The West Course
Very few golf clubs boast two 18-hole courses, both over 100 years old, especially those that differ as much as the West Course and the Old Course at Royal Ashdown Forest Golf Club.
The Old Course still plays very much like a heathland course despite the incursion of silver birch trees along its fairways. The West Course snakes its way through the heart of the Ashdown Forest that spreads for over 20 square miles in this most beautiful part of Sussex.
The West was once the longest ladies’ golf club in England. It was originally founded as the Ashdown Forest & Tunbridge Wells Ladies Golf Club in 1889, barely six months after the formation of the main club and was only the second of its type to be formed in Great Britain, after Sunningdale Ladies.
In 1932 the course was lengthened to 18 holes, the same year that the ladies’ club was awarded Royal status in own right. Since then it has gone through a number of alterations and now welcomes players of both sexes yet still remains of sufficient quality to be awarded Golf World magazine’s prestigious accolade as the UK’s best course under 6,000 yards in 2013.
Former Ashdown member, golf architect and writer, Frank Pennink wrote of the West Course, “There are some really splendid holes and not a single poor one. To find a green demands often an exacting accuracy, but a green missed, a ball is generally easy to find, though not necessarily easy to put close to the hole.”
Whereas banks of heather, gorse and thick rough help defend the Old Course in the absence of bunkers, the West is an altogether tighter challenge with narrow tree-lined fairways and small, often elevated greens with some fiendish run offs.
“Once you get onto the green you will never be that far from the flag. But the main problem is plotting your way around tight, tree-lined fairways to hit them consistently. Every tee shot on the West is a demanding one.”
— Ashdown head pro Tim Cowley
There is the chance to open your shoulders with your drive on the third, the only par five on the course, and some risk and reward holes such as the par four eighth and 15th where it is possible to drive the green. But putting the ball in the right position from the tee is crucial particularly with sloping and often doglegged fairways.
There are some very fine golf holes to enjoy and none better than the par four 18th, which many members reckon to be the finest on either course.
At 435 yards it is not the longest par four on the course but with ditches and a stream twice meandering across it, coupled with the necessity to draw the ball from right to left from the tee, it is most certainly the toughest.
When Bernard Darwin first played the West Course, he forecast that the finishing hole would, “Become famous, or even, in some jaundiced eyes, infamous, for it is a terrifying and magnificent hole. The obvious comparison is to some of the holes at Carnoustie, and particularly, perhaps, to the Seventeenth. Just as the Barry Burn winds like a snake hither and thither, so does the pretty little stream at Ashdown lie in wait for us everywhere.”
But whilst avoiding the streams do take time to enjoy the delights of being in the peaceful heart of the Ashdown Forest where the only sounds you are likely to hear apart from other golfers are the woodland birds.
Unlike some of the climbs on the Old Course, the West provides an enjoyable and easy walk which is one reason why it is hugely popular with Societies who often combine a morning round on the Old with an equally demanding, though less strenuous, 18 after lunch on the West. To this day the course remains hugely popular with ladies and also welcomes three and fourball players at all times.
Golf writer Frank Pennink’s belief that the West Course could equal the reputation of the Old, in a different way, is now a reality as more discover its charm and true test of golf.
The new and the old blend magnificently.
The September 2013 edition of Golf World magazine declared Royal Ashdown Forest’s West Course the number one UK golf destination in its ‘Short but Sweet’ list featuring the countries top courses under 6,000 yards. Click here to read the review.
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