The Old Course: A true test of golf for 125 years
Discover the beauty of the Forest.
Describing Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club’s Old Course in 1934, Bernard Darwin wrote “two salient facts come to mind. It is not quite like any other of my acquaintance, and secondly, I never knew anyone who played on it and was not fond of it.”
Over 80 years later and little has changed. Here is a course designed by nature yet still ranked as one of the top 100 courses in the British Isles. Famous for having no bunkers, its reputation as a true test of golf is undiminished thanks to uncontrived hazards of heather, narrow fairways, hollows and streams. Originally open heathland, trees from the forest have seeded, grown and matured to make accurate golf even more of a premium requirement as well as adding to its natural beauty.
By comparison with some modern developments the course could be considered short, yet because of the exacting challenge it presents to even the best golfers, the Old Course has been selected by the R&A as an Open Championship Regional Qualifying venue. It also hosted the amateur international match between England and Spain in 2007 and the Ladies' British Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship in 2011. In 2016 the Old Course will stage the McGregor Trophy (English Boy's Under 16 Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship) for the first time.
So, what is it that makes the course so special that even famed architects such as Harry Colt were inspired by it? An example is the difficulty of the island 6th. Then there’s the 11th where you stand on an elevated tee with glorious views of the North Downs and stare down at a 249 yard par 3.
The rambling old clubhouse may look somewhat austere perched half way up its hill but is a great place of fun. Most of the members love a joke and laughter is often heard rolling out of the small spike bar, traditionally occupied by men, as one regales another of a particularly appalling shot they have played during the course of their round.
When four German golfers arrived a few years back they noticed the large number of dogs, in particular Black Labradors, that happily walk round the course as their owners play and laughingly asked a member if it was compulsory to have a black dog to play at Ashdown. ‘Oh no’ replied the member sensing some sport, ‘but you can hire one if you want from the pro-shop.’
On arriving at the shop they were told that the pro was completely out of black dogs but could let them have a yellow one at a reduced rate. The Germans were as delighted as the pro’s Golden Retriever as they all headed out onto the Old Course.
And the next surprise when a first time visitor sets out to play a round on the Old Course is that there are no bunkers although, as the great golf writer Bernard Darwin pointed out when he had played, one often only realizes this at the end of the round as there are plenty of other natural hazards to defend par.
Here we have a golf course as nature intended and a site, like so many of the country’s great courses, where golf was always meant to be played. Like St Andrews this is common land, which anyone can cross.
Holes have been lengthened over 125 years but the challenges of pits, heather, streams and hummocks remain just the same. The fairways are never fertilized nor are they watered, so in dry periods they become far more like playing on a seaside links course with tight lies requiring bump and run shots around the greens.
Any offline shots will be severely punished and going past the hole on the likes of the second, seventh or ninth can result in a fiendishly slippery downhill putt. Being in the correct position is absolutely crucial to achieving a decent score and when the heather is in bloom during August and September most members simply reach for a sand iron and take their punishment if they have been unfortunate enough to end up there.
First time visitors may well not notice the absence of bunkers but they are certain to take in the magnificence of the scenery especially when arriving at the elevated tee to the longest par three hole in the county on the 11th with stunning views across East and West Sussex and the North Downs of Surrey and Kent.
Click here to book a tee time online. Click here to contact us or call 01342 822018.
Click here to read about sustainable greenkeeping at Royal Ashdown.
Click here to read a review of the Old Course by Golf Club Atlas.
Click here to read a review from American magazine "Travel & Leisure."