Top Links:

Get A Golf Handicap

UK Golf Guide

Golfshake Top 100s

Find Golf Travel Deals

Golf Competitions


Community Forum


Tee Times | Search | Reviews


Gear | Tour | Industry Insider


Video Library | Tuition Sections


Join | Log In | Help | Useful Links


What Makes Heathland Golf Courses So Good

By: Golfshake Editor | Fri 01 Apr 2022

SunningdaleSwinley ForestWokingWalton HeathHollinwell - if you’ve heard of, or even been lucky enough to play any of these fabulous courses, then you’ll already be familiar with heathland golf. Generally characterised as inland courses, built on fast-drying ‘heath’ soil and framed by heather, these layouts are as synonymous with golf in England (particularly around Surrey), as links golf is in Scotland. Join us as we look at some of the reasons that make heathland golf courses so special.

The spectacular images of Sunningdale featured below were captured by the brilliant photographer Kevin Diss.

The Heather


Where else could we start? It’s not a true heathland course without at least a smattering of heather, with the plant used to frame the playing areas and to provide true definition to the golfing landscape. In addition to benefitting the beauty of a course, heather is one of the toughest obstacles in the sport - able to provide holes with severe hazards and forcing the golfer to ‘take their medicine’ and chip the ball out, rather than taking on a shot towards their desired target.

One of the most magical aspects of heather is how it changes through the seasons, with the recognisable purple flowers a beautiful backdrop. However, even through the winter when the plant is dormant, heather is much more pleasing to the eye than some of the other brambles and gorse that can be found on these courses!

The Year-Round Playability

The makeup of the sandy soil on which heathland courses are laid typically drains incredibly quickly, maintaining playability for 12-months a year. Through the colder months, these fairways will typically ‘green up’, with the moisture aiding grass growth and providing an almost bouncy feeling underfoot. However, the hotter months can be a totally different story, with heathland courses often boasting firm and fast fairways more reminiscent of a linksland layout. Due to its sandy nature, the soil itself isn’t necessarily packed with nutrients on heathland courses, and as a result, grass can struggle to grow lush in the middle of summer. However, this makes these fairways ideal for their course designs, enabling the golfer a myriad of options both off the tee and in attacking the greens, and making the courses eminently playable for all abilities.

The Strategy


Linked to how the course changes throughout the season is the strategy needed to play heathland courses well. The greens can generally be attacked from both the ground and the air throughout the year, although undulations and large putting surfaces can make finding the right sections of these hugely important. Drivers aren’t always necessary, as the fast-running fairways can encourage a long iron for position off the tee - allowing you to truly get creative with your approach play.

Many courses will follow the mantra of ‘easy bogey, hard par’, forcing you to at least take on a shot or two if you’re looking to shoot in the 70s (or perhaps lower!), but allowing an 18 handicapper to play to his or her handicap by playing conservatively. Shorter par-5s such as the 1st at Sunningdale Old tempt you to take on a risky shot, but with bunkers lurking and a tricky green, just being able to reach a hole like this in two shots doesn’t guarantee a comfortable par! However, golfers of every ability should be able to reach the green in four strokes, with two-putts earning an easy bogey, or nett par for the 18-handicap player.

The Typography

Elevation changes don’t tend to be as extreme on heathland courses as they can be on other layouts, generally sweeping through more rolling terrain and woodland. However, heathland designers have often utilised hillsides to create fabulous short holes such as the par-3 2nd holes at both Woking and Camberley Heath. In general, most will find the courses relatively easy to walk (aided by the firmer conditions underfoot), leading to a quicker play across many of the established golf clubs in Surrey.

The Wildlife

Sunningdale Deer

Due to the frequent woodland nature of heathland courses, wildlife can often be spotted in abundance around the properties, with deer, foxes, rabbits, and birds traversing the fairways. Many heathland courses have adopted these animals into the very fabric of their club, with The Berkshire going as far as to use a club logo inspired by the stags found across their two courses. Indeed, there are very few finer sights in golf than playing an early evening round at The Berkshire’s Red or Blue courses and witnessing the deer dancing between the trees.

The Calibre of Courses

This last point is a little existential - are these courses so great because of the design and routing, or does the heathland nature of the landscape make them so? Either way, it’s an undisputable fact that heathland courses dominate the lists of great courses in England, with at least 10 of the top 20 courses on almost every list built on this terrain.

Some of the reason for their brilliance is also a quirk of location - with many of these courses in the affluent county of Surrey, just outside of London. They were built a century ago for the wealthy city workers to enjoy at the weekend, and as a result employed the best designers of the day to create these masterpieces. These courses are visited from golfers the world-over, desperate to take on the likes of Swinley Forest - dubbed “the least bad course” he designed by Harry Colt, one of the finest architects in the history of the sport.

That said, there’s no denying that the firmness of the turf, the undulations of the greens, the framing of the heather, the clever use of bunkering and the beauty of the landscapes all combine to make heathland courses truly special; indeed some of the best, and most highly-ranked on the planet.

Related Content

What Makes Links Golf The Best

10 of the Best - Heathland Courses in England

The Different Types of Golf Courses

What do you think? post your thoughts and feedback on the Golfshake Forum: https://forum.golfshake.com/

Tags: Golf Courses daily picks Courses

Scroll to top