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 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 members... 27 engaging holes and probably the best practice facilities in the British Isles.