There’s a lovely feeling and atmosphere around the clubhouse and cozy proshop which are situated on the other side of a country round to the actual golf course. This ambience is equally portrayed out on the heath.
Given its modest length of just over 6,000 yards Piltdown packs a mighty punch in terms of challenge. There is just a solitary par-five on the par 68 layout, six two-shotters measuring 400-yards or more and not a single par-four less than 310-yards. You’re as likely to play every club in the bag here as you are anywhere and this is reflected in the SSS of 69.
The 18 holes play over excellent turf on Piltdown Common, flow really nicely and playing here is a joy, plus you’re likely to be round in less than 3 hours thanks to mostly short green-to-tee walks. The only exception to this is when you must cross a road to play holes five through to 11 which are on the opposite side.
In a similar way to nearby Royal Ashdown Forest you won’t find a single sand bunker at Piltdown. Heather lined fairways, grassy swales, gullies and heathery knobs, in close proximity to the greens, add to the charm and test. There are also a number of heather banks that will not only result in a nasty lie but also an awkward stance should your ball find one of them.
The collection of short holes, five of them all told, are all particularly attractive. The first of these, a 202-yarder played over a mass of heather to a tiny depressed green, is arguably the most demanding and where judging distance is deceiving (it looks even longer!). Such is the difficulty of this hole a dedicated ‘lay-up’ fairway is present for those who are unable to carry the heather, or perhaps choose wisely to play short and then pitch on.
The other short holes are all delightful affairs; the seventh requires you to fire over a hollow, the 10th is played to a fantastic kidney shaped green and the downhill 15th to a sloping putting surface cunningly protected by a central grass bunker. The 18th is also a lovely way to close the round.
The plethora of par-fours are no less impressive. Indeed you will find some really strong holes amongst them. The dog-legging third is a case in point where after reaching the corner of the fairway you must fire uphill over a stream to a two-tiered green. The 13th and 17th are a couple of magnificent holes too; the former blindly legs to the left around a mass of heather to a green etched into the hillside whereas the 17th plunges downhill to a narrowing fairway before you climb to a green that sweetly feeds in from the right.
The outward half plays considerably longer than the back-nine. Par is 35 going out and is 3,252 yards long whilst the inward half is par 33 playing to just 2,803 yards. Many of the greens on the first eight holes are merely extensions of the fairway with minimal punishment for missing; in truth a few bunkers would improve them. However, things start to get much more interesting from the ninth where a tricky little pushed-up green awaits and from this point until the end the green sites are far more engaging and help defend the relatively short holes really well.
A false front at the 11th is a clever feature whilst the 12th requires a lay-up from the tee before a tricky little pitch over more heather to a narrow green that drops off steeply on the left. The aforementioned 13th runs away on the right and the 16th green has a very steep step in it.
There is a nice consistency to Piltdown but if you look a little closer there are two sections to the course. Holes one to eight provide a demanding challenge, with some lovely driving holes, whilst from the ninth onwards the course is shorter but more interesting and a little whimsical.
In summary Piltdown is a lovely intimate golf course but at the same time gives a nice sense of space and requires some steadfast golf. It’s not a course you will easily overpower and there are enough features to keep you on your toes but ultimately it’s very playable – just stay out of the heather!
It's a long time since I've walked off a golf course and been as impressed and surprised, compared to what I was expecting, than at Newbiggin.
A family holiday brought me to Whitby Golf Club. After stuffing myself with fish & chips, losing most of my money on the penny slots and catching umpteen crabs in the harbour it was time for a round of golf!
Planning a round of golf in late October can be a dicey affair, especially in my home county of Yorkshire where the vast majority of courses are built on heavy soil or clay, so it was very refreshing to discover when venturing down south how well East Berkshire played at this time of year.