South East England – Best in County Rankings 2019
This is the last of seven regional reports relating to the biennial re-ranking of our thirty-six county listings in England. In this edition, we look at the eight counties which comprise the South East of the country; namely Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Kent, Middlesex, Oxfordshire, Sussex and Surrey.
There are close to five hundred golf clubs spread out across this geographical area and we feature more than a third of them in our eight county charts. Currently, forty-five of the nation’s Top 100 courses reside in this region so it’s true to say that standards are very high in this part of the country.
Indeed, just to emphasise the quality of these golfing grounds, twenty-five courses in our Great Britain & Ireland Top 100 emanate from the South East and seven of these tracks also appear in our World Top 100 so this is by far and away the strongest place to play golf in England.
The Berkshire rankings are still headed by Harry Colt’s “least bad design” at Swinley Forest, where ten of the fifteen courses listed in the county chart remain unchanged. This once very private club has opened up to more visitor play in recent years and it’s currently engaged in a long-term project to return the layout to its former glory through cutting back extraneous vegetation, removing inferior arboreal specimens, and regenerating heather to enhance its heathland characteristics.
To echo a Swinley Forest review posted a few weeks ago, “what a place to play golf.”
Swinley Forest Golf Club
Earlier this year it was announced that Reading Golf Club is selling some of its land at Emmer Green for housing. The club will move to Chazey Heath and merge with Caversham Heath. The new club will be called Reading & Caversham Heath and members will soon enjoy a completely refashioned layout, designed by Canadian architect Tom McBroom. Consequently, Reading is no longer listed in our Berkshire rankings.
|1||Swinley Forest||No change|
|2||Berkshire (Red)||No change|
|3||Berkshire (Blue)||No change|
|4||Bearwood Lakes||No change|
|5||East Berkshire||No change|
|7||Calcot Park||Down 1|
|8||Newbury & Crookham||Up 1|
|9||Mill Ride||Down 1|
|10||Castle Royle||No change|
|13||Goring & Streatley||Up 1|
|14||Donnington Grove||Down 2|
|15||Sand Martins||New entry|
The Buckinghamshire standings have all three 18-hole layouts at Woburn listed in the top half of the county table and it’s the Marquess that holds on to the #1 position. Opened in 2000, the course perfectly complements its two older siblings with wider, tree-lined fairways set out on more undulating land. The Women’s British Open was first played at this venue in 2016 and the event returned here in August this year, when Hinako Shibuno won her first-ever tournament outside her native Japan.
Woburn Golf Club - Marquess course
A new entry at No. 8 is the course at Harewood Downs near Amersham, which was first brought into play back in 1908. Designed by J.H. Taylor and Horace Hutchinson, it’s been modified down the years by the likes of Cecil Hutchison and James Braid but it’s the course improvements over the winter of 2018 that have had the most telling effect on the club’s latest ranking fortunes.
Harewood Downs Golf Club
Andy Newmarch, our Marketing Director, was mightily impressed when he visited this summer, remarking: “we now have a seriously up-graded golf course (with) significant work carried out by the team at Mackenzie and Ebert – this company really know what they are doing. The bunkers here at Harewood should be the envy of many clubs and, for me, there are many courses with bigger reputations and ranking status with an inferior set of sand hazards.”
|1||Woburn (Marquess)||No change|
|2||Woburn (Duke's)||No change|
|3||Stoke Park (Colt & Alison)||No change|
|5||Woburn (Duchess)||Down 1|
|8||Harewood Downs||New entry|
|9||Burnham Beeches||Down 1|
Liphook retains its No.1 status in Hampshire, with the course benefitting from a course re-alignment project that’s currently being undertaken by Mackenzie and Ebert. Our well-travelled US Consultant Fergal O’Leary was here in the summer and he commented that “the mixture of excellent routing and perfect planting of heather makes this course a work of art… I can’t say enough about how strongly I recommend golfers to experience this course.”
Liphook Golf Club
Two courses enter the county Top 20 and they’re both situated at Bramshaw Golf Club in Lyndhurst. The Manor course at No. 14 is a modern, 1970s design from the club professional at that time while the Forest course at No. 19 is more than a century older, dating back to the mid-1860s, when an initial 9-hole layout was commissioned.
Bramshaw Golf Club - Forest course
There can hardly be more contrasting 18-hole setups at the one golf club location, with the rustic heathland fairways on the Forest course contrasting sharply against the tree-lined parkland holes of its younger sibling the Manor.
|5||North Hants||No change|
|6||Brokenhurst Manor||No change|
|7||Leckford (Old)||No change|
|10||Barton-on-Sea (Becton & Needles)||No change|
|11||Shanklin & Sandown||No change|
|12||Royal Winchester||Up 2|
|14||Bramshaw (Manor)||New entry|
|15||Hartley Wintney||Up 2|
|16||Rowlands Castle||Down 1|
|17||South Winchester||Down 1|
|18||Old Thorns||Down 5|
|19||Bramshaw (Forest)||New entry|
Royal St George’s in Sandwich is still our No. 1 in Kent. The Open returns here next year for the first time since 2011, when Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke became the Champion Golfer of the Year. As Tom Doak writes in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, “Sandwich has the four great prerequisites of great architecture, and it has them in spades: challenging golf holes, beautifully crafted greens and bunkers, a character of its own, and stunning scenery.” Roll on July is what we say…
Royal St George's Golf Club
The highest entry of two newcomers might surprise some as it’s a 9-hole course from a 27-hole golf facility but we make absolutely no apology for introducing the Himalayas course at Prince’s into our county listings at No 6.
Prince's Golf Club - Himalayas course
Indeed, after an extensive makeover from Martin Ebert last year, some observers are of the opinion that in the future this nine might even be included in the premier 18-hole configuration at the club. For now, the Himalayas stakes a serious claim for the title “Best 9-holer in England”.
|1||Royal St George's||No change|
|2||Royal Cinque Ports||No change|
|3||Prince's (Shore & Dunes)||No change|
|4||Littlestone (Championship)||No change|
|5||Knole Park||No change|
|6||Prince's (Himalayas)||New entry|
|8||London Club (Heritage)||Down 2|
|9||London Club (International)||Up 1|
|10||Chart Hills||Down 2|
|11||Sundridge Park (East)||Down 2|
|12||Rochester & Cobham Park||Down 1|
|14||North Foreland (Main)||Down 2|
|15||Royal Blackheath||Up 3|
|16||Hever Castle (Kings & Queens)||Down 3|
|18||Langley Park||Down 3|
|20||Sundridge Park (West)||Down 4|
|21||Walmer & Kingsdown||Up 1|
|22||Wrotham Heath||Down 3|
|23||West Kent||No change|
|25||Kings Hill||Down 4|
|27||Mid Kent||New entry|
|29||Sittingbourne & Milton Regis||No change|
Northwood remains at the top of the Middlesex standings. Originally established as a 9-hole course in 1891, the modern day 18-hole layout is routed as two returning nines around a densely forested property, with a meandering brook coming into play from time to time in a very pleasant parkland-cum-heathland environment.
Northwood Golf Club
Bush Hill Park enters our county chart at number 5, having been listed as a GEM for some time now. Located in Winchmore Hill, the course is a pre-World War I Harry Vardon design that was remodelled by another member of The Great Triumvirate, James Braid, in 1933. It’s not long at under 5,800 yards from the back tees but the narrow, tree-lined fairways prove that length is rarely ever the best protector of par on any course.
|5||Bush Hill Park||New entry|
|6||Mill Hill||No change|
|7||Muswell Hill||Down 4|
|9||Crews Hill||Up 1|
|10||Pinner Hill||Down 1|
Half the courses in Oxfordshire stay in the same position and Huntercombe, at the top of the table, is one of the non-movers. Designed by Willie Park Junior at the start of the last century, it’s a rather unique layout that really deserves wider recognition.
Huntercombe Golf Club
Our editor-in-chief Keith Baxter was at Huntercombe last year and he put his finger on what sets the course apart from others: “the excitement and interest centres on the greensites. Each and every green has complexity, either on the putting surface itself or at the surrounds… Huntercombe is unpretentious, engaging and a genuine throwback to the Golden Age.”
|2||Frilford Heath (Red)||No change|
|4||Frilford Heath (Green)||Down 1|
|5||Tadmarton Heath||No change|
|9||Studley Wood||Down 2|
|10||Frilford Heath (Blue)||No change|
There can be absolutely no doubt about the strength in depth across this county, with twenty-one nationally ranked courses, thirteen of which also appear in our Great Britain & Ireland listings – and a handful of these top tracks also make it into our World Top 100. At the very summit of a 129-club pyramid in Surrey sits Sunningdale, where the Old and New still occupy positions 1 and 2 in our new county chart.
Sunningdale Golf Club - Old course
For many, Sunningdale is a contender for the accolade “best 36-hole golf club in the world,” and all eleven reviews for the two courses over the last two years have carried a 6-ball mark of approval, with reviewers making remarks such as “just magnificent, from the first to the last… an absolutely superb golfing experience… surely no better 36 holes of golf exists anywhere in the world… it’s not too hard walking to do the 36, particularly if you play in nice weather – we were walking on air.”
We’ve expanded our county standings to a Top 50 and the highest of ten new entries at number 30 is the David McLay Kidd and Tom Watson co-design at Beaverbrook, which has now been operating outside Leatherhead for a couple of years now.
Beaverbrook Golf Club
It’s rare for us to come across a golf facility as reluctant as this one to have its golf course come under the public spotlight – even the most recent review was couched in general terms in order to not reveal too much – but we’ve managed to play it a few times and can confirm Beaverbrook is certainly a special golfing experience.
|1||Sunningdale (Old)||No change|
|2||Sunningdale (New)||No change|
|3||St George's Hill||No change|
|4||Wentworth (West)||Up 1|
|5||Walton Heath (Old)||Down 1|
|8||Hankley Common||Down 1|
|10||West Hill||Up 2|
|12||Wentworth (East)||Down 2|
|13||Walton Heath (New)||Up 1|
|14||New Zealand||Up 1|
|15||Coombe Hill||Up 1|
|16||The Addington||Down 3|
|17||Wisley (Church & Garden)||No change|
|18||Camberley Heath||Up 1|
|19||Royal Wimbledon||Up 1|
|21||Wentworth (Edinburgh)||No change|
|22||West Surrey||No change|
|26||Burhill (Old)||No change|
|27||Reigate Heath||No change|
|28||Foxhills (Longcross)||No change|
|29||West Byfleet||No change|
|31||RAC (Old)||Up 2|
|32||Royal Mid-Surrey (JH Taylor)||Up 2|
|33||Foxhills (Bernard Hunt)||Down 3|
|34||Banstead Downs||Up 4|
|36||Addington Palace||Down 4|
|37||Betchworth Park||New entry|
|41||Shirley Park||New entry|
|42||Woodcote Park||New entry|
|43||Croham Hurst||Down 6|
|45||Burhill (New)||Down 9|
|47||Purley Downs||New entry|
|48||Gatton Manor||New entry|
|49||RAC (Coronation)||New entry|
|50||Sutton Green||New entry|
Since taking over the No. 1 position in Sussex from Rye in 2012, West Sussex has hardly had to look over its shoulder when it comes to supremacy in the county rankings. Located in Pulborough, on the northern fringes of the South Downs, this delightful heathland track has received 6-ball reviews in four out of five posts since it was last re-ranked, attracting comments such as: “just packed to the rafters with memorable holes” and “well routed, cherished and timeless.”
West Sussex Golf Club
The biggest upward move in the table is made by Seaford, which climbs three places to No. 8, re-entering the top half of the county chart after slipping down one place from No.10 in 2018.
Seaford Golf Club
J.H. Taylor designed Seaford in 1907 and John Morrison carried out some work in 1950, with the input of both architects providing Brian Ward, our Midlands and North of England correspondent, with “more than enough to keep you interested” during a recent visit.
|1||West Sussex||No change|
|2||Rye (Old)||No change|
|3||Royal Ashdown Forest (Old)||No change|
|5||Crowborough Beacon||Down 1|
|6||Goodwood (Downs)||Down 1|
|7||Mannings Heath (Waterfall)||No change|
|9||East Sussex National (West)||Down 1|
|10||Royal Ashdown Forest (West)||No change|
|11||East Sussex National (East)||Down 2|
|13||Cooden Beach||No change|
|15||Worthing (Lower)||Up 1|
|17||Cowdray Park||Up 1|
|18||Sweetwoods Park||Down 1|
|19||The Dyke||No change|
|20||Dale Hill (Woosnam)||No change|
Now that all seven English regions have been reappraised, it won’t be long until we publish a news release to announce our revised Top 100 for England.
Top 100 Golf Courses