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We make no apology for declaring that West Sussex Golf Club is one of our favourite inland courses. It is sheer delight to play golf on this charming sandy outcrop of heathland. The course occupies a priceless, stunning, undulating site on the northern edge of the South Downs.
In the scheme of things, West Sussex is a relative youngster, dating back to 1930. Commander G W Hillyard who moved down to Sussex from Leicestershire originally discovered the site. A company called Links and Courses was commissioned to design and build the course, where Sir Guy Campbell, Major C.K. Hutchison and and Colonel S.V. Hotchkin were the principle directors. These three architects created one of the most natural and aesthetically pleasing golf courses in England.
On the surface of it, West Sussex is a short course, measuring 6,355 yards from the tiger tees. The first hole, a short par 5, is the only easy birdie opportunity. After that, you’ll have to negotiate seven par 4s measuring over 400 yards. You will do very well to play to your handicap and it’s unlikely that you will get the impression that the course is short.
Clearly, this isn’t a championship golf course but it will provide a challenging and thought-provoking round for the very best golfers whilst remaining enjoyable for the higher handicapper. The holes wind their way through enchanting woodland, with oak, silver birch and pine providing a pretty backdrop and the heather and the cunning bunkering providing the definition. The colours, especially in autumn, are breathtaking.
Each hole demands thought and holds attention, there is a great deal of variation to the holes and many are memorable. There isn’t a signature hole as such, but we especially like the 6th, a 224-yard downhill par three with a pond lurking 40 yards in front of the green; to make matters worse, the whole area of pond is out-of-bounds. This hole started out as a short par four, but Hotchkin pulled rank and convinced Campbell that it should be played as a long par three.
In Golf Between Two Wars, Bernard Darwin wrote the following: “The day on which to see Pulborough, if not to play our best on it, is one when the wind is blowing hard, for the sand is wafted in great puffs, like white clouds across the course, so that we can scarcely believe that the sea is not round the corner… it is a little sandy jewel set in the Sussex clay… what more can anyone desire?”
I suppose you subconsciously set the bar a little higher when you play a course in the World Top 100, expecting a little more than you might from other places that are “only” ranked inside their national chart. Well, a lot was anticipated of West Sussex before playing here and it delivered in every way imaginable.
There’s an intimacy to playing this heathland track that you’ll not find on bigger, championship-orientated layouts – overall length from the yellow tees is just under 6,000 yards, which is more than enough for the average golfer – and the holes are routed in a very interesting sequence across lovely wooded terrain.
The 1st and 18th occupy the flattest part of the property, closest to the clubhouse, so the round at West Sussex doesn’t exactly get off to a spectacular start and neither does it finish with a flourish, but what goes on in between these two holes is pretty special.
The downhill 6th hole over a lily pond was a big surprise and one of the finest long par threes you’ll play, offering a big bail out to the right if required. There’s a bit of a lull in proceeding around the turn and holes 9 to 11 are more in the category of “breather” holes.
Thereafter, it’s one top class hole after another, with two terrific par fours sandwiched between the par threes at 12 and 15 (the two-tiered green for the second short hole sitting behind another lovely lily pond), followed by a pair of right doglegged par fours where two big heather banks protect the front of the 16th green and menacing cross bunkers need to be carried on the 17th.
My host was completely unaware that his course was as well-regarded on this website as it is. He lives locally and enjoys playing occasionally – mainly midweek, and often on his own – when things are a little quieter. What a lucky man!
Second only to Woodhall Spa’s Hotchkin, West Sussex is perhaps my favourite inland course in England. The magic starts on the 3rd hole where you weave through pine trees, thick heather and impeccable bunkering.
The back to back par 3s (5&6) are great fun, with the latter being 230 yards down hill over water with thick stuff immediately left of the green and a bunker long-right. There isn’t a weak hole on the back 9, but the run of holes from 13-15 are simply brilliant. The 14th is somewhat similar to the 11th at Augusta with water left and whilst you think the bailout is right, it leaves you with no shot to a green that slopes away from you towards the water.
At Par 68, the course plays deceptively long off the back tees.
Can’t wait to get back there in Spring!
A view from a non-member from Scotland: West Sussex is a great golf course and club. Yes it's a short par 68, so it doesn't get ranked as a championship course, but it doesn't play short and anyway to rate it as such would be to miss the point. There are a great many championship courses with relatively minimal architectural interest or merit, and a number of non-championship courses which are architecturally brilliant. West Sussex falls into the latter camp.
How best to describe the feel of the design? People will accuse me of exaggeration, but it feels to me like the British heathland course most like Pine Valley. I say most like, because it's obviously not up at that 'best in world' level, but there are some striking similarities.
Firstly, like PV it's very much a club course rather than a championship course, and is tucked away in a small patch of sand down a non-descript road, and the members like the place to be quiet.
Secondly, it has a similar wonderful variety of types of holes on what is overall a flat piece of land but which has variation of c. 100ft creating wonderfully twisting, turning and diving holes without you ever feel like you're climbing a mountain.
Thirdly the ordering of the holes is in beautiful balance (despite the weirdness of the only par 5 being the first). Almost every hold changes direction, and you feel that you could almost start the course numbering on any hole and it would still all work.
And finally almost every hole is memorable and almost every hole makes you think. This last point is an overused phrase applied to every course these days, but most holes on most courses have one sensible way to play them. Of the courses I've played West Sussex is up there with Pine Valley, National Golf Links of America and Yale in quirkiness and genuine thinking-man's golf. And another similarity is that like PV the course was ultimately the vision of one man who had no experience in golf course design (albeit at West Sussex there were famous designers in to begin with, before they were let go and many changes were made, so WSGC is more of a hybrid, but there is still a similar father-figure reverence in the club).
If I were to add a few other comments, I would perhaps stray from the course and to the overall experience. The clubhouse and setting is beautiful, the club is traditional and yet forward looking (the nice combination of old-world bar and new conservatory works very well), and the practice facilities are second to none.
However, I feel the club could move up one notch into the 'really special experience' bracket by addressing a few very minor bits of polish which make a difference (even if just subconsciously). For example, there are beautiful old-school gold-on-wood signs all around the club and car park, but there are also signs on doors (about access codes and spikes etc) on laminated paper taped to the door - surely these could also be gold on wood? And the tee furniture could be improved by removing some of the weird metallic pattern plastic boxes on the par threes and replacing with more classic boxes. And finally, the locker room was a bit of a let-down as the lockers look (design-wise) like filing cabinets with two-tone colouring and empty name tag holders. I like the metal locker look - it's infinitely better and more old-school and understated than the american country club perfect huge wooden locker look. British locker rooms that have gone in that direction (like RStG) may be comfortable but they just look like a hotel golf club's changing rooms. So I like that West Sussex's locker room is understated. But simply spray painting the lockers a matt white and getting faux-slate name tags to insert in the current holders (probably initials rather than names, since they're square), would transform the room at very little cost into the kind of locker room that befits a course and club of this beauty.
There are also one or two tweaks to the course I'd personally like to see. These are 1. levelling all the tees - most are good but one or two are not flat at all, 2. removing all the trees to the left of hole 10 and reinstating the sahara bunker. For me, holes 9 and 10 are the only two weak holes on the course. But 10 could be a famous hole that everyone anticipates on holes 1 to 9. Reinstating sahara and extending it right up to the fairway and all the way to the green (plus adding another hazard to the front right of the green to make going for the green very very risky) would create a dramatic risk/reward hole which would mentally tug tee shots left even of those laying up. It would look dramatic and would be fantastic to play. And 3. looking to introduce sandy waste areas to the course to move it back in the direction of the early days and aesthetically make the course even more beautiful than it already is. Perhaps start with Sahara, to minimise upkeep and make lies bad!
I submit the above not as a lecture but as one man's opinion, which is hopefully an interesting set of thoughts both for the club and for those who have not played West Sussex, hopefully giving a good feel for the place. The members are very lucky and if you're visiting the Surrey area I'd strongly recommend you extend your trip to fit in this small piece of golfing heaven.
A couple of friends of mine who have played the World 100 had very good things to say about West Sussex, although not quite as glowingly as you. I very much appreciate the comments regarding the suggested changes. I have yet to play it; might try for August, 2020....so many courses, so little time.
I played West Sussex on a windy evening and it defintely lived up to my high expectations. West Sussex is a classic heathland course with total piece and tranquility whilst you are out there playing your golf.
The condition of the golf course was simply levels above most other golf course I have played, with the setting being quite spectacular. What particularly impressed me about the course was the extremely high quality of the bunkers. Each and every one of them were filled with sand and beautifully designed, they were practically perfect. Another thing that I loved was the condition of the greens and the fringe. The holes had some lovely drop offs and were cut to look very sharp.
Although all 18 holes were absolutely awesome, i would have to say my favourites were the par 3 5th, a lovely short par 3 filled with thick heather runnig all the way down to the green, its simply a beautiful hole. Also the par 3 15th was a fantastic hole over the water towards a 2 tiered green. Just the par 3’s in general were fantastic, and every hole was just a joy to play.
Overall i massively reccomend playing at West Sussex, it is totally worth the money and I will definitely be back to play there again in the near future!
I originally reviewed West Sussex 8 years ago when I was just starting my quest to play the English top 100. Having completed 66 of them now, I can comfortably say my opinion 8 years ago was wrong.
This course is an absolute belter. I can’t think of a weak hole.
I still maintain the 1st should be a par 4 (especially off the yellows), but other than that. Wow
West Sussex deserves all the plaudits it gets. We played early November this year and the course was in fantastic condition given the harsh Winter/Summer combination we’ve had in the UK in the past year.
West Sussex is just packed to the rafters with memorable holes. I loved the early sequence of 3, 4, 5 and 6 - a tough par 4 littered with bunkers, a clever short dog leg left par 4 followed by two fantastic par 3’s.
The heather at West Sussex is not penal, rather hole-ending. Having played Swinley earlier this year I’m no stranger to heather but I felt that whilst at a Swinley it’s a lost shot, the heather at West Sussex was a little out of control in my opinion. Obviously this gives the course tremendous shape but did cause issues for our group having not played the course before.
All in all this is a well deserved world top 100 course. The club were incredibly welcoming and even allowed us to play on a Saturday - a rarity amongst top courses.
I could find only one previous review here by an American. When I pointed out to a member that West Sussex was not on many people’s radar in the States, his reply was quick: “Yes, and that’s fine with us.” This was not a xenophobic anti-American thought but rather an attempt to keep a splendid little secret to himself and his clubmates. The greatest strength of West Sussex is its tee shots. The best example is the 10th, a shortish par 4 that swings left around a menacing bunker complex. Bite off enough of the dogleg and a wedge to the green is your reward. Take the more conservative route and you’ll approach with a longer club. And time and again, the golfer stands on the tee pondering just where to position her/his tee ball. The line of charm is most always in evidence as one decides just how much risk to take to receive the best possible reward.
The routing is also quite ingenious. The property is long and narrow, but instead of a simple out and back configuration, holes run in a variety of directions, creating a variety of challenges when the wind blows. The greens here don’t match the rest of the course as too many are flat and featureless……..a small negative. And I found too many footprints in the bunkers, though I suspect that may be to keep the visitor population down. West Sussex was otherwise a delightful golf experience. It’s not much more than an hour’s drive from the great courses of Surrey and definitely worth the trip.
I reviewed the course in 2008 after playing her that summer. What a fantastic layout and experience. Played here on the recommendation of Tom Doak and it was a great finish to our trip. I hope more Americans are able to play here.
Well, we all like it shaved. Don’t we? The fashion these days is to strip away the superfluous bush and leave just the solid oak and juicy heather.
The last time I played here twenty years ago each hole was framed with gorse and shrub. Now, like so many courses there is a concerted program to clear the vista across the course from one horizon to the other. Breathe course, breathe.
I arrived to this quintessence of an English golfing Elysium on a Monday and took a light lunch in the club before assailing the first tee. All good thus far.
From the arts and crafts clubhouse, the course looks underwhelming for a top 100 in the world layout. A little flat, a little bit obvious. A deception majeur. However gentle the start maybe, it just keeps ratcheting up the challenge. This course keeps its powder dry until the back nine. If you don’t have a score by the 8th, then by the 18th you will be enjoying only the weather.
What is striking here is the contrast to the somewhat ubiquitous Harry Colt Heathland classic. This is a serious golf course. Harry lures you into fancying it, having a go. Here they ask, “think twice sir.” Do you have the necessary? There are plenty of gulps. You can bail, but you pay double with long shots in to well-guarded greens. This course asks you how much can you chew? How good are your approaches? There is interest and strategic decision making to be had on every hole. No two are remotely alike. The language is the same however. I love a course that presents all golfers with a challenge, whether they hit it 200 or 300 from the tee. Tick. So many courses have a pool of interest at a given yardage. Not here. The 17th was my favourite but only just.
Well routed, cherished and timeless. West Sussex will delight you. The largely flat ground is surprisingly, naturally contoured and undulating. The heather is typically unforgiving. each hole has interest from tee to green. You won’t be disappointed.
Now back home in St Andrews, I’m reflecting on the pleasure I had a couple of weeks ago playing West Sussex with my son. The course is situated in very pretty natural setting with the pine, birch and heather in your mind at all times, carries off the tee to be negotiated, clever use of gentle dog-legs forcing you to think about the correct club and direction of your shot from the tee. All these add up to the essence of a very fine golf course. Despite the unusually hot summer, the course has stood up pretty well in conditions that have taxed most greenkeepers across the country. I have long believed that length is not the requirement which defines a challenging course. If ever there was a course that exemplified that principle, then West Sussex must be a prime contender. In addition, if you hit a poor shot, hopefully avoiding the heather or trees, the course gave you a chance to play the percentages and recover for a bogey, or even par. Very fair indeed My son had warned me about the challenge and spectacle of the first two short holes, but a good tee shot at the 5th and playing the 6th as if it was the “old” par 4, put a very welcome 3 and 4 on my card. I don’t think I’ve faced more intimidating drives than your 7th and 16th holes. Had to play both off the blue tees, and employ my best hole-management techniques to have putts for par on both. Hole 16 just has everything, but deserves a stroke index much lower than 15 A hugely enjoyable afternoon playing a little gem which exemplifies everything good about a golf course. Simply a delight. What’s not to like?
West Sussex is truly a majestic place. There’s a real feeling of grandeur about this golf club and the scene is set on arrival with a beautiful clubhouse and wonderful practice facilities all set in a property on the edge the South Downs National Park.
The first three holes are played in a loop. Fooling you into a false sense of security, the opener is a short par 5. Only par 3s and 4s follow making a low score difficult despite the modest yardage shown on the scorecard. The bunkering here is absolutely faultless, from their positioning, to the sand they use, the way they’re shaped, their appearance and general playing condition, West Sussex has some of the best bunkering I’ve seen on a UK inland course.
The set of par 3s are a real highlight with all of them except for the short 15th presenting strong challenges to make par, two of them measuring in excess of 220 yards. Holes 5 through 8 unusually sees you play three par 3s in the space of four holes, interspersed with the only truly blind drive that comes on the par four 7th. I played my best shot of the day on the downhill 226 yard 6th so I probably didn’t get the full “experience” of that hole, but I’d expect that most members here have memories of real disasters as you play across a pond with cabbage to the left, a high heather clad bank flanking one side of the green and bunkers to the right to capture any golfer who decides to bail out.
The back nine comes with four tremendous dogleg-right par 4s, starting at the 11th. The 13th is like a mini-Augusta and where the bunkering around the green is at its beautiful best. Playing in August, the heather was offering a severe punishment, and it was relentless around this area of the course. The heather lies just off the fairways, so whilst the fairways themselves are reasonably roomy, miss them by fractions and you can easily end up with a lost ball.
The last three holes of West Sussex were particularly memorable, it’s a course that keeps getting better and better the deeper you go into your round. The 16th was probably my favourite hole of the whole layout with two heather covered mounds placed left and right in front of the green, just behind a deep valley at the end of the fairway and a wickedly shaped green.
The course conditioning around West Sussex is top notch and I loved the subtle run-off areas that were a characteristic around most of the greens. I defy anyone not to enjoy their day’s golf here, it’s a classy club. Ranked amongst the top 20 in England means that it's rated amongst weighty company. I find it near impossible to compare inland and links courses, but if I was to consider my favourite inland layouts in the UK, West Sussex would certainly be part of that discussion.
Before I even begin to tell you how good this golf course is I want to let you know just how perfect the entire set-up at West Sussex is.
If I can arrive in a car park, enter the clubhouse, have breakfast (from one of the most extensive morning menus I’ve seen), read the newspaper, register for a competition, visit the locker-room, nip into the pro-shop, stroke a few balls on the practice putting green, clip a couple of balls onto a chipping area, fire a handful of drives away on the range, wander to the first tee and do all of that having walked less than 100 paces then there’s a very good chance I’m going to write nice things about your golf club.
You could throw a blanket over all of this at West Sussex but importantly everything is exactly where you would expect to discover them and also in the order you would hope to find it all. I’ve lost count of how many venues I’ve visited that have irritated me before I’ve even reached the first tee because of a ridiculous layout. I’ve circled clubhouses on arrival trying to gain access to the building and once inside opened doors that I’d expect to lead into a lounge only to be confronted with the cleaner’s cupboard. I've circled woodland trying to locate a practice ground and doubled back on myself umpteen times in order do everything you need to do before you even strike a ball. West Sussex has it down to a tee. Rant over.
The golf course is no less perfect. West Sussex, on the edge of the South Downs, is quite simply a wonderful place and a magnificent location to golf. The flow of this private members course is exceptional and very few can match it from a visual perspective either.
Popularly known as Pulborough it was officially opened in 1931 having been designed by two outstanding golf architects, Guy Campbell and Cecil Hutchison although very recently Stafford Hotchkin has also been attributed to West Sussex. These men are acknowledged to have created one of the most natural and aesthetically pleasing golf courses in England. I can’t disagree.
West Sussex is close enough to the famed courses on the Surrey/Berkshire sandbelt to be compared favourably to them but detached enough for it not to be lost in the crowd. It has its own identity, one that I very much like.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.