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.
I played very badly at Sweetwoods, so I’ve tried to de-couple how I played from the course. I do broadly agree with the the one previous reviewer; there are some rather dull holes with 2, 3, 9, 10 and 15 being my candidates. There are a couple of tough holes, 13 and 14 being my candidates. Looking back I think 13 is a better hole, because, after a good drive you are tempted to get over the water. Succeed and you’re left with a 50 yard third shot. Be conservative and it’s a good deal longer.
14 on the other hand is close, for ordinary mortals, to requiring three lay-ups before going for the green. Off the tee if you can’t carry 200 yards, with the second as getting in the right place for a wedge approach requires plenty of loft and carry over the corner of the dog-leg which may not be possible, or risked, and with the third as the neck over the second stream is tight. I don’t dislike tough holes, but they should offer temptation and for me this hole didn’t.
And the 18th. If you have a tree in the middle of the fairway don’t allow a shot over the right hand side to run away and be lost. I’d place it further left (or rather place the tee further right) so that a draw round the tree is the best shot, and a straight or slightly faded shot merely gets you out of position or requiring a strong fade or even slice to reach the green.
And finally golf should be an aesthetic game, for both sexes. Some of the ladies tees were from a completely different line, and one that did not make the aesthetics better. So it’s by no means a bad course, but really don’t think it’s worth much of a diversion.
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).