When excellent land is complimented with great course design, you have a classic, and that’s exactly what you have at Swinley Forest. The course, with free draining sandy soil, is set amongst pines with oodles of heather dispersed amongst the rough. And whilst I wouldn’t describe the course as hilly, it’s a rolling journey with what felt like every tee positioned such that you’re found playing towards angled fairways throughout.
The course is a layout without weakness. There’s no drop in quality throughout the round but there are two aspects of Swinley Forest that really propel the course into World Top 100 pedigree; the first is the wonderful greens whilst the other standout feature is the fantastic collection of par threes. Swinley has some beautifully sloping, contoured and undulating greens but not for one second do they feel tricked-up in any way. The greens run true like carpet, but to keep them playable, they’re kept at a medium paced, sensible speed. The par threes are sublime; typically played to raised greens with intimidating bunkering and shelf drop-offs, these must be the finest set of par threes in England.
Touching upon a few holes briefly, some people have commented that the round starts slowly but I personally loved the 2nd. You play a blind tee shot over a bunker in the foreground guarding the start of the fairway akin to the tee shot on the 11th at Sunningdale Old. A grassy sunken hollow to the front left of the green provides a feature that you’ll want to avoid whilst the putting surface itself slopes from front to back forcing a deft approach shot; as with all great short par fours, an easy par but a tough nut to birdie. As good as that hole is, you know you’re really playing a special course just a couple of holes later as the 4th/5th par 3/5 combination is simply world class, one playing up to a wide angled plateau green, with the other being a beautiful long downhill hole with forced carries over sand and water.
The back nine is every bit the equal to the front and other than the par threes, the 15th was my pick. A sumptuous uphill par five, comparable to the 5th in that it’s reachable in two but there’s more hidden danger lurking here. The 15th green has a wicked false front that will repel anything short whilst anything long or left is gone. This is one of a number of holes where the golfer can be forced to look silly whereby an under-struck chip shot could quite easily return its way back to one’s feet.
Swinley Forest is a short course, particularly by modern standards and has the benefit of being both playable and scoreable for most golfers, but what sets Swinley Forest aside is that it’s brilliantly consistent throughout. Each hole offers a different set of questions whilst providing plenty of opportunities for you to stand back on the tee and admire the beauty of what lays in front of you. The biggest surprise to me however was the wonderfully relaxed ambiance within the clubhouse. With its reputation of being a private and elitist club, I had expected the atmosphere to be much more snooty and pretentious.
Full marks to Swinley without much hesitation, she’s a charming old lady with grace and beauty rarely paralleled.
Date: August 30, 2018