The Wildernesse Club is located near Sevenoaks in Kent and this is a stylish and quintessentially English golf club.
Golf had been played on the Wildernesse estate prior to the foundation of the club in 1890 and the layout has naturally evolved over the years. However, the early Wildernesse members would still recognise elements of today’s course, which has always played in a clockwise direction around Chance Wood.
Measuring more than 6,500 yards from the back tees, you might think that the Wildernesse Club, which celebrated its 125th year in 2015, is too short for the modern game, but you’d be wrong. Its modest yardage has proved to be sufficient challenge for a number of famous Wildernesse members, including Gerald Micklem and Peter Hedges (both former Walker Cup players), Sam King (who played in three Ryder Cups), and Richard Partridge, who won the both the Scottish and Irish Amateur Seniors Open Championship in 2015.
“This is a parkland course well-known for its natural beauty.” Wrote Peter Alliss in The Good Golf Guide. “It has many trees, which makes your long shots feel tighter than they really are. How often the appearance of a hole, rather than how it actually plays, affects the nerves of a golfer! There is relief from such feelings, however, on the 10th and 14th holes, which are more open.”
“In fact, the first nine holes and the last five are played around a 60-acre wood, and overall the yardage of Wildernesse is a good enough test to have been used by the R and A for regional qualifying for the Open for four years in the very recent past…”
“All in all, this is a well-balanced course with par for both nines being 36. There are several short to medium-length par 4s which may yield birdie opportunities, and three of the par 3s, in still air, are no more than mid-iron shots.”Despite being listed as one of Britain and Ireland’s best 200 courses by Peter Alliss back in the mid 1980s, the Wildernesse Club has been in the “wilderness” in recent years, overlooked in golf course rankings. We are therefore delighted to once again shine a light on this Kentish gem, which jumped seven places to 6th position in our 2015 Kent Best In County rankings.
WGC was my second visit to play in the ‘Garden of England’ in recent months having played the neighbouring Knole Park.
On arrival WGC had the feel of a private members club where they have been playing for over 125 years (founded1890). The spacious clubhouse offered lovely course views over a pre round coffee on the south facing veranda which I thought would make for a great lunching spot but more on that later.
We played this tight tree lined course the week before Regional Open Qualifying which (2019) is the clubs penultimate staging of their five year cycle. It didn’t disappoint.
After a gentle opening hole the second calls for some strategy off the tee to this dog leg par four. The further left you go to play it away from the trees leaves a longer approach to a narrow entrance.
The fifth hole was the first standout hole and one which was well planned out by James Braid who redesigned some of the original holes. 165yards on the day it played half a club more up the hill to another narrow green with a steep run off left over two well placed bunkers. There is a bailout right which still allows for a pitch and putt par. Do not go left!
The long par five sixth hole followed by the short par four seventh is a true reflection on this Kent gem in that it offers up a fantastic variety of holes with well-placed bunkering but find the right areas of the small greens and you have a chance to score.
Making the turn I was a touch disheartened not to see a halfway hut for a wee scotch egg or another bacon bap but my disappointed soon subsided on making the tenth tee. A glorious par three at 190yds off the whites to a two tiered green that must make one of the best holes in the county to a back right pin. The reason for liking this hole so much is that it offers you a choice to fly it all the way or attempt a knockdown with release to make the top tier.
Eleven and twelve are back-to-back par 5s and if you can stay clear of more well placed bunkering it can yield good birdie chances. A lover of a short par 3 the thirteenth at 125yds on the day ticked another box before a series of tight driving holes in. Find the fairway at the par 4 sixteenth and it offers up a well framed mid iron to a downhill green with run offs both sides and long, just play front yardage!
The second shot to the par 5 eighteenth with the backdrop of the majestic clubhouse is one to be savoured but nearly as much as the ham, egg and chips post round! Simply putt the best ever severed up on the veranda in what has to be one of the most welcoming clubs in the South East of England.
On reflection I should really have scored better but it was really tricky in parts of this superbly conditioned parkland with a lot of semi blind greens and sadly got caught out with a wrong club or two. Nothing knew there…
There have been many comparisons between WGC and local track Knole Park and they are both very different courses. Knole is much more generous off the tee and routed over more undulating land – WGC is more of a plodders course, you can almost nurdle your way around it and score if you stay clear of the many bunkers. Knole to me is more pleasing on the eye but condition wise WGC gets it.
Sometimes you play a course and you just love it. You don’t know really why it stands out but it does, maybe you play well, maybe the course just appeals to what you like but that is what happened to me at the Wildernesse.
Having finished work for the week we met to play a course that we have spoken about for 30 years since my dad moved to Sevenoaks and finally we turned up as a two ball to tee off.
Maybe it was that the Pro let us on at County Card Rates, maybe it was him suggesting we go off 10 to avoid getting caught up or may be it was 2 birdies in the first 5 holes. I think it was a little of it all, plus a course that as 18 holes flows perfectly.
I am not saying it is the greatest course in the world, it isn’t, but today it was the perfect place to be. The course is in immaculate condition, the greens are true and fast and there a number of holes that are really good, in fact really really good. 2, 5, 9, 15, 16 and 17 I really enjoyed. Over a beer at the end we talked about how good it was and after going through a number of courses we both agreed it was better than Tandridge which I believe at the time of writing is a higher ranked course.
If you like parkland courses make the effort to play, if you don’t make the effort to go and play.
Wildernesse was the last course we played during a mini Kentish break that included Prince’s and Knole Park. I squeezed 63 holes, a 600-mile round trip and an evening’s Masters viewing into 40 hours. It took me a lot longer to recover.
Currently we have Wildernesse two places ahead of Knole Park in the Kent rankings. I can understand why some people prefer Wildernesse to its next-door neighbour because Wildernesse is what most golfers expect a parkland course to be. It’s manicured, tree-lined, and undeniably pretty with a fine collection of specimen trees, generous greens, and flash-faced bunkers with fine, lightly coloured sand. Presentation wise, Wildernesse is as good as it gets, gently undulating cross-mown fairways provide the sensation of quality and care, although the greens were running slower than the other courses we played on the trip.
There’s absolutely nothing not to like about Wildernesse but the course failed to get me excited. It’s certainly a good solid parkland course that I very much admired, but it didn’t stimulate my golfing senses. Perhaps I was feeling tired by this point of the trip.
Considering their close proximity, Wildernesse and Knole Park are chalk and cheese. I personally preferred the cheese, but would wholeheartedly recommend that any visiting golfer play both courses for different reasons. Play Knole to see something extraordinary and experience Wildernesse to see how your home parkland golf course could look if managed this well. Wildernesse was firing on all cylinders in early April and I’m sure come summertime it will be even better presented.
I was impressed but not blown away because ultimately a golf course is only as good as the canvas on which it is laid. Wilderness is a lovely property, but being blasé, numerous other parkland courses in England also have similarly agreeable canvases.
The club and course have been around for well over 100 years (1890) but have been fairly private up to now meaning not as many visiting golfers as many other courses, therefore a little less exposure. It was one that had passed me by until recently. As a ball rating on Top 100 this is not quite a 5-ball but is a strong 4-ball and enjoyable to play, there are parts of the course that are very strong indeed.The 1st hole, a par-4 can be described as a gentle opener although the long green needs an accurate approach. The 2nd is a much tougher test; a small lake on the right at 255 yards (regular tees) needs consideration and then second half of the hole turns a little right to another long green, with some very subtle borrows (do look at your putt from both sides of the hole is the tip here). The run from the 3rd to the 6th is very strong – all of these holes run around the east perimeter of the course with the par-5 6th the pick with really good strategic bunkering on both sides to the green. The 7th and 8th holes (both short par-4’s at 339 and 330 yards) can cheer up your scorecard after the tough run of holes to here. I do have a couple of observations on both holes; the bunker in the middle of the fairway on the 7th just 50 yards short of the green is perfect as protection to the green. The 8th hole however could do with a bunker on the left of the fairway about 70 yards from the green – at present the tee shot lay-up is just a little too easy. The front nine ends with a strong par-4 at 469 yards with a fantastic huge hedge down the left side that protects the course from the road. The first four holes of the back nine are like a mini-course of their own as they are played across the road and are two par-3’s and two par-5’s – great fun. The step on the green of the short 10th is key depending on flag position and I prefer the par-5 12th to the par-5 11th – both similar in length but the 12th has a better look and better placed fairway bunkering. The 13th wins the prize for prettiest par-3 on the course but don’t relax too much as the run-off at the back of this 139 yard hole is severe. Back across the road for the final five of which the last four holes are my choice as the very best part of the course. A great kidney shaped green at the par-3 15th needs plenty of attention; bunkers right and run off to the left the main concern. Another great green at the end of the long par-4 16th hole; this has a false front meaning many shots come up a little short. The 17th is my favourite on the whole course…. A par-4 under 400 yards, slightly uphill and turning left around 240 yards to a long green that points a little right – as a mark of quality, this hole would not look out of place on any of the Woburn courses, especially the Duke’s. There is a chance of par or better at the 18th; a par-5 under 500 yards, downhill from the tee, then turning right uphill to the green located in the perfect position – just under the clubhouse terrace. Well worth a visit and could be a 5-ball ranking next time I think…