Sunningdale golf club (old) - 18 POINTS
There is probably no-where else in the world where you will have a better 36 hole experience than at Sunningdale. The Old and the New courses sit side-by-side and make up an exquisite duo.
The Old Course was designed by Willie Park Junior and opened in 1901 with Harry Colt as secretary. Quite a line-up! The New Course was Colt’s parting gift to the club when it opened a quarter of a century later.
I am hard pushed to think of another inland course I have enjoyed as much as the Old Course at Sunningdale - Swinley Forest and Morfontaine are probably the only ones in the mix. It really is that good.
The course has wonderful challenges but is eminently playable. It’s not a course you can overpower but it will reward someone who thinks their way round. However, if you are a little wayward you won’t get the punishment you may face on the New course.
This is a course you can score on. With good tee shots, the par 5 1st and 14th and the short par 4 3rd, 9th and 11th are all holes where even the shortest hitter should have a birdie putt. There’s no need to take a driver off the tee on the short par 4s as there is more trouble up by the green - finding the fairways with something shorter will probably help you score.
The course is probably more consistently great than the New Course. Tom Doak calls out in his Confidential Guide two stretches of holes of particular note - the three par 4s that make up the 5th, 6th and 7th, and the 10th, 11th and 12th - and with good reason, but many of the other holes shine too.
The course just looks great. The heather eyebrows on the bunkers are fantastic and the cross-bunkering on several holes is a thing of beauty. The colours of the trees contrasting with the fairway and heather really offer a visual feast. There is quite a lot of elevation change on the course, with tees and fairways swooping down towards greens. It is a rollercoaster in many ways! Some of the greens are vast and have really significant tilts to them - something that caught me out on more than one occasion.
There are a few things you have to do at Sunningdale to benefit from the whole experience. First, try to play both courses. The New is harder and if you get the choice play the New first so you enjoy the more approachable Old Course after lunch.
Secondly, make sure you spend plenty of time exploring the clubhouse. There are points of interest galore and any fan of the game will find plenty to enjoy. Outside the visitor’s changing room, the description of Bobby Jones’ amazing 66 to qualify for the 1926 Open is a must-read.
Thirdly, enjoy the food! The sausage sandwich at the halfway house (which comes after the 10th on both the Old and New courses, where they meet) is legendary and the clubhouse food great. The terrace is a lovely place to sit and watch the world go by. Never before have I seen as many dogs walk off an 18th green - almost every group of members was accompanied by a canine friend!
As for the course, just make sure you take enough time to look up and take it all in. This is golf the like of which you will very rarely experience. My advice would be not to obsess too much about your score but rather enjoy the surroundings, the quality of the architecture and splendour of the conditioning. You will remember the magnificence of the place for a long time!
BOOKING THE COURSE
Sunningdale is well set up for visitors. You can play the courses year round from Monday to Thursday. The summer green fee is £220 for the New, with a £350 day ticket for the Old and the New together. In the off-season you will pay £135 a round. To book you need to phone or email - all details are here.
Definitely make sure you have plenty of time to explore the clubhouse and take advantage of the hospitality. On arrival we went into the Critchley Room - the main dining room - and there was a complementary bacon roll and pastry awaiting us. The place is full of curios and interesting memorabilia and is well worth a look around. Many professional events were held here back when a 6,500 yard course was relevant for professional golfers and memories of them adorn the world.
The catering and hospitality at the club were of a consistently high standard. For lunch I had a scallop, salmon and prawn lobster bisque which was as good as anything I have every eaten at a golf course - including the lunch at National Golf Links of America!
It is possible to come out to Sunningdale from London for a day trip, which may work if you are only playing here rather than touring the area. Train is probably the best way, it’s only 47 minutes from Waterloo. However, if you are looking to play a few courses in the area then staying in the leafy Surrey suburbs makes sense. If you are happy with a relatively laid-back nightlife then somewhere like Bagshot would do the trick. There is a perfectly serviceable Premier Inn there.
If you are looking for something a little grander then Pennyhill Park (where the England rugby team stay) would give you a nice base with a good restaurant and spa facilities although you are looking at quite a step-up in cost from the Premier Inn and it isn’t walking distance from anywhere else.
If you are looking for a little more in the way of nightlife then consider Woking (20 minutes drive) or Guildford (30 minutes) where you will get more food and drink options as well as better connections to London - Woking is just 25 minutes on the train from Waterloo.
In terms of other courses to play in the area there are some obvious candidates. Swinley Forest is open to visitors now and both St George’s Hill and Walton Heath are in the world top 100. West Sussex is just an hour away and well worth a trip to see too, while, closer by, Woking is another obvious choice. If you have good connections and can get a game at Queenwood or Wentworth then you can spin out a trip here for over a week!
Sunningdale Golf Club,
Phone: +44 (0) 1344 621681