Back in the early 1990s, at a time when new golf developments were all the rage, farmer Peter Strand, made the decision to convert his 230-acre property on the Sussex-Kent border into an 18-hole golf course. Forming a partnership with another farmer, Michael Hewson, they constructed the 18-layout without any formal architectural assistance, establishing the Sweetwoods Park Golf Club.
Early in the new millennium, businessman Martin Long - who made his fortune by founding then selling a couple of big insurance companies - took control of the operation, pledging to upgrade the layout if necessary. Indeed, the owner has been quoted as saying: “the course is an area of the club I believe deserves ongoing investment and constant improvements; I always strive to find the finishing touches to make your experience more memorable.”
Feature holes at Sweetwoods Park include short par fours at the 280-yard 6th and 297-yard 16th, back-to-back par fives at the 13th and 14th, and a terrific closing hole where tee shots must avoid a large tree in the centre of the fairway before an approach can be played to the two-tiered home green.
The start to the back-9 gives my only negative comment on this half …. The 10th is very straight and under 330 yards just needs more protection at the green, two bunkers on the left of the green are just waiting to be built. If I was to give the course a ball rating at this point, it would be a ‘3’. The remaining eight holes are a delight to play; the 12th tee shot has to come out a funnel of trees to a sloping fairway and with water on the right-side is the most demanding tee shot so far. Back to back par-5’s at the 13th and 14th are difficult to forget; the first of these dog-legging right and has a water ditch to negotiate at about 360 yards. The 14th is a monster of a hole and whatever your score here, you will have to work for it; the water ditch is back in play, this time at around 200 yards from the tee meaning the opening shot could even be a lay-up. The hole continues to develop turning left, with trees and another ditch 50 yards short of the green being the main problems - this is not a surprise as the stroke index 1. The 15th is an ok par-3 but on to the 16th ….. a short par-4 (under 300 yards) that moves to the left and with only one bunker and water at the back of the green as protection sounds straight forward, maybe it is but this is a smart looking hole. The penultimate hole is an uphill par-3 to a two tiered green that is all carry. The last drive of the day on the 18th is likely to cause most trouble for those that struggle shaping the ball right to left…anything on the right-side will mean a blocked-out second shot to the green that can only been seen from the left-side – a clever designed hole with three great bunkers protecting the green – to continue with the back nine praise, the 18th green is positioned exactly where is should be and that is right in front of the clubhouse. I enjoyed my round at Sweetwoods Park and will return (and if some of the early holes are changed, this could be a 5-ball course next time).