WEST SUSSEX GOLF CLUB - 17 POINTS
West Sussex Golf Club is one of England’s quintessential hidden gems, and they seem perfectly at ease with that status. The big stars of Sunningdale, Walton Heath and Swinley Forest are all within an hour’s drive and have much in common with this fine golf club, but attract all the attention, visitors and plaudits. West Sussex is little-known except by real golf aficionados, yet it offers one of England’s best heathland challenges.
Tim, the pro of over 30 years, told us that he describes the course as a ‘long short course’ and that actually makes a sense after you have played it. It is a par 68 but even from the yellow tees, at 5,961 yards it is a real challenge. The first hole is a relatively short par 5 but that’s it for the three shotters. From here on in it’s par 3s and 4s all the way. There are 5 par 3s on the card, with 2 of them over 200 yards, and 5 of the par 4s are over 400 yards. That means that, even though this is a par 68, you will hit plenty of long clubs in and there are obstacles galore to navigate from the tees - sand and heather in the main.
Before getting to the course, a word about the clubhouse and practice setup. It is one of the best I have found so far on my travels. One of its nice features is that everything is so close together. The clubhouse is a lovely red brick building with a cosy feel inside. We had a great lunch and there was a large selection of beers on tap. There was a warm welcome in the pro shop and the bar. The surprisingly large driving range was 20 steps from the clubhouse and from there it was a few more steps onto the putting and chipping green, tucked in by the bar patio. You then place a ball into the chute by the first tee and when it reaches the bottom it’s your turn to tee off. If only every golf club setup was so easy to navigate!
And so, to the course. Built in 1931, the course has been largely untouched over recent years we were told, save for some much-welcomed tree cutting and a few bunkers moved up to cope with the modern game. The par 5 opener is definitely a gentle start - it is the easiest hole on the course, reachable with two good shots. From there, things toughen up. I didn’t start particularly strongly which made me slightly apprehensive for what was to come.
The strokesaver is very bare on details, no flowery descriptions here, and as such we made some bad calls from the tee. We both hit what we assumed were great drives (on the 3rd, for example) just to discover we would have been better 40 yards left of where we were and on the fairway rather than in the heather. This is most definitely a course where you would benefit from repeat play.
However, things soon settled down and the front 9 is particularly notable for a run of three par 3s in four holes. The 5th may be the shortest of the trio at only 138 yards but it is protected by a huge bunker and the green slopes severely from back to front. From there to the 6th which measures 210 yards with an intimidating carry over a pond - the wise play here is to play it as a par 4 and take a ‘birdie’ if it comes.
The back 9 is a stronger test still - some 250 yards longer with several dogleg par 4s - and the heather comes into play more and more as the round goes on. The holes are wonderfully shaped and ask you to move the ball in both directions to score well. Still, anything’s possible and I hit a drive and approach to the 403 yard 18th, even managing to sink a 10 footer for birdie leaving me with very happy memories!
There are some obvious strengths. The bunkering is superb - the sand is mainly brilliant white with a soft powdery consistency on the fairways but with a little bit more grit around the greens. The greens are surprisingly contoured with everything from punch bowls to false fronts to take on. Heather abounds on the course. When we played it had been a very dry summer and the fairways were running well which meant many balls tapered off into the heather. You are in the lap of the gods when you hit it there so make sure you keep a keen eye on the line off the tee. The 16th makes particularly good use of the heather down the left and then on both sides in front of the green.
It would be fair to say we didn’t see the course at its best in our September round. The hot weather had burnt out sections of fairways and there were some dodgy lies as a result. That was a shame but it is testament to just how good this course is that it didn’t take much away from the place.
When we played it was ranked 85 in the world and, if truth be told, that felt a little high. But don’t let that put you off. West Sussex is definitely a golf course worth making the trip for and after finishing your round you will be itching to go back to the 1st and do it all again!
BOOKING THE COURSE
This is very much a members’ club - and it is also a members’ club that plays two-ball golf. The professional was very clear on this point. If you want to play as a 3 ball then forget it and if you are 4 then you will play foursome. There are no exceptions I was told (which on this occasion suited us fine as we were a 2 anyway). We were told that the course was pretty punishing in places and if you don’t know your way around you risk a 5 or 5 1/2 hour round and that’s just not the done thing here. 3 hour rounds are the norm and frankly the members don’t want that to change. When I asked whether that put visitors off the answer was ‘we don’t really want visitors here’!
Having said that, the welcome we received was really warm. When I emailed to book, the response came directly from the head pro in a couple of hours and he was able to accommodate us no problem. There are a lot of members’ medals competitions so you may need to be flexible about timing but the website says they will do their best to find something that works, including on weekends, and I’m sure that’s the case.
The green fee rises from £80 on winter weekdays to £105 for a summer weekend. For an extra £20 you can play the course twice and that is fantastic value.
West Sussex is under an hour away from the Surrey heartlands of Swinley Forest, Sunningdale et al and so, I would say, if you are visiting those courses on your trip you would be better off staying nearer them. Bagshot is very close to them all and there are some good accommodation options there (see Sunningdale for more info).
If you are flying in to Gatwick then West Sussex is an obvious first or last stop as it’s only half an hour’s drive from there. By train, you can get to nearby Pulborough in just over an hour directly from Clapham Junction in London, so a day trip is perfectly possible.
The clubhouse welcome was good and the food was really good too, so make sure you factor in some time for refreshments. The practice range, chipping green and putting area are all just a few steps away from the clubhouse and are high quality. The actual changing rooms themselves reminded me a little of those at Garden City - very old school and an large number of old, naked men walking around when we visited!
West Sussex Golf Club
Golf Club Ln,
Phone: +44 (0) 1798 872563