Berkshire, United Kingdom
My first and only experience around this world-famous facility was in the 2010 Open Championship International Final Qualifier. The event was 36 holes, the morning on the New course and afternoon on the Old. Although I didn’t play particularly well, I quickly fell in love with both golf courses!
The Old course was designed by two-time Open Champion Willie Park Jr and opened in 1901. The Old course at Sunningdale has large, undulating, fast greens, a testament to the designer’s putting ability. It is a classical British heathland course carved from what would have been dense pine forest, with heather and gorse littering the forest floor. The heather and gorse is part of what makes British heathland courses unique. Park Jr’s use of diagonal hazards across the playing corridors utilize the dense heather and gorse to further penalize wayward or poorly-thought-out shots. My favorite hole is number 18. It is a challenging but fair par 4 with the beautiful clubhouse sitting beyond and left of the green. The Old course has stood the test of time and ranks regularly inside the world’s top 30 courses every year.
The New course was commissioned following the First World War, designed by former club Secretary and renowned golf course architect, Harry Colt. From Colt’s original design, holes 6-10 received significant criticism early on for their severity. In 1934, the club commissioned Tom Simpson to complete a series of new holes to replace them. Eventually, four of the five holes were replaced, with the original 6th hole remaining, now playing as the 9th. The overall design of the New course differs drastically from the Old course. The New is considered more rugged, with less bunkering and often elevated greens. I recall the severe penalty for missing both the fairway and the greens. A tee shot missing the fairway quickly found trouble, putting a premium on finding the short grass. As for the greens, my starting hole was the 10th that morning in July, 2010. The 10th is a beautiful par 3, heavily guarded by bunkers with a fair but undulating putting surface with false front short and left, the magnificent pines creating a stadium around the entire hole. I truly can’t recall the shot I hit or the score I made but the image of the green on that hole and it’s surroundings are etched in my memory bank.
Anyone getting the opportunity to play here should enjoy both the golf courses and great history the club has to offer. The Old and New layouts are true masterpieces of British heathland golf!
Photo Credit: © Gary Lisbon | https://www.golfphotos.com.au/ | IG: @garylisbongolf