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.
Date: June 17, 2021