Concealed behind the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens at Wisley lies one of the most delightful private members' clubs in the British Isles. There is a strong partnership between the RHS and The Wisley Golf Club and it's apparent from the moment you arrive at this prestigious venue. The RHS provides advice and guidance to the Golf Club on shrubs and flowers and, in turn, the Golf Club helps the RHS with turf grass issues. It's a beautiful partnership.
With 27 secluded holes, set out across more than 200 acres, the Wisley is a big golf course. It opened for play in 1991, the first course in the UK to be designed by Robert Trent Jones Jnr. The Trent Jones design philosophy is to preserve the natural beauty of the site while creating a playable course rich with strategic variety. His objectives have been fully met here at the Wisley, with many holes offering a wide selection of risk and reward choices, thanks to extensive landscaping.
A straw poll across the full complement of 700 members at the Wisley will reveal that the jury is out in terms of which of the three nine-hole loops is best (Church, Mill or Garden). We, too, are unsure which combination makes the best collection of 18 holes, but we can say that each nine is of equal standard, although subtly different in character. A prolific number of water hazards and bunkers are scattered throughout the 27 holes and there's more water in play here than at just about any other course in the British Isles - the River Wey and strategically-placed lakes come into play on no fewer than eight of the Garden's nine holes.
There are so many memorable holes that it is almost impossible to single any out, but the 6th on the Mill is one of our favourites. Here, the River Wey must be crossed twice, once with the tee shot and once approaching the diagonal green. It's a cracking 520-yard par five, which poses similar challenges to the 17th at Carnoustie. The 7th hole on the Mill is also unforgettable – a do or die par three which measures 223 yards from the back tees, where there's an amazing double water hazard to carry before the kidney-shaped green – also well protected by four bunkers – is reached.
Historically, the Garden and Mill loops were considered the premier configuration, but the Church nine's refurbishment changed many opinions. The 2nd on the Church course is a challenging three-shot hole for most golfers, where water meanders along the full length of the right side. The approach shot is testing, even with a wedge in hand. Next up is the most attractive one shotter at The Wisley, which requires a forced carry over water to a tricky sloping green that is protected by two sentry bunkers left and right of the putting surface. The gathering trap to the right is on the safe bailout line which, if found, will leave a tough bunker shot with water threatening behind the slippery green.
The Wisley is certainly top drawer and if you are given the opportunity to play here, take it immediately. It's easy to see why top professionals are Wisley members... 27 engaging holes and probably the best practice facilities in the British Isles.
Played this for the 1st time a couple of weeks back, the pre round set up, of practice area, and clubhouse is amazing, the course however for me, felt slightly cramped and although a good test of golf, it lacked a degree of strategic challenge in that there weren't many choices off the tee, or on the approaches, it felt as if the course design dictated the shot, rather than allowed you to plan your method of attack !
I was fortunate to be invited as a guest of a member in May and I felt compelled to write a review.
In summary, the course condition was sensational. It's the stand-out element of the club that warrants recognition. You would find it a challenge to locate a better example of how to prepare and manicure a golf course anywhere in the United Kingdom. The hand cutting of the bunkers, coupled with the speed of the run off areas, the perfectly flat tee boxes and impeccable greens (11.5 on the day we played), made it a pleasure to play, it is visually stunning.
The practice facilities are also a stand-out example of what a true club can offer its members. Greens, a short game area, I counted 6 or 7 bunkers, and a full grass range that allows use of drivers are all on offer. Each sat around a café and performance centre and all clearly designed to create a space to improve and embrace the game.
The standout holes were Church 2, a long par 5 that we played directly into the wind, with water running the length of the course on the right of the hole. Church 9 was perhaps the prettiest of holes, a dog leg left to right, surrounded by water at the green with an abundance of trees and flowers surrounding the green.
The course and experience is above and beyond any expectation I had before hand. Having wanted to play here for 20+ years I was thrilled to get the chance and hope to get another in future.
If you get a chance to play here, don't let it pass you by!
The three returning loops – Church, Mill & Garden – are set out in distinct areas of the property and rarely intermingle with each other. In terms of quality there is very little between the threesome and a clear consistency. My personal preference was for the Church then the Garden and lastly the Mill but there wasn’t much to choose between them all. The Church and Garden tied in a little bit better because the putting surfaces are the same and are somewhat different to the Mill, not so much in style but certainly in visual appearance and presumably grass type or at least age.
There are standout holes on each nine. The second on Church is a daunting par-five with water running the length of its 534-yards along the right whilst the next is an attractive par-three, again over water. I lost count of how many times water came into play (too many for sure) and this, along with several strategically placed bunkers, is the main defence of the course. The water hazards are actually larger, and closer to play, than they initially appear because all the bankings feed down towards them with little to stop a ball containing any sort of momentum.
The Garden nine begins with a bang in the shape of a slinging par-five to a brilliant water-fronted green. The third is a stunning short hole too whilst the last is a dramatic finisher. In contrast to the other two nines the Garden has most of the trouble down the left so it may be favoured by faders!
The Mill course takes a little bit of time to warm up but once it does it is very good. The last four holes are a super run with a brace of par-fives, a short hole sandwiched in-between and the taxing last that plays up towards the clubhouse terrace.
The Wisley compares well to other modern inland courses in the UK. Unlike some there is a heartbeat to the course, a purpose and it even has a bit of soul. It’s a colourful place both on and off the course.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.