118. Back to the United Kingdom (Part III)
Surrey is about 30 miles southwest of London is home to many of the UK’s great inland courses. The ground in this region is rich with sand and heather grows naturally in this environment. These areas are often referred to as “heathland”.
In the Surrey area, there are four clubs with a strong pair of courses: Berkshire GC (Blue and Red Courses), Sunningdale GC (New and Old), Walton Heath GC (New and Old), and Wentworth GC (East, West…and a third, Edinburgh). On this trip I played the “second course” (for lack of a better term) at Sunningdale, Walton Heath, and Wentworth.
Walton Heath GC—New Course, August 30, 2018: Walton Heath was founded in 1903 and its first golf course (“Old”), designed by Herbert Fowler opened in 1904. Three years later, Fowler oversaw the construction of an addition nine-hole course, that was expanded to a full 18 (“New”) in 1913. Privately owned until 1971, the Club has been member owned since then. The Club has a long history of hosting Championships and other important events, including the 1981 Ryder Cup, the 2011 Senior Open, and the British Women’s Amateur (four times). The Ryder Cup and Senior Open were conducted on a “Composite Course” consisting of 16 holes from Old (dropping Old #1 and 3) and two from New (adding New # 12 & 13). I learned of this Composite in the last year and knew this meant I hadto play the New, in order to count Walton Heath as played of my bucket lists.
Unlike most clubs with 36 holes, the two courses here are intertwined, rather than occupying different sections of the property. Both play to par of 72; the Old stretches to some 7400 yards and the New to 7200. According to my calculations, by dropping holes # 1and 3 from the Old and adding holes #12 & 13 from New, the Composite course now plays to a somewhat hefty 7867 yards!! Who knows?
The heather protects the sides of the fairways on both and the bunkering is exceptional on both. The course plays very fast and firm…and it is not unusual to find a well hit drive scampering into the heather or worse yet, gorse. The greens are very perplexing and many are set on land with slight slopes that are difficult to discern when on the green.
The New has never been included on a World 100, but the Old has appeared on 33 of the 48 lists on my spreadsheet...usually hovering around #70-95…with a high rating of #35 (MacWood Spoof list) and a high of #76 in Golf Magazine. I have played Old only once…in 1981. On this day, I had a 43 – 40 = 83, unusual in that the back nine is almost 400 yards longer than the front (wonder if that means I would have shot my age from the back tees on the Composite?).
In summary, there are few places to better enjoy the charm and beauty of heathland golf than Walton Heath.
Woburn Golf Club—Marquess Course, August 30, 2018: The drive from Walton Heath to Woburn was 72 miles, and took about 1:30. I was here because The Marquess Course hosted the 2016 Women’s British Open Championship, and will do so again in 2019. Woburn has two other courses, The Duke’s and The Dutchess. Setting up this round was quite difficult as this week The Duke’s Course was hosting The European Senior Masters. However, they club was able to fit me in on the Marquess (which is physically very separate from the Duke’s) and I teed off at 5:00pm. The course was totally empty in front of me (one twosome let me through on #7) and I played it in about 2:10. Not fast enough for me…this is a parkland course through thick forests with relatively narrow corridors and no real creativity in its design. I fired a 44 – 41 = 85 and then headed north. This one is not great golf...but I was looking forward to tomorrow.
First, though, I had a drive of 105 miles (2:15). It was late when I arrived at the hotel…around 9:45pm…and I was playing at 9:30 the next morning.
Hunstanton Golf Club, August 31, 2018: In early 2016 Pat and I made a return trip to New Zealand. While near Queenstown on the South Island, we met an interesting Englishman named Bill Gelson. Bill is an avid golfer and we of course started to compare notes. He suggested that I needed to visit Hunstanton GC located very close to Royal West Norfolk (“Brancaster”). I played Brancaster three months later, but my crammed solid itinerary did not allow me to play Hunstanton. So today I would fulfill my promise to Bill, and I was glad I did so.
It played firm and fast with just enough wind to make the round interesting. I played poorly on the front but OK on the back (46 – 41 = 87). IMO the best holes are #6, 7, 10, 13, 14 and 16. Trust me, there are some bunkers on this track that you want to avoid (e.g. left fairway bunker on #13). And the blind 219 yard par 3 14this great fun…reminded me of #5 (Himalaya) at Prestwick GC in Scotland. In terms of pure golf design, par 3 #16 probably the best of the bunch…189 yard par 3 to deep but narrow 2 tiered green surrounded by six bunkers.
|Hunstanton #7--167 yards of terror|
Never on a World 100, but quite a bit of fun and quite good. When you go to Brancaster, visit Hunstanton!
Royal Worlington & Newmarket GC, August 31, 2018: Conscientious readers of this blog (Post #50) will recall that in 2016, I played Royal Worlington for the first time. I very much wanted to get a second look at this course, which I considered then (and still do) the finest par 3 course anywhere on this Earth.
I arrived after a drive of 51 miles (1:15) from Hunstanton. A luncheon following an outing of Cambridge University alumni was in full swing in the dining room and I was able to go out on an empty course. Just as good as I remembered…go read Post #50, or better yet, get over there and play it.
The drive back south to Surrey was 108 miles or 2:00. You might again be questioning my geographic skills. Problem was that Wentworth-East, which I had to play (bucket list of course) had been undergoing maintenance all week and was closed until Saturday September 1. I had been introduced to a member…but we had to wait until Saturday to play it. So back to Surrey I traveled!
Wentworth Golf Club-East, September 1, 2018: In the 1970’s-1980’s, golf in Surrey for visitors meant playing Sunningdale, Wentworth, and Walton Health. Brilliant courses such as St. George’s Hill, Swinley Forest, and Woking were “hidden gems”…unknown to all but a few Americans with close golfing connections in London. The reason was simple…with much less international travel, no internet, and a much smaller media footprint, courses remained “unknown” unless they hosted a major event. The same was true in Scotland, where fabulous tracks such as Cruden Bay, Gullane #1, North Berwick, Royal Aberdeen, and Royal Dornoch were also “hidden gems”…certainly in the 1970’s.
Wentworth Golf Club was founded in 1922. W. G. Tarrant, a developer of luxury homes founded the club as part of his strategy of building luxury homes around a golf course. The Depression brought bankruptcy to Tarrant’s company and ownership of the club passed to Sir Lindsay Parkinson & Co. Eventually, in 2014, the club was purchased for about $180 million by Beijing based Reignwood Group, controlled by billionaireChanchai Ruayrungruan.
Wentworth’s East Course was completed in 1924 followed by the West in 1926. Both East and West were designed by Harry Colt. Some 54 years later a third course, Edinburgh, designed by John Jacobs was completed. The West Course hosted the Ryder Cup in 1953 and the HSBC Match Play Championship from 1964-2007. The East hosted the forerunner to the Ryder Cup in 1926 as well as the inaugural Curtis Cup in 1932. Again, this is why I had to play East.
Current yardages for the three courses are:
West 7284 yards par 72
East 6201 yards par 68
Edinburgh 7004 yards par 72
Wentworth has been hit by two major controversies over the past 12 years.
First, in 2006 Ernie Els (who owns a home there) completed a renovation of West designed to toughen it up. The result was a tightening and loss of more Colt features. Many tour players and almost all golf affectionatoes screamed bloody murder about desecrating a Harry Colt masterpiece. Changes to the 18thhole made it so risky to go for the green in two, that many tour players laid up and then hit a sand wedge into the green…just the opposite of what was intended by Els.
Supposedly, after the purchase of Wentworth by Reignwood, the West was re-renovated, again by Els. I have yet to see any reports regarding this re-renovation…but this whole chapter makes clear that it is dangerous to mess with historical greatness. There are current architects who understand the concepts of the Golden Age designers, but I have never heard anyone include Ernie Els in that group!
The second controversy arose after Reignwood’s purchase. In 2015, Reignwood advised members that they had to purchase $140,000 debentures to retain their memberships, and that annual dues would double. The screams could be heard as far away as Hawaii! Many long time members threatened to resign…and the lawyers among the dissidents found clauses in the homeowners association agreement which could present real problems for the club:
1. the potential ability to keep the club from displaying banners and other ads during the annual BMW Championship; and
2. the potential ability to prevent the closure of roads within the club during the BMW Championship.
When these red flags were raised, Reignwood apparently went to the negotiating table and I gather things have settled down.
In any case, East is a very good course. Do not let the 6201 yardage fool you; as a par 68 that is equivalent to almost 7000 yards for a par 72. Best holes are probably the long par 4 11th and long par 3 7th. The course was in perfect condition, and the clubhouse is something to behold (but a bit over the top for my tastes). I had a 41 – 38 = 79 (one putting the last 4 holes).
East has never been on a World 100. West has appeared on 22 of the 48 lists on my spreadsheet, but has been on a disappearing act for the last 10-12 years (since the Els renovation)…being dropped from Top 100 list where it was once a regular.
After the round, I faced my first of two long drives…255 miles (4:15) to northern Wales. Arrived at my hotel around 8pm…one more day to go!
Conwy Golf Club, September 2, 2018: Chances are you have seen Conwy Golf Club a number of times…but did not know it. I played it for the first time on this day…but later learned that I had seen it numerous times before.
Victorian artist Douglas Adams (1853-1920) completed three paintings. Copies of which now hang in golf clubhouses, locker rooms, etc. all around the world. The paintings are entitled “The Drive”, “Putting Green”, and “Difficult Bunker”, with “The Drive” being the most popular. Turns out all three paintings were created at Conwy…which is perfectly obvious when looking at the surroundings at Conwy. Please go to the following link for more information:
Conwy will host the next (2020) Curtis Cup. The 2018 Curtis Cup was conducted at Quaker Ridge GC (NY), where I was a member from 1975-2000. Golf was first played where Conwy is located (the Marfa marshes) in 1869. The club was formally established in 1890; it initially consisted of 12 holes and was expanded to 18 by 1895. The following 90 years brought four periods when the existence of the club was threatened:
--1914-18 during WW I---the course was used for troop training;
--1933 due to a clubhouse fire;
--1939-45 during WW II—prefabricated harbors for D-Day prepared on site;
--1980’s with construction of A55 Expressway.
The club survived these periods of challenge and tragedy and ended up flourishing.
I arrived at 8:30 and we played at 9:33. Played with current Secretary (previously was head pro) Matt Parsley as well as the current Captain and Vice Captain. Unfortunately I was a bit tired and close to being golfed-out…and my game reflected it. I did not keep score as the numbers were too big!
This is a very good golf course in a wonderful setting with some of the best climate in the UK. The golf course is bordered on the north, east, and west by water. The land is fairly flat and reminded me a little of Hunstanton Golf Club. It plays to 6936 yards (par 72) from the tips, is in excellent condition (firm/fast), is well bunkered and has an excellent set of greens. Dealing with winds is very tricky due to the foothills south of the course, and gorse lining holes 14-18. Best hole IMO is #7...a 451 yard par 4 with a wonderful natural green setting (see pic).
|Conwy #7...tough par 4 with outstanding natural green setting|
This one is well worth playing. It has never been included on a World 100 (and I do not think it is worthy of that recognition) but is fun and excellent. I believe the club needs to continue to remove the gorse on holes 14-18…as these holes are of a totally different character than the rest of the course and too “tight” for a links course IMO. I would also widen the other fairways (keeping most bunkers in their current position) to offer more options and angles off the tee.
I think this will be an excellent venue for the Curtis Cup in two years.
After the round and thanking my hosts, I headed north…to Edinburgh. I booked my flight reservations before sorting out playing details, and simply booked my return trip from my point of arrival on August 23. This last drive was 300 miles (4:45) and I made it without hitting any traffic jams.
Flight home was wonderfully uneventful and it was great to get home and see me bride.
All in all excellent trip. Played 16 courses (two of which were nine holers), including 8 new ones. Brought me to 1084 courses in my lifetime (am at 1092 as of October 15, 2018). The trip had its disappointments, but also some wonderful surprises and returns to favorites which reinforced previously help opinions. All in all, no question in my mind that the UK (especially its links courses) offers the finest golf in the world. Also must agree with our friend Ran Morrissett that England has the highest concentration of great golf of any country in the world. Scotland to my mind has the highest concentration of the very very best courses…but England has more depth IMO.
Spending four days with Brendan was a privilege and very special. He is a first first class person.
Too much driving again (1254 miles on my own and probably 275 mile with Brendan in Scotland)…but I always want to squeeze in as much as possible when I am away.