Swinley Forest - Berkshire - England

Swinley Forest Golf Club,
Coronation Road,
SL5 9LE,

  • +44 (0)1344 620197

Swinley Forest is a charming golf course set on the famous Surrey/Berkshire sand belt. A few decades ago it was a club frozen in time, exclusive, unusual and totally eccentric. One commentator went as far as to say: “The inescapable impression is that the place fell asleep many years ago and slumbered on for decades, the Rip Van Winkle of golf clubs.”

In fact, you would be hard pressed to describe it as a conventional golf club; there was no captain and despite being in existence for nearly 100 years, little history, except in its members’ heads. However, in the 1990s, scorecards were printed, holes allocated par figures, and competitions introduced for Swinley’s distinguished members.

Harry Colt designed the layout and the course opened for play in 1909 – he modestly described Swinley Forest as his “least bad course”. One of the many delights of Swinley is the ambience, which is hard to define but ubiquitous. It’s also totally unpretentious, having none of the new money glamour of its near neighbours, but more style than all other local clubs combined.

If you were lucky enough to play here around the turn of the new millennium, you would have often had the entire course to yourself. It’s possible you’d have spotted Major So-and-so and his dog, or Lord Such-and-such enjoying a Pimm’s in the clubhouse. It was likely that you’d be able to count other golfers playing the course on one hand. Today things are different. The club has opened its doors to societies and green fee visitors and there’s a tangible optimistic buzz around the place.

Swinley Forest came into being thanks to Edward George Villiers Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby, and one of Sunningdale’s founder members. Lord Stanley became fed up with Sunningdale’s policies and a number of theories as to the real reason(s) exist, which are all documented in Nicholas Courtney’s Swinley Special – One Hundred Years of Harry Colt’s ‘Least Bad Course’.

“Another theory why Lord Derby was disenchanted with Sunningdale was their attitude to women. Lady Stanley became a keen golfer,” wrote Courtney, “yet under the original rule 4 she could not even set foot in Sunningdale, as women ‘be not allowed to play over the links’.”

Lord Stanley mentioned his gripes to King Edward VII, who suggested Lord Stanley build his own course at Swinley Forest, part of the Windsor Great Park. The King provided the land (on a peppercorn rent) and Lord Stanley built the clubhouse and commissioned Harry Colt – who was then the Secretary at Sunningdale – to design the course, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We will make no bones about it, we’re very fond of Swinley and it’s undeniably an attractive course. The short, one-shot holes are simply outstanding and varied in terms of length and design. The site/position of the greensites sets Swinley apart from many of its contemporaries. Although the yardage was only a little over 6,000 yards a decade or so ago, the par of 68 made the going challenging.

Today’s course is longer and more back tees have been added, extending the yardage to 6,400 yards, which may still not sound long by today’s standards, but with a par of 69 it will test and delight not only the scratch golfer but also the high handicapper.

The summer swathes of purple heather and firm fairways that wind their way through mature pines epitomise heathland golf along the London sandbelt. Add in the crafty greens, with false-fronts and cunning run-offs along with old world allure and you have the unique Swinley cocktail, which is very pleasurable indeed.

So, what are you waiting for? You don’t need to send a letter in the post to the secretary by way of introduction these days, simply pick up the phone, or use that newfangled email technique: [email protected]
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Description: Swinley Forest Golf Club is an absolutely charming golf course sited on the famous sand belt, but it’s a club that is frozen in time, exclusive, unusual and eccentric... Rating: 8.6 out of 10 Reviews: 62
Ian Cranidge

I can think of few better pleasures in the world than an early round at Swinley Forest on a warm mid-summer morning. From the moment you drive up the understated, almost hidden driveway and cross the railway line it’s a perfect experience of class and old world charm. The characterful clubhouse to the course routed through mature pines over gently rolling terrain, the tag of Harry Colt’s least worst course is well earned. While relatively short by today’s standards (I played off the whites) the course is no push over, you need to keep the ball on the fairway to have any chance of posting a decent score, they are generous but the firm turf means anything offline will be swallowed up by the acres of heather which line almost every fairway, at best a wedge out the only option unless you are very lucky. This must be fairly regular occurrence so the club generously has installed white marker posts in the heather to give you a reference point and some hope of finding your ball, a nice touch.

The course opens and closes with a couple generous par 4’s which are perfect holes to start and finish with, open with a par to boost your confidence and end with par to take away good memories while sitting on the terrace with a post round drink. The short par 4’s and par 3’s are the highlights of the course, especially good the 3rd , a downhill par 4 where you can be brave with the driver and have flick with a wedge into the green or play safe. 11 was my favourite, an uphill slightly blind tee short, it requires a gentle draw to end up on the right hand side of fairway providing the best angle into the green. All the par 3’s are excellent, a sublime mixture of uphill and downhill holes, some with fearsome elevated greens which punish any loss of concentration, firing your ball into some terrifying heather/rough areas. Defending the greens are a multitude of swales, hollows and deep bunkers topped with heather and long grass, only supremely accurate approaches will yield birdie chances, anything careless will be a real test of your recovery short game. I felt the greens had moderate pace, I would have preferred them quicker, maybe they are slower than you expect because of all the humps and bumps, it took me a few holes to realise putter needed to be brandished firmly! The only criticism was my visit was over too soon, practically having the course to myself I was done in less than 3 hours, I’d have happily gone around again, there was a corporate golf day teeing off as I finished and I was sorely tempted to try my luck and tag onto that.

June 17, 2021
9 / 10
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Neil White

Fun? Golf is meant to be fun? I have long believed that most golfers are masochists – they enjoy the torture of shanks, hooks and missed putts.

Perversely, they revel in telling all and sundry how awful they are at the game they profess to love.

And they are especially exercised by having to fill out a medal card when all is not going to plan – which is at least 90 per cent of the time.

Well, at Swinley Forest, when they say they play for fun, they mean it.

This may be listed in the top 60 courses in the world but the genteel members don’t play medals, have not long been marking cards, play winter rules all year round and don’t talk to them about the new world handicap system.

Yep, they opted out of that.

This is golf as it was meant to be played by the well-heeled although I didn’t find Swinley Forest in any way stuffy.

From the moment we arrived for our society day, friendliness abounded, from the assistant in the pro’s shop to the lass who served the bacon roll and coffee and the starter who warned: “Don’t hit long”.

Actually, I only learned that gem of advice from the group who played after us when I was tucking into lunch in the marquee which has been erected in front of the handsome clubhouse.

I only wish I had bionic hearing because it may have made me think a little harder before ignoring my Garmin watch every time I arrived at a par-three tee box.

Yes, dare I say, I WAS playing a medal and believing I knew better than my electronic guide in the rain cost me dearly.

Accuracy is key to success at Swinley Forest - a relatively short par 69 with pretty much all holes potentially hittable in regulation for a mid-handicapper… if they are playing better than me.

Swinley Forest eases the golfer in. I was errant off the first tee but still managed a par thanks to a tidy putt.

Seeing the ball sink after one strike was a rarity - because the greens are deceiving and have many more borrows than appear at first glance.

The second offers an example – it invites the player into a relatively unguarded green but the ball is likely to wander down the treacherous slope at the back of it if the approach is not pinpoint.

Heather can also play a significant part – it wasn’t in purple bloom in May but even in its youth it is best avoided and several tee shots demand carry.

This is the case on the third – a short par four which is framed by trees and lures the ambitious who might have dreams of reaching in one. I can speak from experience that such a cavalier attitude can result in a six.

Remember, it is meant to be fun, Neil…

Chances are if Swinley’s par threes are conquered, a good score will be recorded. There are five – none are long but all have significant peril if club selection and consequent tee shots are awry.

My favourite holes were longer. For example, the fifth - a relatively short par five which demands an opening fade through two bunkers. The brave will then hit an approach over a pond on the right and attempt to thread it between traps. The sensible will lay up and try to flick their approach close – and then, in my case, miss an eight-footer for a birdie.

I was also a fan of the 12th – a long par four whose green is protected by an undulating fairway and then slopes quite alarmingly from left to right.

And the 18th is pretty as a picture, rising up to a clubhouse which looks down from the horizon. Don’t make the mistake of dreaming of lunch before guiding past heather and bunkers!

But who cares if you go in either? My playing partner and I experienced the joys of both and still ended up with fives, headed off to the marquee and downed refreshment with an excellent dinner and dessert.

It really is fun on and off the course at Swinley Forest.

May 13, 2021
8 / 10
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Nicholas Kjelgaard

Swinley Forest has been on the hit list for a while now and we managed to play on a fine warm Friday in April, what a way to start the weekend.

The course is in fantastic condition, the greens are as good as you get. It is not a long course but it doesn’t feel short, we played off the whites which I would recommend as not only does it add distance but it makes the course much harder. Some examples of this are 10 where you have to cover the drive all the way to the green, off the yellows you can afford to come up short more. 12 totally changes the requirement to shape a tee shot and plays blind while off the yellow it appears you can be straighter. 15 as the bunkers really come in to play where they don’t off the yellows, plus again you need to really draw off the tee between the bunkers where from the yellows you can just hit past them.

The par 3s are all really good I struggle to pick my favourite but I think it is the first par 3. I am sure I would change my mind the more I played it.

I would definitely recommend the course if you are in the area, it could not be more quintessentially English.

May 10, 2021
9 / 10
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Josh P

Beautiful on the eye and intriguing from start to finish, Swinley Forest is a heathland masterpiece. Only a Par 69, but played off the back tees this is a real challenge, with long irons called for into a lot of greens, and shot shaping required.

Off the tee, there is a lot of strategy called for with centreline bunkers on the 5th, 7th, 9th, and 12th holes, and angle of approach being key throughout. The greens are the real highlight of Swinley- lots of great contouring and fun run off areas.

One of my favourite stretch of holes came early from 2-5. The 2nd, a downhill blind tee shot with a green sloping away from the player, followed by a bunker less par 4 with a tiered green. The 4th is a redan template, which is followed by the par 5 5th which tee shot is played downhill, urging the player to take on as much of the well bunkered fairway as possible.

I feel like this is the type of course with such variety in holes that you could play endlessly without getting bored! Without knowing what it was like before, it also seems that Ponts restoration work has bedded in very nicely. The course is a leisurely stroll through the forest, with nice flora and heather. Eventually, the 18th takes you back up to the magnificent clubhouse, a great setting.

One of the most private clubs in England, any golfer knows they are lucky when they get to experience Harry Colts ‘least bad golf course’.

November 16, 2020
8 / 10
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“My least bad course” Said Mr Colt, of this absolute gem. Understatement.

I came to play this course as a result of a number of fortuitus moments. As with Pine Valley, you enter the course when crossing a railway, albeit over a bridge. But the sense of arrival is just the same, for as you turn your head to the left you are able to survey the 1st and 18th fairways. A view I will never forget.

As with a number of private clubs, and especially with links club in England, practice facilities are an afterthought. The range consists of a singular shelter hitting out towards ‘in-reach’ pines. However, I was quite taken with the putting green, located in the shadow of the magnificent clubhouse, looking out over the course.

A course guide was presented to me and a hybrid headcover was purchased. Away I went, with my Dad as scorer, bird watcher and Colt admirer. Stiped one down the first. No one to witness. Shame. If there are over 30 players playing over a weekend, the course is considered busy. And so, yes, I was the only one on the course. To be alone and playing this beautifully intricate is something I will never forget, and it is unlikely that I will ever experience it again.

For many years Swinley Forest was shrouded in secrecy and had almost mythical status in the world of golf. It was designed by Harry Colt while he was Secretary at Sunningdale and opened in 1909. The club was and still is a bastion of the English upper classes and is one of the most exclusive clubs anywhere in the country.

At 6431 yards, it isn’t long. This course is made up of 2 par 5s, 11 par 4s and 5 par 3s which means it doesn’t feel like a short course when you are playing. The playability of the course is the thing that really shone out for me. For some reason, I had expected the ‘forest’ to impinge and for the course to be tight. In reality, this isn’t the case at all. The magnificent pines are almost always in view but they sit well back from the holes and act more as a backdrop than hazard. There is plenty of heather on the course but, again, it sits away from the fairways in most cases and there are few carries to worry the average golfer. Sunningdale New this is not!

This was a very, very special golf course and one that will live with me forever. The club was friendly, there was no pretension and while it is fairly clear you are only a guest for the day and a visitor to the club, you will be welcomed warmly. A club butler welcomed my Dad and I on the 18th green, after a scrappy par, and offered us a cold glass of water ON A SILVER PLATTER. He also asked if we would like to go out again. Uh. If only I had known this, I would have got an earlier tee time. Alas, a Sunday Roast was waiting for me back home.

At 6431 yards, it isn’t long. This course is made up of 2 par 5s, 11 par 4s and 5 par 3s which means it doesn’t feel like a short course when you are playing. The playability of the course is the thing that really shone out for me. For some reason, I had expected the ‘forest’ to impinge and for the course to be tight. In reality, this isn’t the case at all. The magnificent pines are almost always in view but they sit well back from the holes and act more as a backdrop than hazard. There is plenty of heather on the course but, again, it sits away from the fairways in most cases and there are few carries to worry the average golfer. Sunningdale New this is not!

This was a very, very special golf course and one that will live with me forever. The club was friendly, there was no pretension and while it is fairly clear you are only a guest for the day and a visitor to the club, you will be welcomed warmly. A club butler welcomed my Dad and I on the 18th green, after a scrappy par, and offered us a cold glass of water ON A SILVER PLATTER. He also asked if we would like to go out again. Uh. If only I had known this, I would have got an earlier tee time. Alas, a Sunday Roast was waiting for me back home

October 22, 2020
9 / 10
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Swinley offers genius routing, excellent elevation changes from tee to green, exceptional bunkering and a wonderful sense of peace and tranquillity. One thing that caught me by surprise was just how good the green complexes were. Some subtle, some drastic. It’s a relatively short course by modern standards and requires strategy, rather than high bombs and hellacious seeds off every tee. That said, there’s still plenty of opportunity to hit driver.

The staff were all very welcoming and the clubhouse, whilst steeped in history, had more of a relaxed feeling than some other clubs at the top of England’s rankings.

I can never comfortably compare inland courses to the links, but Swinley is right up there my personal Top 5. An absolute delight.

October 01, 2020
9 / 10
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Jack Thomson

Was fortunate to be taken round by a member of the greens keeping staff and had a splendid time, on this majestic course. This also lent a fascinating insight into recent course improvements and a knowledge of every inch of the grounds, including where to find any wayward drives!

The course is magnificent. Charming and pretty from start to finish with a sequence of rising and rolling, grand, sweeping panoramic views and fairways, lined by mature, towering firs and lots of heather!

One of my playing partners remarked it was the best use of elevation changes of any course he had ever played, and I think this sums up one of Swinley's best merits perfectly. As the land rises and ripples, tees and green sites are frequently raised, leading to constant challenge and intrigue. I also really liked how the cross bunkering and tapering treelines constantly challenged my depth perception.

At one point standing on the 14th tee, through the forest, it was possible to see 7 different flags through the trees. Demonstrating the positive effects of recent tree and rhododendron clearing work. Not only from an aesthetic point of view but also allowing play-ability and forgiveness off the tee. I did not lose a ball all round, and although punished severely on occasion by the thick, gripping heather, this makes for a smooth and enjoyable round of golf.

The green complexes were sometimes subtle, sometimes bold and dramatic. The greens themselves ran pure and the turf conditioning was faultless. My only criticism would be that they were surprisingly slow - although this was largely as they had not been cut in the last day during a period of heavy rain.

Swinley is not long at par 69, playing 5900 off the whites but that never once entered my head whilst playing. Particularly with an exacting set of 5 tough and picturesque long par 3s.

Holes of highlight for me included the uphill par 3 4th with a heavily raised and well bunkered redan green. The downhill drive to begin the short par 5 5th is very inviting into a wide fairway. 7th is again wide but doesn’t look it due to an ominous and deceiving heather ridge and cross bunkers. 9 is a dramatic, diving, drawing, long par 4 with a raised green. 10th a beautiful long par 3 with tight entry point. 11th a blind short par 4 which doglegs right tapering in narrowly towards the green with fairway bunkers that will gobble anything off line. 12th double dog leg long par 4 tough to reach unless a long (and precise) hitter. 13th par 3 plays long and downhill on to a green that runs away front to back. Loved 14 a short par four with heather encroaching into fairway from numerous angles and a small upturned saucer green. 15th short uphill par 5, protected by a severely raised green with potential for devilish pin placement. 17th is a beautiful long par 3, framed by pines with a steep raised green with deep bunkering short left.

Overall came away feeling a sense of privilege and appreciation for the old-world charm, grandeur of terrain and routing and sand-box ambition of Swinley. I can see why Harry Colt deemed it his “least bad design”.

June 19, 2020
9 / 10
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Peter Handcock

I struggle to think of a more charming golf course anywhere than Swinley Forest. Located in an area filled with world class courses, Swinley stands out among the rest. It combines the quality of Sunningdale, with the quietness of Queenwood, and has sprinklings of the best bits from The Berkshire, New Zealand and the 3 Ws.

The clubhouse and membership are both first class and full of history. The club have now opened their doors to the public, allowing paying visitors a chance to play if they contact the secretary in advance. A fantastic move which has allowed so many to walk Harry Colt's "least bad design".

The reason it is held in such high regard by Tom Doak and others alike, is that Swinley doesn't try and be something it's not. It is short, measuring only 6400 off the back tees, but it doesn't feel the need to sacrifice some of it's design for added unnecessary length.

Much like Sunningdale, it starts a bit slow, and builds up towards a crescendo. The first is a lovely opener, which is followed by a visually stunning tee shot on 2, blind over heather and bunkers, much like 7 at Sunnindale Old. 3 is a charming short par 4 with a brilliant green, but 4 is where the round really starts.

4 is a very famous uphill par 3, beautifully guarded by bunkers. It has been described as a redan which I disagree with, but nonetheless it's a fantastic hole. Recent tree removal has made the 5th a gorgeous short par 5, playing downhill to a wide fairway, giving plenty of options. 6 is a good par 4 with plenty of width, and offers a lovely view of the uphill 7th and Colt's genius heather ridge, that looks like cross bunkers off the tee and plays tricks on your mind. 8 is a fantastic short, bunker-less par 3 in the far corner of the golf course, where a missed green almost certainly rules out par. 9 is a spectacular long par 4 with a downhill tee shot downs a centreline bunker, before doglegging left and up the hill to the green. 10 and 11 are majestic holes, a par 3 and par 4 respectively, both perched on top of a hill of heather and beautifully bunkered. 12 is a wonderful double dogleg that may be the best hole on the course, although it has now had it's famous rhododendron bush removed for drainage reasons. 13 is a classic Colt par 3, and 14 is a lovely par 4. The view from the 13th tee (or even the 8th tee above) overlooking 12, 13 and 14 is one of my favourites in golf. 15 is one of my favourite par 5s in the world, wonderfully bunkered again, to an elevated green with an evil false front. 16 also has a devilish green with a huge tier in it. 18 is a lovely closing hole uphill towards the famous clubhouse and patio.

My only criticism is the recent changes on 17 has made the hole worse, visually and strategically. They removed the bunker that was 40 yards short and right of the green on this par 3, which from the tee actually looked green side and made the green look minuscule.

Despite this, Swinley is an absolute must play and is as good as golf gets.

May 06, 2020
10 / 10
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Charles Morrison

Swinley Forest has a real history behind it, a course that seemed like the Queenwood of its day, and in present day still is to the senior generation. Only less standing tall and announcing its prestige and more quietly letting those fortunate to enter the gates see the beauty of Swinley.

I’ve wanted to play this course for years and finally had the chance to recently. In some ways the course lived to its magic, it was quiet, low key and as many describe, like going back in time.

The course has had changes done to it, going by comparisons to photos, talking to Pro staff and a member who I spoke to. The changes are good, they don’t have a look that will date too quickly. The only questionable change is that of the 17th. Harry Colts par 3s here are legendary and one of them, that had a lot of quirky unique features is now an incredibly bland boring hole that you could see on any other run of the mill course. A shame it being the 17th as it’s the last of the par 3s.

A lot of the well known rhododendrons have been removed by the looks of the place. In some ways I was disappointed not to see the course with them but equally it has created beautiful views of the course from one hole to another, similar to a lot of the heathland courses in the area.

Where the rhododendrons once were though look scruffy, open dirt and roots sticking out everywhere, it just takes a wet those holes to see these peripheral areas so untidy. I nit pick but also this is a top course and this isn’t seen at the likes of the Berkshire or Sunningdale.

The bunkering of the course, albeit dated in position some times still look breathtaking. Yes a lot aren’t in play but that doesn’t stop them being a great feature to this heathland course.

I write all this and say what a beautiful place Swinley is and it’s air about it but I have one rather big criticism woth the course which largely is the reason for the rather poor score. The greens. Everything else around the course looked good, albeit rough round the edges and scruffy but it’s winter so this can be overlooked or claimed as part of Swinley old charm but the greens, aren’t greens. I don’t know if there’s been a change in management or who maintains the course has lost interest but something seriously wrong has happened there. So many of the greens have huge areas that are bare mud, on several occasions my ball plugged in greens. The first green is almost more dirt than grass. They look terrible and play as bad. We’ve had a terrible winter, incredibly wet and many courses have had issues I’ve played. None as bad as this and it doesn’t seem it can be blamed on Mother Nature as neighbouring courses greens are in nowhere near as bad a state, Pine Ridge for example, a different league of course but the greens there are so much better.

It’s a shame I’ve had to have this as a big part of my experience as I arrived at Swinley with so much hope and excitement and it left me deflated. I imagine it’s pretty embarrassing, a world rated course with greens in a condition you wouldn’t see on a local 9 hole pay and play. I really hope that this issue is dealt with whether as it’s unacceptable to expect people to pay a top 100 course that and play so many temps and the remaining greens to be poor standard.

Hopefully come summer this will be sorted and Swinley Forest can regain some of its magic and acclaim, right now, it’s a far cry from the courses in the Surrey Berkshire area.

March 14, 2020
4 / 10
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Mark White

When I lived in England from 1993-1998 I knew of the reputation of Swinley Forest but determined it was unattainable unless I utilized my network to find a member. It was not something I chose to do given I had so many other great options such is the depth of great golf courses in the UK and Ireland. The access to Swinley Forest has changed dramatically where now it only requires a phone call and a conversation.

I was able to play it in the summer of 2018 on a beautiful summer’s day with no real wind. We decided to become “members for the day” and play it twice as it is a very easy walk. We played the back tees for the opening round at 6431 yards and the white tees for the second round at 5917 yards. I was not tired for the second round yet I scored 4 strokes better in the morning despite incurring 3 penalty shots. The higher score on the second round occurred on the back nine from holes 12-16 as I started to marvel about the golf course and simply lost concentration as I did not want the round to end. Indeed, I tried to convince my playing partners to go out for a third round.

While playing only two rounds is not a confirmation, I do believe it is indicative that Swinley Forest presents a real challenge regardless of its length due to the wonderful greens.

It is also in the conversation as one of the best sub-70 par golf courses in the world (see my review of Rye Old). More importantly it is one of the most beautiful walks on an inland golf course one will ever take.

The London area is blessed with numerous fine golf courses that it deserves to be in the conversation of “best destination area” for golf. The London area has more outstanding golf than the Liverpool area. In my opinion, only the area of Carnoustie down to North Berwick, Long Island and the Sandbelt are in the conversation. Perhaps Bandon Dunes will eventually build so many courses it will become included in this distinguished trio.

In London, if one can get their choice of a golf club to join, which club would it be? Sunningdale, The Berkshire, and Walton Heath have an advantage in offering two outstanding golf courses. Wentworth offers three courses. Hankley Common, St. George’s Hill, West Hill, Worplesdon, Woking, New Zealand, The Addington are all great alternatives (I have not played three of them). Scratch golfers might prefer a course that is a much stiffer test with a course having yardage over 7000 yards.

Swinley Forest would be a course difficult to not chose such is the beauty of the course, the terrific routing taking full advantage of the changes in the land, the sense of being alone on the golf course, feeling connected to the game of golf, the fabulous par 3’s, and the outstanding greens.

After playing Swinley Forest twice, I regret not trying harder to play it during my time living in the UK.

I can definitely see the reasoning behind including this course in the world top 100. Much like Rye Old it has a couple holes that feel out-of-place. They are good holes, yet they are inconsistent with the holes that are in the trees. However, the quality of all of the holes are good to excellent and offer so many different strategic decisions that the course warrants inclusion in the top 100.

The starting hole is a simple downhill par 4 of average length. The fairway is generous but if one does not find the fairway the tall grass can limit the recovery shot. There are two bunkers on the hole which are meant to come into play for a recovery shot from the errant tee shot. The green is steeply sloped back to front and going beyond the green will likely result in a bogey. It is a gentle and simple starting hole, but it does have teeth.

The second hole is playing blind uphill although the back tee offers a better idea. There are two fairway bunkers on the right that are more of an issue from the back tee. The complication to the hole is in its slopes. The fairway slopes right to left so one should try to stay on the right side with the tee shot. A second slope just in front of the green requires one to determine how much in front of the green to land one’s ball to stay on the green which slopes away from you. I did not know this on the first round and ended up with a penalty stroke from an unplayable lie in the heather behind the green. On the second round I landed 20 yards short of the green and the ball nearly ran off. Longer hitters have to consider the ditch that crosses the fairway at about 300 yards. For only 367 yards this hole is absolutely genius.

As much as I liked the third hole, the short fourth hole at 324/280 is a wonderful driveable par 4 but mainly demands a good short game. On my first round I took another penalty stroke with a lost ball on the tee shot but on both rounds I could not figure out where to land the ball on the green for a decent putt. Others parred the hole but after completing the hole, our foursome stood there for a bit to discuss the fabulously undulating green where one has to hit the front half to avoid running off but a ball landing short meets the additional defense due to its mounding tight by the green and fall-offs.

The fourth hole is likely one of the most memorable holes on the golf course. It is a beautiful slightly uphill longer par 3 of 198 although playing only 147 from the yellow tees. The green has a false front as well as two bunkers to either side and a hill to its right with a fall-off to the left. The green is shaped similar to a redan. It is about as good a par 3 as can be found anywhere.

While the fifth hole, a short dogleg right par 5 is beautiful from the tee, for the average length hitter the decision is easy – go for the middle of the fairway. One can try to cut the corner of the dogleg to gain distance for a chance to hit the green in two. There are so many defenses to this hole that it is a fun hole to play. There are three bunkers on the right as well as a pond about 150 yards from the green that have to be considered. There is another fairway bunker on the left side and the tree line as defense for the tee shot hit to the left. The green has three large bunkers and is sharply tilted back to front as well as being slightly smaller than one might expect. This hole is very good because it can yield a 3 to the brave, long hitter, as well as triple bogeys to those who get off track.

Next come two longer par 4’s at 439 and 431 with both playing uphill. These two holes feel different to the previous holes because the woods are set back farther and there is more heather in play. The holes require two well struck shots as the sixth is well defended at the green with two fronting bunkers and the seventh has a large bunker 40 yards short of the green across nearly the entire fairway as well as two bunkers on the right side of the uphill/blind green with rhododendron bushes nearby. The seventh is much more uphill than the sixth. The seventh’s green is slightly more undulating. Both are difficult holes if one cannot get their tee shot beyond 240 yards.

If not for the tree line, the previous two holes would feel if one were playing in a meadow. This feeling ends on the par 3 eighth hole, mid-length at 173 yards. The hole appears to play flat but once on the green one realizes it fall offs to the left, more steeply behind and very steeply to the right. Indeed, on the second round one of us hit it so far right down the hill I felt he might not be able to make the climb back up to the green. The “safe miss” here is short. While not quite the equal of the fifth hole, the eighth is fabulous.

Completing the front nine is the longest par 4 on the course at 464 yards. The back tee is at the farthest point away from the clubhouse. The hole requires one to stay to the right as this uphill par 4 has a deep valley to the left side of the fairway continuing all the way to the green. There is a bunker on the left of the fairway for those taking too bold of a line in an attempt to shorten the hole. There are two other bunkers on the left side as you near the green. The green is long but tilted back to front and I found it to be one of the more difficult greens to judge the correct pace. For an average length hitter, one should not be upset with a bogey on the hole.

The last two holes take full advantage of the terrain.

After a stop at the halfway hut, another wonderful par 3 awaits and it is the longest on the course at 227 yards. It has three large bunkers but it is possible to land the ball short of the green and run it on. The green is two tiered. A miss to the left of this green will result in a very nasty lie in heather. Much like the earlier par 3’s, this is another beautiful hole.

After playing so many challenging holes, you arrive at the eleventh, a short par 4 bending slightly to the left at 332 yards. However, there are six bunkers, three on the fairway and three fronting the green. Heather pinches in from the left side while the right side has heather and trees. The green is slightly elevated and is out in the open. Walking up from the tee box and arriving at the green makes one feel as if they have come out of a forest onto a gathering point for the views. This hole is a lot of fun.

Twelve is a long par 4 at 455 yards and I thought it to be one of the top three holes on the golf course. It is a double dogleg playing downhill. Four large bunkers are scattered down the fairway resulting in one having to consider what type of shot to hit. The green has a single bunker on the front right and is tilted left to right with ripples at the right side. One cannot go long over the green as the rhododendron bushes frame the entire back side of the green.

Moving back in the opposite direction the thirteenth is another gem of a par 3 at 193 yards. It is rated the 18 index which surprised me as I thought it to be a very difficult par given the three bunkers fronting the green and continuing down the left side. The green is slightly crowned and difficult with a front to back slope. I made par and a double here and felt those to be “common” scores. It is yet another terrific par 3.

I felt the fourteen to be a “breather” hole the first time around but the second round changed my opinion. The tee shot requires one to either carry the two bunkers on the left or angle the shot to avoid the bunker on the right. Trees await those who either pull or push their first shot too much. There are two sets of heather to avoid. The green sits at an angle to the right and is long, narrow and crowned. This hole really offers everything one could want despite it being less than 400 yards.

Fifteen is the second par 5 on the course and is rated the number 2 index. It begins the direct line back to the clubhouse. Once driving beyond the two fairway bunkers positioned left and right there are four other bunkers to consider with three on the left. The hole rises throughout and the green is situated at the top of a steep hill with any ball landing short of the green will likely end as much as 90 yards away. The green slopes right to left with the heather very close particularly in the back. I liked this hole for the added variety of yet another type of different shot as well as once again the hole is routed to take advantage of the change in terrain.

Sixteen is a mid-length par 4 that is fairly straight but the fairway narrows on the left as the heather pinches in. There is a bunker left and bunker right for the drive as well as a tree line on the right side. The green is raised, long and narrow with no bunkers as the green itself is the defense.

Seventeen is the final par 3 at 189 yards. It is perhaps the loveliest par 3 on the golf course. The raised green is surrounded by bunkers, one on the front right, two on the left side and one behind the green. Like a few other holes at Swinley Forest, a ball landing short of the green will roll back a considerable distance. Yet, that is the safer play rather than missing left, long, or right.

You walk down from the seventeenth green to find the eighteenth tee. Once you have hit the tee shot and walk 100 yards down the fairway the world opens up again as the eighteenth and first hole provide some breathing room. You can spy the clubhouse and patio perched behind the eighteenth green. This hole is a mid-length par 4 playing slightly uphill with the tee shot requiring a carry over a ditch cutting diagonally across the fairway. The approach shot which must carry the three bunkers fronting the green. The green is steeply sloped back to front and left to right. Going long over the green is to be avoided as the road is out-of-bounds or one faces a very fast pitch. One should also not miss to the right the green into the heather. It is a very nice finishing hole.

While the back tees are only 6431 yards, Swinley Forest plays much longer despite the shortness of four of the par 4’s. H.S. Colt’s routing takes full advantage of the change in terrain and the land movements. The green complexes have bunkers where they should and have none where they are not needed. The greens are well shaped.

In my review of Rye, I placed Rye Old slightly above Swinley Forest as I think Rye Old has the superior holes. Yet Swinley Forest has the slightly better par 3’s and is more consistent. This is a course I highly recommend one play and play it more than once. While one could argue that Sunningdale Golf Club has two courses that are superior to Swinley Forest, I do not share that opinion. At Swinley Forest, one better be able to hit the ball straight and have an excellent short game. It requires careful thought to record a low score, but my recommendation is to just enjoy the golf course for its beauty, variety, and connection to nature. Perhaps I should reconsider Swinley Forest versus Rye Old?

January 07, 2020
9 / 10
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