Sunningdale Heath Golf Club Review
Sunningdale Heath is a Berkshire based heathland-style golf course that every golfer needs to visit. It is an experience that is full of history and charm, with extremely friendly bar staff and coaches, and yet, it’s beguiling.
At a par of 58 (there are 14 par 3s), one might look at this and conclude this is not a proper golf course, or a mere a push-over, especially in an era where course length appears to be everything ‘on tour.’ But mark my words, this ‘short & sweet’ golf course, designed by Harry Colt, will test every area of your game to the max. When I told one of the coaches my handicap is 12, he said: ‘You’ll struggle on some of our holes!’ Gulp.
My journey in was a drive past some of the incredible mansions around this lovely part of Surrey/Berkshire taking me past the Great Windsor Park, Wentworth GC and then Sunningdale, which just whets the appetite. On arrival, you are faced by a tiny carpark in front of the clubhouse which is quaint. A number of the members took the time to welcome me as a visitor in the overflow car park (just 150 yards away) and then in the clubhouse which was genuinely lovely.
I was met by Warren, one of the coaches, and Dan, the GM, and they spent time talking to me about the amazing history of the course and then the most recent developments from the new management team who arrived in 2019, some from the championship neighbour at Sunningdale, who had admired the progress of the course from just a few hundred yards away. Their mission has been to embrace and maintain the traditions and wonderful rich history of the club whilst also welcoming new members. They have done that by successfully bringing the membership up from 200 to 500 (including 90 junior members). The academy (with the most advanced technology training aids I’ve seen) has a big focus on juniors. Making this a perfect course for family membership.
This course should really appeal to the nostalgic golfer as not only was this formed in 1902 as a women's only course (as Sunningdale did not allow female players), but the 1932 Club Captain was HRH The Duchess of York (who became Queen in 1937 and we all know her as The Queen Mother). She was the third female member of the royal family to become captain of the club. She even planted a tree outside the clubhouse and the tree’s leaf shape has since become the club emblem.
At first, only the female members’ husbands could join, but after WWII the club relaxed its rules a little, allowing men to join as associate members before admitting them as full members in 2010.
Although nowadays Sunningdale Heath is as popular among men as it is with women, the club is still proud to have one of the UK’s strongest female memberships.
The clubhouse has a bar and 14 small tables seating around 50 people, where you will discover lots of nice, branded napkins and a wall of historical newspaper articles worth reading.
The bar staff need a particular call out. I was met by Carlos (who is from Portugal) and Gill. I had read about the incredible food on offer since they appointed Michelin star trained Greg Lewis as the head chef. His ambition being to ‘break the mould’ of what is expected with golf club food, offering a mouth-watering range of food.
So, with that I was already committed on my two hour drive from the Midlands to the famous sausage sandwich that I’d read about on the website. But Gill successfully persuaded me to try their ‘Heath Bacon Sandwich.’ I have never eaten anything like it. Rather than bacon it is a thick pork loin that has been slow cooked and finished on an indoor BBQ, then topped off with onion chutney. It was absolutely amazing. It's so good that the ‘club record’ is held by one visitor who managed four (two before the round, one as he walked past on 15th and then on the 19th). I have never savoured such food. This was unique.
And ‘unique’ is how I would describe the whole experience and I don’t use the word lightly (every course is unique by definition). But don’t be fooled by its quaintness; the small car park, cute clubhouse with their friendly members and amazing food. Don’t fall into the trap of a false sense of security. You need to quicky get your ‘game face’ on as a tough golfing challenge awaits.
Front 9 Overview
The course is built on common land (mostly with a well-drained sand base but some clay areas). There's plenty of rough, gorse and heather to add to the challenge of any off-target shots. There are signs of Harry Colt’s work throughout. He had no heavy earth moving machinery so had to blend the course into the countryside in front of him. So, you’ll see small mounding around small greens, land subtly rippling and rolling with bunkers that fuses naturally into the heather and the landscape. You’ll be reaching for your camera phone frequently. I was.
During 2023 there has been lots of trees removed to open the course to more natural light and there is more work planned - potentially new irrigation as only the greens and tees get watered, leaving the rest of the course to nature’s choice.
The 1st hole is par 3 of 194 yards that is a challenging opener playing over the entrance road. It is downhill and semi blind, so you only see the top of the flag. As you approach the green you see thick rough on the right and a beautiful patch of bushes to the left of the green where other courses might simply deploy bunkers. The thickness of the rough is a great test of your short game. It was mine!
It was the 3rd hole where I noticed how peaceful and picturesque the course is with the sounds of birds tweeting in the enormous pine trees that lie around the course (among some horse chestnuts). Thi par 3 is is all downhill and very attractive. Do aim right as everything feeds back down towards the green. Heather provides a natural defence to the right-hand side of the green. The green slopes away from you so beware anything going too long will get caught up in a small mounding that runs around the green creating a bowl shape. Anything running through this mounding will find deep rough. So, it’s a very testing shot.
The 4th is the first of only four par 4s at 328 yards and it is the longest on the course. There is an uphill walk to the amazing tee shot, looking down into the fairway below. It provides lovely views with beautiful trees all around. This hole provides a little bit of respite from the grueling par 3s. A greenside bunker lies long and right. The natural light really showed to me here how immaculate the greens are.
The 5th, playing just 133 yards on the day I played, is all uphill with bunkers left and right. The green was in in shadows of large pine trees which adds to the visual challenge. Another sloping green from right to left adds to the challenge. None of the greens so far are big - this is target golf.
The 6th is a long downhill par 3 with trees framing all down the sides and right round the back of the hole. Again, this puts the target into shade and obscuring the view which adds to the challenge. It’s a long one but don’t be tempted to take too much club because it’s out of bounds to the back of the green. There’s an incredible heathland bunker that lies around 60 yards short right of the green with a wonderful amount of heather growing out of the face of the bunker. It is just beautiful, but one I’m relieved not to be in. Another bunker lies waiting on the left-hand side of the green. At this point I suggest just looking back up the hole towards the tee as it is reminiscent of some of the tree lined holes at Woburn.
What follows next is just a brute of a par 3. Measuring 232 yards it is SI 3. The green in the distance is framed by a beautiful house with its immaculate hedges bordering the surface, which is fairly jaw dropping, and adds to the drama.
The 8th slighty doglegs to the left around trees that pinch in from the left. Towering pine trees run all down the right-hand side making another attractive hole. Two bunkers lie in wait to this uphill green. A well needed water fountain can be found to the left of the green which is a nice touch.
The 9th, a par 3 of 142 yards is the signature hole. And an absolute stunner it is with a postage stamp size green which is framed like an amphitheatre with a steep bank all around the back and a hedge to the left of the green. Thick grass lines the bank around the front of the green so you cannot run any shot up to this hole. You have nothing to aim at except the flag. It is a tough but stunning hole.
Back 9 Overview
The 10th is slightly uphill. It is similar to the first hole in respect of the fact you only see the top of the pin from the tee. The ground rises to a crest about 100 yards from the tee obscuring the view of the green so beware the bunkers on this attractive hole.
This provided my first visit to the sand in the right-hand bunker and the sand quality was just amazing and a joy to play out of.
It is here the course actually borders Sunningdale Golf Club itself, where you can look through the trees to provide an idea what to expect on that championship course.
The 11th is a par 3 at 241 yards and is SI 6. Remember the beautiful house whose hedge borders the 8th green? Well, this same garden hedge runs down the left-hand side of this downhill hole providing a ‘lost ball’ challenge to contemplate. There are some wonderful areas of heather and bunkers to the right bordering the 12th to add to the drama on this hole. The 12th tee is fairly close to the 11th green so you may need to wait for the game in front to be out of reach.
Overall there’s lots of things to consider before you pull the trigger on this hole but fortunately there’s a nice garden chair adjacent to the 11th tee where it is worth taking a moment to assess the shot and the hazards that lie ahead on this quite daunting hole. Also don’t be too long on this hole, because there is a raised collar all around the back, like another mini amphitheatre, with thick grass to catch any ball that runs through - providing yet another tough short game challenge to get your ball back in play.
The 12th is a long par 3 that is all uphill. This hole has the aforementioned heather on the right-hand side which I absolutely loved and could not resist taking a photo. The ‘fairway’ might be suffering from a lack of water here as it was somewhat dry and shabby - perhaps the only fault I could find on the course. Regardless it is an immensely fun hole where two bunkers lie short left and right of the green.
Then there is a walk to the next hole where I have to concede the par 3s I’ve faced so far are truly beating me up and exposing the frailties of my own game - thank goodness there’s another par 4 to provide a bit of respite.
The 13th is a par 4 of 256 yards that blind doglegs from left to right heading back towards the clubhouse, requiring an accurate faded tee shot. Anything too far left will find rough. Don’t overcook the drive as there’s rough right down the right-hand side too. Bunkers lie in wait for anyone trying to take on the green, which is nicely elevated. All in all, 13 is a very tricky hole.
The last five holes are played around the land occupied by the clubhouse and are arguably the easiest on the course.
The 14th is the most straightforward hole so far though it is hard not to be distracted by some magnificent houses to the right-hand side, no doubt part of the grounds of the Sunningdale estate. There’s nothing boring about this corner of the course.
The 15th is 145 yards on the scorecard - but that is when the main tee is open for competitions (which involves playing over the road). But for casual rounds and greater safety there is a shorter tee at just 77 yards. A nice short hole needing a good wedge shot.
The 16th is a straight hole requiring a threaded tee shot between two large trees on either side of the fairway with a fairway bunker lying to the left at around 200 yards. Then there is an approach to a large green framed by another magnificent house whose garden hedge provides another hazard to contemplate. But what a beautiful house to behold.
Then there’s two modest par 3s to finish.
Heading back down to the clubhouse for the 17th it’s all rugged landscape between the tee and the green with a wonderful bunker halfway down the hole with an immense amount of heather, foliage and gorse bush growing out of it. Very attractive especially if you’re not in it! It’s a really good, rugged part of the course.
Finally, the 18th provides the final one-shot test over another rugged trough to a large green in front of the clubhouse, provides an exciting finish, where you are mindful of not wanting to hit the golf academy building next to the clubhouse.
I see a big future for short golf courses like Sunningdale Heath. It took me two hours 15 minutes to play, and I was taking my time to take in the views, making notes and taking photos for this review. So, you can skip round this 18 hole course and test yourself in every department in just over two hours. What’s not to love about that?
The location of Sunningdale Heath is a short walk from the local train station which is 38 minutes from London Waterloo. This means it is a golf course many in London, perhaps without access to a car, can easily enjoy after work especially on a summer evening.
Finally at £35-£50 a round (compared to £350 at Sunningdale next door), a testing course, super friendly staff and food to die for - what more can be said?
Overall Rating - 9
Course (Conditions) - 10
Course (Hole Variety/Layout) - 10
Course (Green Condition) - 10
Course (Challenge/Difficulty) - 10
Club Facilities & Clubhouse - 10
Practice Facilities - 7
Friendliness/Hospitality - 10
Pace of Play - 10
Value For Money - 10
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|Sunningdale Heath Golf Club
from 29 reviews