Operated by The Altonwood Group, which was until recently owned by the late Ron Noades, the former Crystal Palace Football Club chairman, the course at Westerham Golf Club is a par 72 layout measuring 6,305 yards from the tips which is set in mature woodland with magnificent views across the North Kent Downs.
Opened in the late 1990s, the original eighteen holes at Westerham were designed by respected architect David Williams, who has been involved in over two hundred completed golf projects, with direct involvement in more than thirty new 18-hole courses in Great Britain and Europe. Williams returned in 2016 to add the new Churchill 9-hole par three course.
The main layout at Westerham is built through Valence Wood, with nine holes routed through woodland and the other nine laid out in a more open landscape which is enhanced by four lakes and extensive new planting. The “signature hole” is the par three 11th, played downhill through a chute of trees to a small green that’s protected to the front and left by sand.
What a fantastic course. It was helped by a beautiful day of weather but the course was in such great condition. Really well mapped out, we played off the yellows which made plotting your way round the par 4s really interesting as risk and reward is available on several of the dogleg holes. Definitely worth a visit if you are within a few hours drive of this course.
There’s nothing wrong with a short par 4. But too many of them negates one of the fun bits of the game - the drive. The front nine at Westerham is a fairly conventional two par 5, two par 3 and 5 par 4. Three of those par 4s are strongly downhill. On the second and ninth I took a five iron, on the seventh a pitching wedge. On all three there was no real choice, it was iron or nothing.
The two par fives were both quite short, but very much uphill. On the stroke index 1 par 4 sixth a dog leg right on a left sloping fairway meant that, in these dry conditions, no shot, other than perhaps the slice which all high handicap golfers fear and none can control would find the fairway. And the stroke index 2 on the back nine was the same hole, just played outside the same bend.
It’s been said below that Westerham is tight. That is certainly true. It’s also been said that it uses the rise and fall of the ground. That is also true, and was perhaps better reflected on the back nine where 11 and, I think, 16 were lovely downhill par threes. They would have been more lovely if the serried ranks of pine trees were chopped down and replaced by banks of heather (it’s on the Greensand Ridge so the soil type is right).
So all said it was not my type of course. Too many places had one option, and with narrow fairways dead straight is the only way. No opportunity for width to present options: no pearls of fairway bunkers tempting the short line, rewarding the well hit shot but permitting the bail out.
But, the greens were great, true, quite fast and tricky. The clubhouse setting as you come down the 9th and 18th is lovely. They both use water well to offer an easier way in while, particularly if the pin is far left, forcing a carry to get close. Just don’t go there if you enjoy giving it a great whack off the tee and seeing your ball soar out, hang in the air and plummet earthwards.
I thought I had set my expectations appropriately ahead of playing Westerham, the #27 ranked Kent course (2018 numbers); wow this is so much better than that position. Many courses built in the 1990’s get a poor billing as many were put together cheaply and on ground not that suited for a golf course, Westerham opened in 1997 and is not that typical 90’s style.
Here we have a strong design with so many exciting holes most framed by mature oaks, pines and the occasional silver birch, the latter being carefully managed as these are potentially a menace to golf course care. The land the course is built on is so exciting with elevation changes a plenty.
This is not a long course at 6300 yards but there is obvious care from the green-staff as the whole course looks a picture. So here we have the win/win situation; a strong design that is presented superbly.
After a couple of scorable par-4’s, the first par-5 is at the 3rd; just at 500 yards with the last 100 yards turning a little right with a narrowing approach. The 4th is the first par-3; 161 yards and little uphill and is a ‘hole-a-like’ (holes that remind me of others on other courses) – think of the 14th on the West course at Wentworth and this is similar. Quite quickly there is another hole-a-like at the 6th; this is a 401 yard dog-leg to the right with a fairway cambering to the left – now think of the updated design at Adare Manor as this is like the brilliant 13th there.
The closing hole on the front nine is 336 yards and downhill and requires an exacting approach over water to the green in front of the clubhouse.
The back nine starts well – with no back to back same par holes until the 15th. I really enjoyed the par-3 11th – downhill with three bunkers protecting in perfect positions. The 12th is the only hole on the course that I didn’t really warm to but I understand why it is like it; an uphill dog-legging 309 yard hole that requires plenty of attention from the tee (danger to the left). The hole will be made to look better as the woodland management program continues – this hole is next on the to do list.
The 14th is one of my favourite holes – a par-4 at 366 yards, slightly uphill from the tee and then approaching across a valley with bunkers 40 yards short of the green – tough hole but so good.
The 15th is another great hole, this one at 400 yards and from a high-tee with a fairway that drops towards the green from 100 yards out – don’t see this type of hole often and this stands out in a good way.
The 18th hole like the 9th is a downhill par-4 to a water protected green, the finale a little longer at 409 yards. Really nice touch at the tee and also at 150 yards out, plaques marking Ron Noades involvement here along with the other courses in the Altonwood Group before he passed in 2013.
My lasting thoughts are that Westerham is worth a visit and will be enjoyed by most. The staff on and off the course are first class and dedicated to making the experience as good as it can be. Glad to see the new county position of #19.
I thoroughly enjoyed my recent round at Westerham in a society day, I must admit to being surprised given its lowly ranking on this site how good it was, possibly its short length is held against it, I would certainly rank it higher than the likes of Hever Castle and Nizels. I played on a mild and breezy October afternoon and we were fortunate with the weather which only made the visit even more agreeable. Laid out on the North Downs near the M25 it is a decent challenge as the holes and rise and fall over the hillside. Even though it’s a comparatively young track opening in 1997 it feels a lot more mature as the holes wind their way through tall tree lined fairways. It eases you into the round with a couple short par 4’s & 5’s before the challenge begins to toughen, it’s not a course where you can hit driver on every hole, there are a good number of tight doglegs which demand precision with a long iron or else your approach shot is likely to be compromised by trees, you can of course try and bomb one with the driver but more often than not that will cost you. Approach shots are into relatively small greens which have some severe undulation built into them and some steep run off areas to punish errors, land in the wrong place and expect a 3 putt, the 11th green being a great example. A downhill par 3 with a shelf on the right hand side, land it on the slope and your ball will feed down to the hole for a kick in birdie, land it on the top (as I did) and you’ll need the pin to stop your ball rolling off into the distance. Given it was mid-October and we’d just come off a very dry September the condition was great, the only disappointment was the slow pace of the greens, they were really slow. I’m not sure if was because the club had applied some feed recently or too keep the pace of play up. The back 9 toughens up considerably, much tighter with tougher green complexes and thankfully no uphill par 3’s (one of the worst design features that can afflict a course!). Combine the course with a great club house and it pushing towards toward top 10 in Kent status.
Westerham feels like it’s on the very upper end of cheap and cheerful. The greens are well manicured, the facilities are good, the clubhouse has excellent views and there is value to be found. They could get away with charging more, I thought it was in better condition than The Addington which is owned by the same group.
The course itself is fairly dramatic, there are lots of hills, grand old trees plus ponds in front of 9 and 18 by the clubhouse. There is a nice mixture of trees to visit, the back part of the property is more coniferous so it feels mature and a little heath-like, obviously without the hard bounces and heather. The par 3 13th particularly looks like it’s been there far longer than 25 years.
It’s certainly a pleasant place to stay for a few hours but I didn’t find it a fun or inspiring course to play. I’d honestly rather play 18 holes with water than with trees and Westerham can be a slog if you are slightly offline. I have played harder courses but this layout doesn’t give you many options and it gets a bit repetitive, even if your punch-out game is top notch.
Overall then I’d recommend it if you are local but one visit might be enough for you. It was for me.