Bobby Jones hit the nail on the head when he said of Sunningdale, “I wish I could take it home with me.”
It may be the only thing he and I have in common but I certainly share that sentiment as I step off the 18th green after a round I’d be happy to repeat every day for the rest of my life.
When you receive the invitation to visit Sunningdale for a round on the Old Course, the feeling is comparable to the excitement you feel as a 5-year-old on Christmas Eve: you know you are in for something very special, you hope the day lives up to the hype and you don’t sleep because of the excitement the night before.
The whole experience is effortlessly classy. The Sunningdale Estate is tucked away behind gates just off a quiet lane near the village centre. Once the gates close behind you, you could be forgiven for forgetting a world outside of this idyllic spot exists. It simply melts away, disappears delightfully into soft focus.
The clubhouse is majestic and packed full of the kind of history and traditional you would associate with one of England’s grandest clubs. The main bar overlooks the practice putting green near the first tee and, of course, onto the famous Oak tree that has become the symbol of the club.
There is a driving range away to the left that is functional rather than fancy and the short game area is extensive and varied enough to ensure even the most dedicated of golfers is ready for the round of their lives.
The course itself is nothing short of an inland masterpiece – it’s not hyperbole to suggest it’s as good as anything you will find anywhere in the world. Willie Park Jr, who designed it in 1900, carved through the Berkshire heathland and forest so carefully, so delicately as to create a layout that feels as if it could only ever have been a golf course. It rises and falls over varied and challenging landscapes and it presents so many wonderful and memorable holes – one after, another after another. It never lets up. And as you would expect, the condition of the course is nothing short of immaculate throughout.
The only reason the best players in the world no longer grace these hallowed fairways is because Sunningdale’s Old Course is not a long golf course. It is not a beast. It doesn’t need to be. It prioritises placement above power. But this place does not need the addition of the world’s best players on its fairways to enhance it in any way.
That Sunningdale has not attempted to keep up with the march of time is actually it’s greatest quality. The opening hole is a good example.
The 1st is a 492-yard par 5, which invites you to begin your round with a birdie, even if you often have to settle for something a little less satisfying. The 2nd is a gentle reminder that things get harder quickly – a 470-yard par 4 with a wicked green which slopes sharply front to back.
The 4th is a delightful uphill par-3 that requires total focus off the tee and then the 7th, with its blind tee shot, is perhaps the best hole on the course – certainly the most photographed. As is the the long 10th, with its incredible view from the tee.
The bunkering is clever and subtle throughout and the fairways, although not narrow, are framed delightfully by towering trees, vibrant heather and, at times, challenging rough. If you miss these fairways you will drop shots.
“It is majestic. It is beautiful. It is challenging and varied.”
The halfway house is worth stopping at. The sausage sandwiches have become the stuff of legend, while the setting in the middle of a delightful woodland is idyllic and tranquil. It’s a perfect spot to consider the challenge ahead.
The 12th is another outstanding par 4, stretching some 416 yards. I could go on, but I won’t – I am sure you get the picture. Sometimes golf courses and luxury resorts receive so much acclaim that, when you finally get there, the reality can’t possibly live up to it. Sunningdale’s Old Course is the total opposite of that.
It may well be England’s best golf course, let alone it’s best inland course. And yet when you come to play it, as I have been fortunate enough to do on a number of occasions now, it still manages to surpass your expectations.
It is majestic. It is beautiful. It is challenging and varied. It is a joy to walk and to play. And I think I know what I want for Christmas.
- Best hole: The 7th – 393yd Par 4.
A blind tee shot opens up to a truly beautiful fairway and green, tucked away in a forest. When the heather blooms, there may be no more picturesque par-4 in all of England. Really wonderful to play and not long.
- Hardest hole: The 2nd – 470yd Par 4.
After a gentle start, the Old course reminds you that it is no pushover. A drive up to the road which crosses the fairway, leaves you around 170 yards to a green that is down in a dip and slopes front to back. Par is an excellent score.
- Best Par 3: The 4th – 157yd Par 3.
An excellent and varied opening stretch is completed with this charming par 3. An uphill tee shot means it is hard to grasp the size of the green and the pin position can vary by as much as 30 yards. Heather frames this hole.
Phone Number: 01344 621681
Designers: Willie Park Jr.
Where it ranks: At the very top. 12th in Golf Digest’s Top 100 courses in the world.
Length: 6,329 yards from the back tees. Par 70.