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0.25 mile from Sunningdale Station off the A30
Contact in advance - Not Fri, Sat, Sun or public hols
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.
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.
You can read as many books and browse as many websites as you like before playing at a top venue but no amount of research can ever prepare you for the feel of a place – you have to be there to experience the setting, play the course, evaluate the routing and survey the landscape before you can really appreciate how good a golf course like Sunningdale Old really is.
Having played the New course in the morning, I was eagerly anticipating the challenge of the Old in the afternoon and it did not disappoint. A surprising element for me was the elevation changes at the most southerly points on the course between the 7th and the 10th holes where even slightly errant shots are severely punished.
Overall though, fairways were more open than I had anticipated and some of the tee carries across heather were more intimidating than I had previously imagined. Teeing off from the 10th is definitely as exhilarating as you might expect but other favourite holes were either side of this one at the short par fours on 9 and 11.
It’s a pity the green on the third short par four on the card, the 318 yard, 3rd was out of use but the new greenside bunkering work with sand and heather on that hole looks simply sensational.
There is a somewhat understated finish to the round on the 18th hole – if anything, this slightly uphill, semi-dogleg hole is a slight letdown but it would be churlish to overly criticise when all that has gone before it has been one strong hole after another.
The other real surprise of the day was the informality of a very hospitable clubhouse which was far from the stuffy establishment I may have anticipated but in reality was anything but that. Sunningdale is an experience to savour so if you plan a visit, play the 36 holes of both courses with a lunch in between and you will have had yourself as good a day's golf as you will find anywhere in the British Isles.