I was expecting something special on my first ever trip to Sunningdale and it didn't let me down. In fact it delivered in spades.
I have returned since and it continues to mesmerize.
What pleases me most is the notable difference between both the Old and New courses; both two of the finest inland golf courses in Great Britain.
On my first visit I expected each course to be very similar in style and design. Indeed they are both truly superb heathland courses but the New course poses an entirely different set of questions to that of the Old.
The Old is simply an awe-inspiring journey through magnificent wooded heathland. There is a great variety of holes, perfectly encapsulated in the opening four; a reachable par five, a demanding par four, a driveable par four and a fantastic uphill par three. The course continues in similar vein with each hole unravelling delightfully to present something different. Much has been written about the Old course, which is favoured by many, so I will simply give a brief overview of special points of personal note.
Following the excellent first four holes the drive from the fifth, with a view right up to the sixth green, is also inspiring and it's a very pretty hole, with a pond short of the green, but I personally thought this wasn't as strong a hole as it has been made out to be by others. After an intimidating blind drive the approach into the seventh is an absolute joy where fairway, green and surrounds simply melt into one. The best drive on the course comes at the 10th where you play down to the fairway below and try to avoid a series of fairway bunkers before playing up to the green that sits in front of the notorious halfway house. You can see all the challenges that this hole poses from the tee box.
The 12th hole is possibly my favourite on the course and is one of the most beautiful holes you will come across. I believe the falling par three 13th to be the weakest hole of the entire 36 but the 15th is a very good short hole (although it can play up to 239 yards!) whilst the closing three holes will test the best with accurate driving and precise iron-play required. The final green, shadowed by the huge oak tree behind, caps a mesmerising round.
On the whole the Old course is fairly generous from the tee with strategic placement required on many of the holes. There are three short-ish par fours (the 3rd, 9th and 11th) which felt a bit strange and left me feeling as if this was perhaps (at least) one too many. However, in summary it has to be said that heathland golf doesn't get much better than this.
Meanwhile, the New course stands shoulder-to-shoulder to its elder sibling and doesn't disappoint either. You know from the moment you play the opening hole, a par four of 465 yards, you will need to be on your metal.
In short, the New is much the tighter course as well as being the longer. You must fully commit to each and every shot otherwise you will likely find the vibrant heather or deep greenside bunkering.
The trio of holes from the fourth are of the very highest order. The first is a par four and requires a good drive before a demanding approach to a green that slides off to the right. The fifth is a wonderfully sculptured par three across a valley of heather to a wickedly sloping green and the sixth must rank as one of the best holes I've ever played. It's a snaking par five where everything can be seen from the tee as it urges you to bite off a little bit too much. The long and two-tiered green is well protected and is a superb ending to a fabulous golf hole.
The eighth, ninth and 10th holes are of similar ilk. The green setting at hole eight is excellent whilst the drive on the next is a true highlight, as is the view back up the descending fairway from the green. And the 10th is just a brilliant par three with bewitching bunkering throughout but especially on the left.
It ends a run of holes from the fourth which can individually be deemed world class and collectively unsurpassable. The brilliance doesn't end there though.
The 11th is a classic heroic hole with a narrow, mounted green and the 12th is a fine hole too. The 13th is a simple but effective par five and the par three that follows is exceptional and requires the player to shape a draw into the green. Holes 15 and 16 are both very strong par fours that dog-leg to the right, the former being the best. And whilst the final two holes on the New course don't match the Old for difficulty the final shot of the day into the last hole is one that will be remembered for a long time.
The club itself is so unassuming and the level of service from staff within the clubhouse and pro-shop is extremely attentive. As a visitor you very much feel like you are a cherished member of the club, at least for a day anyway!
So, which do I think is the best? It's a bit like asking if you'd prefer to win £100 million or £75 million on the lottery, but I say that the 'New' is the better course.
The New requires a much higher standard of golf to meet its challenge and I think it boasts the superior individual holes. Admittedly the Old course has more character and owns the most beautiful holes on the estate.
The Old has also probably been the most influential course of the two over the years, and allows for a little indulgence, but in my opinion that doesn't make it the best.
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