If I can arrive in a car park, enter the clubhouse, have breakfast (from one of the most extensive morning menus I’ve seen), read the newspaper, register for a competition, visit the locker-room, nip into the pro-shop, stroke a few balls on the practice putting green, clip a couple of balls onto a chipping area, fire a handful of drives away on the range, wander to the first tee and do all of that having walked less than 100 paces then there’s a very good chance I’m going to write nice things about your golf club.
You could throw a blanket over all of this at West Sussex but importantly everything is exactly where you would expect to discover them and also in the order you would hope to find it all. I’ve lost count of how many venues I’ve visited that have irritated me before I’ve even reached the first tee because of a ridiculous layout. I’ve circled clubhouses on arrival trying to gain access to the building and once inside opened doors that I’d expect to lead into a lounge only to be confronted with the cleaner’s cupboard. I've circled woodland trying to locate a practice ground and doubled back on myself umpteen times in order do everything you need to do before you even strike a ball. West Sussex has it down to a tee. Rant over.
The golf course is no less perfect. West Sussex, on the edge of the South Downs, is quite simply a wonderful place and a magnificent location to golf. The flow of this private members course is exceptional and very few can match it from a visual perspective either.
Popularly known as Pulborough it was officially opened in 1931 having been designed by two outstanding golf architects, Guy Campbell and Cecil Hutchison although very recently Stafford Hotchkin has also been attributed to West Sussex. These men are acknowledged to have created one of the most natural and aesthetically pleasing golf courses in England. I can’t disagree.
Over the years the course has been described in detail by many well-known golf writers including the following comments;
“It is a little sandy jewel set in the Sussex clay, what more can anyone desire?” - Bernard Darwin.
“Designed unmistakably by providence for a golf course and man for once has done the right thing” - Henry Longhurst.
“There are few lovelier places to play inland on such noble terrain of heather, pine and birch complemented by surroundings of tranquil green and distant views of the Downs that far exceed the more cloistered reaches of the famous Surrey courses” - Donald Steel.
Incidentally the gentleman who made that final comment was on starting duty for The Chanctonbury Ring 36 hole open competition that I played in here during early July 2016.
To put a little bit more meat on the bones of the above comments from a present-day golfer’s perspective all I can really add is that there are no moments of weakness at West Sussex. In my very humble opinion even the ‘lesser holes’ such as the second, third and ninth are very good. And there is so much wonderful stuff going on it’s difficult to know where to begin.
After a modest start at this par-68 delight – where in a similar manner to Rye the par-five opener is the only three-shotter on the card and your best chance of a birdie – it comes to life at the sweeping par-four fourth and then rarely looks back. Unlike at some other courses the back-to-back par-threes at the fifth and sixth work exceptionally well together; a shortie followed by a long ‘un. And the third par three of the front nine, which quickly greets us at the eighth, is also truly sublime.
Once we get into the heart of the terrain and onto the back-nine the course steps up another notch from its already lofty position. The inward half here is one of my favourite in all of golf with a lovely rhythm to it and where nothing repeats itself, there’s a distinct individuality to West Sussex. Indeed all of the holes can be classed as excellent, or better, and a few of them could easily be deemed great. My personal favourites are the 13th, 14th and 16th where decisions must be made from both the tee and on the approaches to these glorious two-shotters.
At times West Sussex toys with you. Sure, there are some demanding holes (an SSS of 71 is evidence of that) but it never overpowers you. It allows you to stay in the game. There are chances to be had and risks to take, or decline, but until the moment you stand on the 17th tee it hasn’t overwhelmed you with length. That changes for the final two holes though and these two brutes, at 459 and 437 yards, certainly ask you to earn your keep.
The texture to the property is brilliant too. It’s almost alive with the heathery swathes that flank the generous sandy fairways, the stunning pine trees and the vibrant white sand in the bunkers. This all adds up to make the course as stylish as they come.
The bunkering is worthy of an essay on its own but in summary not only is it beautifully strategic but also strategically beautiful.
The greens, with perhaps the exception of the eighth and 13th, aren’t as crafty to putt on as some of the other famous heathland courses but they don’t need to be. The holes here, like life, are more about the journey than the ultimate destination.
West Sussex is close enough to the famed courses on the Surrey/Berkshire sandbelt to be compared favourably to them but detached enough for it not to be lost in the crowd. It has its own identity, one that I very much like.
As mentioned already there’s a fantastic playability to Pulborough, it’s a course that will engage with and reward all types of golfer. It doesn’t discriminate against any standard or age of player. Although the terrain is moderately rolling it’s infinitely walkable, tops out at just over 6,300 yards and quick golf is assured here with two-ball and foursomes the favoured format of play.
I'm not the sort of golfer at the moment that could play the majority of my rounds at just one course but when the time comes to find a home club West Sussex is the type I'd hope to join.
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.