The Golf Courses of Sunningdale
There are many clubs both ancient and modern that are lucky enough to have two courses; courses that compliment one another, one perhaps more difficult, one easier, one for fourballs at the weekend, one for singles, one maybe long and wide open, one short but narrow. Few though would argue that Sunningdale’s pair are as fine a set of thirty six holes as you’ll find anywhere.
For many the Old is quite simply the best inland course in the country, scarcely altered since Willie Park Jnr wove it in amongst undulating heather and pine more than a century ago, yet still a test to intrigue stranger and old friend alike. Despite the advent of metal heads and titanium shafts, it still demands care and attention to get round, while at the same time charming all who play it. Above all it creates that most important of golfing emotions – the desire to play another nine holes after tea.
Had it not been for the presence of the Old next door, the New would probably be rated the best of the Surrey and Berkshire heathland courses, if not in the whole UK. It is mostly the work of the finest golf course architect this century, Harry Colt, who also just happened to be Sunningdale’s first club Secretary. The difference in the two courses is that whereas the Old flatters and charms, the New demands and examines to the point of undoing all who are not totally in control of themselves or their game.
Sunningdale’s Old Course was designed by twice winner of The Open Championship, Willie Park Junior and opened in 1901. The land on which it was constructed belonged to St. John’s College, Cambridge and mainly consisted of heather, gorse and pine trees. There were no shops, no railway station, and no Ridgemount Road, merely a bridle path over the property running, as it still does across the 2nd of the Old and continuing across to the 9th green of the New Course.
Willie Park Junior, was consulted and tasked with designing a course of exemplary character, for the price of £3000. It opened to universal acclaim and was among the first successful courses located away from the coast, as many had believed turf would not grow well in such regions. The Course was considered extremely long and its popularity owed much to the development of the Haskell ball.
Park Jnr was an excellent putter and this is reflected in his design, with many large undulating greens that utilise the natural topography, the Old Course greens can often catch many by surprise. Diagonal and visual hazards, were favoured by Park Jnr and examples of these can be seen across the course, with cross bunkers, ditches and heather banks framing many holes.
Credit to Park Jnr’s design, The Old Course has stood the test of time, and even now with the advance of modern technology, the course can be challenging to even the longest of hitters. Whilst in his post as Secretary, Harry Colt contributed to the layout and made some thoughtful changes to Park Jnr’s design, notably moving the 4th, 7th & 12th greens to where they are still to this day.
Bobby Jones had great fondness for the Old Course. In 1926 during qualifying for The Open Championship (which he went onto win at Royal Lytham and St. Annes) Jones shot 66-68. Regarded for many years as the ‘perfect round’ the 66 consisted of 33 shots, 33 putts and no hole was played in more than four and on ten holes, the shot to the green was played with a two iron or wood. Jones said afterwards: "I wish I could take this course home with me.”
Many further amateur and professional events have been played across the Old Course including the News of the World Professional Match Play, The European Open, Ladies Open Championship, The Walker Cup, Open Championship International Final Qualifying, and most recently the Senior Open Championship in 2009, 2015 and upcoming in 2021.
The Old Course is today considered one of the greatest courses in the World and is regularly found in the top 30 of the world’s rankings.
Sunningdale’s New Course was designed by renowned Architect and former Secretary, Harry Colt and first opened in 1923. It was commissioned following the end of the First World War, as membership figures were recovering rapidly and transport to the Club was becoming easier with the development of the motor-car. The amount of golf played was increasing, and the Committee was concerned to reduce the pressure on the Old Course. The New Course is considered to be the more rugged, with less bunkering and tree lining that its older sibling. Narrow winding fairways bordered by penal heather, act as corridors to the small and often raised greens.
The land on which the New Course was built, was since 1911, a 9 hole course of an independent club, known then as Sunningdale Heath and often referred to as the "chauffeurs’ course” or the "nine ‘ole”. After running into financial difficulties during the 1914-18 war it was taken over by the main club, where it continued to operate, until in 1921 a proposal from the Green Committee to extend this 9 hole course to one of 18 holes, was approved. Harry Colt, was consulted and his plans, at a cost of £8000 plus fees, were approved. The New Course, opened on 10th November 1923.
Compared with the Old Course, the New has seen many more changes in its shorter life. In particular, the original holes 6,7,8,9 and 10 were much criticised, mainly due to the steep undulations and the amount of climbing involved. In 1934, an E.G.M. was called, and the proposals of the golf architect Tom Simpson, to replace holes 6,7,8,9 and 10 were approved. These holes were to be mostly on new land over the back of the 5th green and would overcome the problem of the excessive undulations of the existing holes. When Harry Colt designed these holes he was to a large extend tied to the land near the stables, as at that time all the cutting and carting was done by horses; now that the work could be done by tractor, it was possible to go further afield. The original Colt holes were on the land to the right of the 10th hole (Old Course), and to the left of the 9th hole (New Course). Some remnants of these old holes can still be seen but apart from the 6th hole, now the 9th, the others were all abandoned in 1934.
Simpson created a clockwise loop, with a 500 yard tenth onto a green on today’s eleventh fairway, and the course was renamed the Jubilee course in honour of the King’s Jubilee Year. This design was not popular with members and come under heavy criticism, so in 1939 Colt and Morrison were asked to reassess. They reversed the loop, created the 6th dogleg and built several new greens for the 7th & 8th holes and the 10th hole was revived as a par 3 from its current tee. The course was reinstated as the New Course and their re-design has lasted.
Over the years, The New Course has proven itself worth of any championship, with many of the world’s top players having graced these fairways. Gary Player, a past winner of the Dunlop PGA 90-Hole Tournament, returned in 2000 to play Jack Nicklaus as part of the clubs Centenary Celebrations. Nicklaus Won. The New Course also partnered the Old throughout many years of Open Championship International Final Qualifying with competitors playing 18 on each course.
The New Course at Sunningdale has been regarded as the best inland course in the UK and is regularly found towards the top of many rating lists alongside the Old.