however are higher... but who I am I kidding... our heathland courses are our crown jewel and Sunningdale Old is probably rightfully the top of the pile.
I've been fortunate to play a fair amount of the top courses in the U.K but to finally play Sunningdale was just a genuine thrill with the expectations being met and exceeded. Known as the Augusta of England, my first sighting on arriving at the car park was of the idyllic club house, full of old worldly charm and set amongst the ' Augusta' oak tree just for good measure. I cant single out any 1 hole for particular praise as they were all superb. Dog legs left and right, Par 3's on plateaux's surrounded by precisely formed bunkers that almost looked inviting and Par5s that had that essential mix of risk and reward mentality written all over them.
Full of character and sheer natural beauty each and every one. What this course has that separates it from so many others is the feeling you are in your own wilderness of a bygone era without a hint of a corporate feel that so many good courses sadly have. Ths is old traditional golf at its very best and the icing on the cake is the sausage barguests at the half way house.......sublime.
Absolute Class. I don't know anyone who's played it that doesn't love it.
Just magnificent. From the first to the last... and the best half way hut in Britain!
An ABSOLUTELY SUPERB golfing experience. From when you pull into the hallowed grounds to the first tee on the old course by the starters shack, you feel the history of the place.
The greens are absolutely immaculate and the design of the course sublime. My favorite holes have to be the Par-4 5th, played from an elevated tee looking down to a pond and bunkers to punish stray drives. The Par-4 7th is a beaut with a blind drive required leaving you a fabulous approach shot protected by bunkers front and right. The Par-4 10th is one of my favourites in the world! What a sight as you look down the hole from the very elevated tee-box. The Par-3 13th is a pretty hole with a fantastic backdrop of the neighbouring houses. The Par-4 17th and Par-4 18th are fantastic finishing holes with the clubhouse up the hill in the distance. As you finsih out your final putt on the 18th under the iconic oak tree, think about all the famous names who have finished off before you in this fantastic setting.
Overall, the course is relatively short - BUT, dont be fooled as the heather and bunkers will really punish any misplaced golf shots and the undulating greens will still ensure you need to be on top form to not walk away with a bunch of 3-putts.