West Sussex is a gem. I am delighted to have finally played it. It is one of the most lovely walks one will ever take on a golf course. It is a visually attractive course in an idyllic setting. One barely hears anything other than a bird, the shuffling of one’s feet, the strike of the ball, and the conversation with your playing partner (or partners if playing a foursome).
The course is routed to take advantage of all of the land features that it resides on, never being unfair in the questions it asks of the player. No uphill shot is overly high and no downhill shot is overly steep to result in an unfair run-out into the taller grass or trees. The course is very natural with nothing contrived. It plays firm and fast. The course moves in all directions as another feature of its fairness.
There is a wonderful variety of lengths to the five par 3’s with two shorter holes, one mid length and two longer at essentially 220 yards. The par 4’s also vary with several shorter holes and the longest at 459 yards. The holes are mainly flat but there are a few slightly uphill and downward holes. The holes have a good mixture of straight, dogleg left and moving right. Water can be found on three holes, two being par 3’s. There is only one par 5 which is the opener.
To a certain degree, it is almost the opposite of Cypress Point, where many claim it to be the best 17 hole course in the world due to the weakness of the 18th hole. West Sussex is the opposite where the only truly weak hole is the first, a short par 5 at 488 yards which plays even shorter due to firm and fast fairways. However, it differs from Cypress Point in that West Sussex does get off to a slow start and does not have the quality of the golf holes nor a rocky coastline on its final holes.
The club has tried to address the weakness of the first hole by adding two stacked cross bunkers on the left side of the fairway. Perhaps a better solution is to shorten the hole by 20 yards and make it a par 4 even if the course reverts to a total par of 67 instead of 68. Suddenly, you would have one of the more difficult holes on the course as your starting hole much like Oakmont. I suspect the members want to keep it as a par 5 due to being a good chance for birdie or a likely par, given the difficulty that follows. Other options would be would to improve the left side of the green with more contours and add a back left corner bunker.
The bunkering is relatively restrained, yet nearly always strategic. There is not an over abundance of bunkers which one might expect given the par of 68. Instead, the placement, depth, and shape of the bunkers is very tactical, not surprising given the architectural knowledge of Sir Guy Campbell, Major C.K. Hutchison, and Colonel S.V. Hotchkin. One can see their design philosophy throughout the course, with several forced carries having to account for bunkers particularly on doglegs dictating the line of play to benefit the braver line from the tee. There are also a couple of holes that are without bunkers serving as a chance to hit one as far as one wants.
The course is a par 68 at 6333 yards from the black tees rated 70.7/121. While on the surface this seems short, if you would have a “normal” par 70 course you would have one of the par 3’s converted to a par 5 likely adding 350 yards to make it play more like 6700 yards.
The course does get off to a relatively weak start beginning with the par 5 first at only 488 yards. Assuming one navigates the two stacked bunkers placed in the left side of the fairway, there are flanking bunkers about 50 yards from the green and one on the left front corner. The green has more movement on the middle right.
The second is a straightaway par 4 of 410 yards with no bunkers. The green is relatively flat.
The third is a nice hole at 364 yards playing straight with an early bunker on the right followed by two more than are in play for shorter hitters. These are placed inside the fairway and catch the tee shot of those trying to avoid the thicker trees down the left as well as for the better lime to the green down the right. The green is a good one with a large bunker on the front left creating a thin front third of the green. There are gentle falloffs near the back. This green has good movement. While some might think this hole is a pushover, any tee shot struck offline will likely result in a bogey rather than a par.
Four is the first dogleg going sharply left with tall trees down the left that cannot be cleared except by the longest hitter. There is a bunker on the left inside corner making it imperative that the longest hitters cutting the dogleg hit a very long, high shot. At only 390 yards there is no reason to take on the trees and the bunker and simply play out to the right of them. The first use of a center line bunker is here reasonably close to the green. The green has a semi-false front but is relatively flat breaking towards the front.
At this point West Sussex begins to increase the quality of the holes. The fifth is a par 3 at 157 yards that one should play the yardage to the flag due to its false front, which will bring balls hit only 10 yards into the green back off the front. It is a visually attractive hole surrounded by trees alone by itself with an early central bunker not in play and two off the left side. The green has a hump/tier on the left middle. It is both visually attractive and a challenging green.
The sixth is a memorable hole as a long par 3 downhill at 222 yards. It plays over a pond with the green having a high hill of tall grass on the left and a smaller rise on the right. The green is steeply banked to the front. Two bunkers are placed off the right which is the preferred miss given the grass and hill to the left. When one first steps on the tee they spy a wide fairway going to the right of the tree on the right front of the pond. The green looks long but narrow from the tee and only the straight strike will find the green. It is another attractive yet difficult hole.
I thought seven to be the best hole on the course, a long par 4 at 440 yards beginning with a blind shot with a forced carry to a higher plateau of this dogleg left. Going too far left will leave one in tall heather or tall grass. There is a bunker where the fairway begins that serves more as a guide point. The play from the tee is down the right center. For shorter hitters there are two flanking bunkers about 55 yards from the green. The final bunker is off the front left corner. What I found most interesting about the hole is how close to the green the trees are on the right. They almost seem to be part of the hole.
Eight is a par 3 with the tee wedged between the seventh fairway and the sixteenth’s green. The hole is 183 yards playing slightly uphill to a green. Bunkers are on both sides beginning before the green going slightly down the right side but halfway into the left side. This green is angled left with a slightly higher back half.
Ninth is a par 4 at 377 yards and another dogleg left. On the tee you are looking at thicker trees down the right side and heather down the entirety of the left side. This is another hole without bunkers. It plays to a green with subtle movement. This is a breather hole.
The tenth is one of the top four holes on the course at 394 yards. It plays from an elevated tee with the land falling away from you. Thick trees and tall grass are down the right with a series of three stacked bunkers down the left inner corner. A fourth small bunker is another 20 yards down the left. Two bunkers are then placed inside the fairway, the first on the left about 40 yards from the green and the one of the right about fifteen yards away. A final bunker is on the left middle of the green. The green has slightly more rolls in it. This hole is an excellent example of bunker placement as both shots to the green must be well executed.
Eleven is the best hole on the back nine as a long par 4 of 448 yards. It plays as a long dogleg right with tall grass down the right side as well as out of bounds. There are two bunkers in play down the right placed close to each other. The entirety of the left side is thick heather. This fairway tilts to the right and down to the green. At the green there is a long bunker on the left side. This green seems to have a bit of a hollow in the front and is sloped back to front with smaller falloffs if one goes long.
Twelve is the second long par 3 at 221 yards playing flat over heather followed by two large bunkers on the right of the green. The green is angled to the right. I felt this green lacked movement but perhaps that is due to the length of the hole trying to not make the hole unfair.
Thirteen is 378 yards playing the opposite direction of the previous two holes. It begins with another forced carry over heather with heather on both sides of the fairway. The hole plays a bit longer as it is uphill. There is a single bunker on the fairway on the inner left. What most will remember about this hole are the three deep bunkers that wrap around the front third of the green, with the middle bunker extending back into the fairway. These bunkers create a very narrow front third to the green which is on a lower tier. The back of the green is much wider and higher. This green seemed to have the most inner movement. It is a terrific hole, perhaps the best on the back nine.
Fourteen is a longer par 4 at 456 yards. It plays downhill as a dogleg right over heather with heather on both sides defining the fairway. There is another good use of bunkering on this hole with two center line bunkers about 150 yards from the green. Longer hitters can likely reach the first of these bunkers. At the green there is lower ground to the left where a large bunker is sited about 20 yards short of the green. There is a final front right corner bunker. A pond is down the left side of the green along with some trees. It is another strong hole that demands execution and commitment.
The fifteenth is a pretty hole at only 145 yards over a pond with the green angled slightly left. Trees are on both sides creating a funnel effect. The green has micro tiering and mounding. It is not a difficult hole.
Sixteen is a fun hole playing uphill to a rise that then falls towards the green. At 364 yards it offers perhaps the widest fairway. If one clears the crest they will get a substantial roll-out down to the right of the fairway as the fairway narrows and stops. The green is slightly shallow placed behind two hills blocking views of the left and right side of the green that seem to suggest a slight opening to the green. The back of the green has higher ground eventually becoming the eighth green. It is a very cool looking approach to the green. The green has a fair amount of inner movement.
You walk behind the eighth tee and across the seventh fairway to find the seventeenth, the longest par 4 at 459 yards. This is a dogleg right with a collection of three bunkers on the right that should not be in play. The single fairway bunker on the left further up is also likely not in play but perhaps very long hitters can reach it. The hole becomes more strategic on the approach shot as three cross bunkers on the right come into play beginning about 40 yards out continuing to the front right of the green. The green is a bit disappointing in its movement but again this might be due to the difficulty in hitting it in two shots. I liked the hole.
The finale is 437 yards playing straight with the emphasis on the bunkering, Flanking bunkers come first but the bigger danger are the cross bunkers on the right reachable from the tee. Th green is well guarded with flanking front bunkers and a final one on the left side. The green is relatively flat.
West Sussex is a golf course for those who are purists of the game who favor naturalness. Nothing is contrived or manufactured here. The course is routed near perfectly to the land it occupies. It offers strategic bunkering, a mixture of difficult and easier holes, and variety in its long and short par 3’s. It likely has fallen a bit in the rankings because it is considered to be “short.” I think a few holes could be strengthened with bunkering consistent with the bunkering on its better holes. This would not create an over-abundance of bunkers as it likely only needs five-seven more. The surfaces of many of the greens could be made a bit more interesting with more smaller mounds and depressions. Finally the green surrounds on several holes could also add a bit more mounding as long as it would not detract from the naturalness look of the course. Of the sub-par 70 golf courses in the UK and Ireland, it certainly rivals Swinley Forest and Rye Old.
I found the course to be quite splendid. It obviously should be a top 100 course in UK and Ireland. It is doubtful you would find a more enjoyable round of golf anywhere that offers both a challenge and a lovely, peaceful walk.
Date: July 20, 2022