South East England - Top 50 Golf Courses 2017
This release for England’s South East is the seventh and final update that will inform our upcoming English Top 100 rankings. The South East region is where you’ll find the nation’s largest swathe of heathland, where there is seemingly an infinite number of classic heathery courses from which to choose. There’s also a trio of Open Championship venues in this region (one current and two former), and it’s the venerable Royal St George’s that heads our inaugural South East Top 50 table.
England’s South East region incorporates the counties of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, Kent, Middlesex, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Sussex. It’s the most densely populated of England’s nine “official” regions where more than eight and a half million people reside. Their golfing needs are served by approximately 475 golf clubs in this region. Selecting the best 10% for our inaugural Top 50 was surprisingly easy because the vast majority are already ranked nationally in our England Top 100.
Our new South East regional Top 50 features six World Top 100 ranked courses, twenty-four layouts that are currently ranked in our GB&I hundred, and forty-four that are listed in our current English Top 100. The South East is undeniably the strongest golfing region in England – whichever way you care to analyse it.
Underpinning Royal St George’s (#1), the Old course at Sunningdale Golf Club (#2) and its younger sibling the New (#3) are the two premier heathland courses in the country. Many well-travelled golfers believe that Sunningdale is the best 36-hole golf club in the world. Richard Smith, one of our respected reviewers, played here in July: “A day at Sunningdale is a treat to treasure. This is great golf in a beautiful setting on courses oozing with history. This was one of the great golfing days in my life to play the Old and New together.”
Swinley Forest (#4) is Harry Colt’s “least bad course” and it’s enjoying a renaissance following the addition of new back tees, which now stretch the layout to around 6,400 yards from the tips. Richard Smith commented as follows: “My first impression after finishing was that this was the hardest 6,400- yard course I had ever played… Swinley is a course that absolutely demands precision and the ability to work the ball in all directions. Every shot needs to be thought and played with a purpose. I think the thing that elevates Swinley to the highest level is a combination of the strategic options available on each shot and the testing greens and approaches.”
St George’s Hill (#5) is another outstanding Harry Colt layout which is still vastly underrated by some publications. It has featured in our World Top 100 for a number of years now and its place in that esteemed list is really well deserved. Walton Heath’s Old course (#6) does tend to divide opinion somewhat and its detractors tend to complain about the holes around the turn – which had to be altered to accommodate London’s M25 orbital motorway – but the Old is perhaps the most authentic heathland layout in the South East, where the tangly heather is at its most tenacious.
West Sussex (#7) at Pulborough is one of my personal heathland favourites and Bernard Darwin described it as “a little sandy jewel set in the Sussex clay”. It’s considered to be too short by modern standards and maybe it’s one par five away from magnificence, however, along with Rye, it’s one of the toughest par 68s I’ve ever played and holding a score together on the back nine is easier said than done. Talking of brutal homeward nines, few come much tougher than the backside at Royal Cinque Ports (#8) in Deal. Despite its Open pedigree, the rumpled and crumpled links at Sandwich overshadows Deal, but the greensites at Royal Cinque Ports are every bit as good as its more illustrious regal near neighbour.
The West course at Wentworth (#9) has been through some tough times in the last decade or so. We did wonder whether lost love would ever return to Virginia Water’s West course – The rise and fall of the troubled Burma Road. We teed it up on the West a couple of weeks ago and the improvements are stark. There is no doubt that the recent multi-million pound revamp, which included creeping bent re-seeding and installation of sub-air greens, has made a marked difference. Retuning the course back to the old Harry Colt design has not only pleased us, but also many of the Tour players – and the work is not yet finished. Further improvements will be undertaken over this coming winter in readiness for next spring’s BMW PGA Championship. Shhh naysayers.
Nobody could possibly accuse the Berkshire’s Red course (#10) of being dull. Its exciting 6-6-6 routing keeps you on your toes and there’s only one consecutive pair of holes with the same par values at the back-to-back short par fours (11 and 12) and both these holes are set magnificently on the higher ground.
The Old course at Rye (#11) was Harry Colt’s inaugural design where the routing has been altered and improved down the years by several architects, including Tom Simpson and Sir Guy Campbell. Many wonder why Rye is not a permanent feature in the World Top 100, others think – rather like West Sussex – that it’s missing a strong enough mix of holes.
Queenwood (#12) is the course that David McLay Kidd built for the club’s small but perfectly formed membership and their very fortunate friends. With probably the best tee to green grooming in England, Queenwood is where many top players hone their game. In the words of Fergal O’Leary: “Expect to feel like a king off the course, and then be challenged like a PGA Tour professional the minute you step on the first tee.”
According to Tom Doak, Hankley Common (#13) “provokes mixed emotions; if the strategy ever matched the setting, you could have a world beater.” Undeniably a most enjoyable element of the course is the majesty of the situation, which is quiet and genteel in the classical English mould. Woking (#14) for some is already a world beater and it was here where a few golf mad barristers, with the help of Tom Dunn, created the first experimental heathland layout in 1893.
Worplesdon (#15) is perhaps the prettiest of Surrey’s trinity of “Ws” and it was John Abercromby’s inaugural design that dates back to 1908 with the greens and bunkers constructed by Willie Park Junior. Little has changed here after more than 100 years. The East course at Wentworth (#16) was the first course Harry Colt built at Virginia Water. It has remained largely untouched since it was laid out two years before the second unofficial matches between American and British professionals were staged here in 1926, one year prior to the inauguration of the Ryder Cup.
Hindhead (#17) has come on in leaps and bounds in the last decade and it’s now one of the premier courses in Surrey thanks to a plethora of subtle modifications and a step change in greenkeeping standards. It’s one of the most memorable courses in the county. West Hill (#18) is the third member of the trio of W’s and it too has improved markedly in the last few years. A massive tree-clearing programme has now completed, creating more width and enabling an already heathery layout to flourish.
The Addington (#19) has been underrated for a while now, largely due to tree encroachment which is gradually being addressed. However, there’s no denying the course’s dramatic, tumbling topography that takes golfers on a wild and exciting ride under the watchful gaze of the London city skyline. The Blue course at The Berkshire (#20) is the Red’s understudy. Ed Battye, the founder of Golf Empire, reckons that “the run of holes from the 11th onwards are really what define the Blue… They are all energetic holes and there is more going on over this closing stretch than what has gone before it.”
Our first South East Top 50 features courses in the 21-50 range that we’d happily play every week. The undeniable quality and quantity of golf on offer in this region is second to none in the British Isles. It doesn’t make sense to mention every layout here, but we feature each one prominently within our Top 100 web pages.
However, we’ll mention a few South East courses that have pleasantly surprised us recently. These have flown under the radar and we think they are worthy of highlighting.
Knole Park (#42) has yet to appear within our English Top 100, but that will change very soon. This 1924 John Abercromby design is laid out within an enormous 1,000-acre estate and it’s a thrilling layout which plays firm and fast over an old deer park where fallow deer still roam freely today. We should perhaps pay closer attention to the writings of Bernard Darwin who, in 1925, wrote the following passage in The Golf Courses of Great Britain: [Knole Park] “is still very new, but I think, when it is a little older, few, if any, park courses will be better. Certainly none will be prettier. There are the loveliest holes down winding forest glades, full of romantic possibilities…”
Royal Wimbledon (#43) is another club that has perennially missed out on a national ranking position, although in 2008 it did make a brief appearance in our English Top 100. The club really couldn’t care less whether or not their course is ranked, such is their indifference to ratings, however, anyone can play here by following simple protocol. Those that have teed it up at this Harry Colt-touched heathland cum parkland track delight at Colt’s signature par threes.
Piltdown (#47) is yet another club in this region that is investing heavily in its primary asset, the golf course. We were very impressed when we played here on two separate occasions recently. Just like its neighbour on the other side of Ashdown Forest, Piltdown is bunkerless, and the absence of sand traps somehow play trickery with distances. It’s a charming course that doesn’t have strong architectural provenance but it’s a solid layout nonetheless.
Brokenhurst Manor (#49) is set in the heart of the New Forest and it’s another unsung Harry Colt design which is unusually configured in three returning 6-hole loops. As is often the case with Colt layouts, the stars of the show are the one-shotters which look longer than they actually play, but there are plenty of other solid holes throughout the card. There’s undeniably a heathland look and feel to the entire layout but with a distinct lack of heather which the club is trying to introduce in places. Despite a tree-clearing programme, there’s an opportunity to open the site up further.
Farnham (#50) has languished for too long in the lower reaches of our Surrey Best In County rankings. A recent visit to the club proved how important it is to regularly re-play courses. Located in a charming village called The Sands, Farnham is half parkland and half heathland. The course starts and ends on the flatter, parkland ground, and the holes in between are routed across the heathery ground where the land movement is more stirring. Some of these sandy holes would grace any Top 100 heathland course.
We played the new and ultra-exclusive David McLay Kidd and Tom Watson co-design at Beaverbrook Golf Club earlier this year and felt it has great potential, but we decided not to list it in our Surrey Best In County rankings this time, largely due to insufficient votes.
Finally for those eagle-eyed observers, we’ve extended our Kent Best In County rankings from a Top 25 to a Top 30. We decided there were a number of solid courses in this golf rich county deserving credit.
South East England - Top 50 Golf Courses 2017
|1||Royal St George's|
|5||St George's Hill (Red & Blue)|
|6||Walton Heath (Old)|
|8||Royal Cinque Ports|
|22||Walton Heath (New)|
|24||Royal Ashdown Forest (Old)|
|27||Prince's (Shore & Dunes)|
|31||Wisley (Church & Garden)|
|33||Stoke Park (Colt & Alison)|
|46||London Club (Heritage)|
Click the following links to see in detail our latest Best In County rankings for the eight South East England counties:
|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|
|6||Calcot Park||No change|
|8||Mill Ride||Up 1|
|9||Newbury & Crookham||Up 1|
|10||Castle Royle||Down 2|
|12||Donnington Grove||No change|
|14||Goring & Streatley||No change|
|1||Woburn (Marquess)||No change|
|2||Woburn (Duke's)||No change|
|3||Stoke Park (Colt & Alison)||Up 1|
|4||Woburn (Duchess)||Down 1|
|7||Gerrards Cross||Up 2|
|8||Burnham Beeches||Down 1|
|5||North Hants||Down 1|
|6||Brokenhurst Manor||No change|
|7||Leckford (Old)||New entry|
|10||Barton-on-Sea (Becton & Needles)||Up 1|
|11||Shanklin & Sandown||Down 3|
|13||Old Thorns||Up 6|
|14||Royal Winchester||Down 2|
|15||Rowlands Castle||Down 2|
|16||South Winchester||Down 2|
|17||Hartley Wintney||New entry|
|19||Tylney Park||Down 3|
|20||Freshwater Bay||Down 2|
|1||Royal St George's||No change|
|2||Royal Cinque Ports||No change|
|3||Prince's (Shore & Dunes)||No change|
|5||Knole Park||Up 3|
|6||London Club (Heritage)||Down 1|
|8||Chart Hills||Down 1|
|9||Sundridge Park (East)||Up 1|
|10||London Club (International)||Down 1|
|11||Rochester & Cobham Park||Up 1|
|12||North Foreland (Main)||Down 1|
|13||Hever Castle (Kings & Queens)||Up 2|
|15||Langley Park||Down 2|
|16||Sundridge Park (West)||Up 3|
|18||Royal Blackheath||Down 2|
|19||Wrotham Heath||Up 6|
|21||Kings Hill||Down 4|
|22||Walmer & Kingsdown||Up 2|
|23||West Kent||New entry|
|29||Sittingbourne & Milton Regis||New entry|
|30||West Malling (Spitfire)||New entry|
|3||Muswell Hill||Up 1|
|6||Mill Hill||Up 1|
|7||Ashford Manor||Down 4|
|9||Pinner Hill||New entry|
|10||Crews Hill||New entry|
|2||Frilford Heath (Red)||Down 1|
|3||Frilford Heath (Green)||Up 1|
|5||Tadmarton Heath||No change|
|7||Studley Wood||Down 1|
|10||Frilford Heath (Blue)||Down 1|
|1||Sunningdale (Old)||No change|
|2||Sunningdale (New)||No change|
|3||St George's Hill||No change|
|4||Walton Heath (Old)||No change|
|5||Wentworth (West)||Up 2|
|7||Hankley Common||Down 2|
|10||Wentworth (East)||Down 1|
|12||West Hill||Up 1|
|13||The Addington||Up 1|
|14||Walton Heath (New)||Down 4|
|15||New Zealand||Up 2|
|16||Coombe Hill||No change|
|17||Wisley (Church & Garden)||Down 2|
|19||Camberley Heath||Up 1|
|20||Royal Wimbledon||Up 1|
|21||Wentworth (Edinburgh)||Down 2|
|22||West Surrey||No change|
|26||Burhill (Old)||Down 3|
|27||Reigate Heath||No change|
|28||Foxhills (Longcross)||Down 4|
|29||West Byfleet||Up 6|
|30||Foxhills (Bernard Hunt)||Up 1|
|32||Addington Palace||Down 3|
|33||RAC (Old)||Down 1|
|34||Royal Mid-Surrey (JH Taylor)||Down 1|
|36||Burhill (New)||Up 1|
|37||Croham Hurst||Up 3|
|38||Banstead Downs||Down 2|
|1||West Sussex||No change|
|2||Rye (Old)||No change|
|3||Royal Ashdown Forest (Old)||No change|
|4||Crowborough Beacon||No change|
|5||Goodwood (Downs)||No change|
|7||Mannings Heath (Waterfall)||Up 1|
|8||East Sussex National (West)||Down 2|
|9||East Sussex National (East)||Down 2|
|10||Royal Ashdown Forest (West)||Up 2|
|13||Cooden Beach||Down 2|
|16||Worthing (Lower)||Down 1|
|17||Sweetwoods Park||Up 1|
|18||Cowdray Park||Down 1|
|19||The Dyke||New entry|
|20||Dale Hill (Woosnam)||No change|
Top 100 Golf Courses