Bobby Jones hit the nail on the head in 1926: “I wish I could take it home with me,” he said of Sunningdale Old Course.
It may be the only thing he and I have in common but I 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 the night before.
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 exists outside of this idyllic spot. It simply melts away, disappears delightfully into soft focus.
The clubhouse is majestic and traditional in equal measure. 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 of the 18th green 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 a true inland masterpiece. 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, delicately as to create a layout that feels natural. It rises and falls over varied and challenging landscapes and it presents so many wonderful and memorable holes. The condition of the course is, as you would expect, immaculate from tee to green.
The only reason the best players in the world no longer grace these hallowed fairways is because Sunningdale Old Course is not a long. It is not a beast. It doesn’t need to be. It prioritises placement above distance, accuracy above power.
The opening hole is a good example. A 492yd par 5, that invites you to begin your round with a birdie. The second is a gentle reminder that things get harder quickly. A 470yd par 4 with a wicked green that slopes sharply front to back. The 4th is a delightful uphill par 3 that always and then the 7th, with its blind tee shot, is perhaps the best hole on the course – certainly the most picturesque.
And the long 10th, with its incredible view from the tee, is another instant classic in a round full of them. The bunkering is clever and subtle throughout and the fairways, although not narrow, are framed delightfully by towering trees, vibrant heather and, at times, difficult 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 are wonderful and wholesome. The setting in the middle of a delightful woodland is idyllic and tranquil. A perfect spot to consider the final stretch.
The 12th is another outstanding par 4, stretching 416yds. I could go on, but I won’t. I am sure you get the picture. Sometimes golf courses and luxury resorts receive acclaim that, when you finally get there, does not live up to the reality. Sunningdale Old Course is the opposite of that.
To many it is England’s best inland course. It is consistently ranked in the top 5 courses in the UK. 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 next year …
Here’s all you need to know.
- Best hole: The 7th – 393yd Par 4.
A blind tee shot over a hill, opens up to a truly beautiful fairway and green, in among the 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 with this challenging par 4. A drive up to the road that 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. With pin position varying by as much as 30 yards. Heather lines both sides of the fairway and will ensure any wayward shot disappears.
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.