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”.
Date: June 19, 2020