Swinley Forest had been on my radar for a very long time. The way it was once described to me on a flight into Heathrow a few years back by somebody who used to caddie for Douglas Badder, a former distinguished member of the club, had me anticipating a rather crusty old club with a tired old course.
Recent reviews that I’ve read on this website and elsewhere indicated that things had changed both on and off the course in recent years – certainly since the current secretary was appointed – and I’m delighted to report this new outlook was very much in evidence when I played here a few days ago.
The rolling topography is sublime, with holes beautifully routed to allow thrilling downhill tee shots from a good number of tee positions. Many of the greens are set on ridge tops or benched into hillsides, forcing golfers to play an exacting approach shot to a heavily contoured putting surface, many of which are further protected by heather fringed bunkers and mounding.
The five par threes are all brilliant but the first of these, the 171-yard 4th, is the best of that handful in my view – just how difficult can it be to make an uphill short hole appear so attractive? The left doglegged 9th is the pick of the par fours on the front nine, plunging down off the tee then rising up to a green that falls away into a gully on the left hand side.
The par fours at the 12th and 15th were my favourites on the back nine and critics of the greens on the Castle course at St Andrews really want to check out the putting surface on these holes to see what truly outlandish outlines look like! The sumptuous 18th ends the round in fine style, where a newly planted area of heather to the right of the home green further separates the putting surface from the 1st tee.
This little ground improvement is just one of a myriad of course upgrades that have taken place in recent months. For instance, huge swathes of invasive rhododendrons have been eliminated from the fairway fringes, new tees have been added on several holes and a new practice area has been built close to the clubhouse. General course conditioning has also been advanced, though there’s still some way to go before things are exactly as the club would want them to be.
Double checking the Top 100 re-rankings that took place at the start of this year, Swinley Forest made really significant moves within every chart: up 4 to number 6 in England, up 7 to number 22 in Great Britain & Ireland and up 16 to number 71 in the World. From what I saw the other day, those positive move were well merited for a course (and a club) that is firmly embracing the golfing challenges of the new millennium.
Date: July 23, 2016