A friend of mine from Commonwealth in Melbourne arranged for us to play Sunningdale with a member. Having had some advance knowledge, we first delivered some home made shortbread to the Scottish professional here -Keith Maxwell.
The ambience in the clubhouse and on the courses is really special at Sunningdale but I would add that this is not a place for poor standard golfers. There are long carries over the profuse heather -some extremely difficult for most women. As you would expect, the greens are very good and are reasonably large. Everywhere is pretty as a picture with winding tree lined fairways and quite a number of bunkers most of which have the added hazard of heather 'eyebrows'. The day we played the greens on the Old Course had been cored so there were very few people playing. This gave us the opportunity to experience both courses - we played holes 1-10 on the New and then 12 -18 of the Old. To me, both seemed of comparable quality and I would be delighted to play either of them again. When playing the Old, the view from the 17th back to the clubhouse is superb. Without doubt, Sunningdale is in my top 5 heathland experiences.
At the end of our 2011 heathland journey encompassing 30 courses it was interesting that my wife and I each voted for the same club as the venue for our most enjoyable day's golf. And the winner was... St George's Hill in Weybridge.
You drive through a gated community containing magnificent houses (John Lennon's all white house was here) to a stately clubhouse set on the side of a treed and heather clad hill that overlooks much of the course.
Every single hole is good but the opening hole is the most attractive I have yet to experience. The heather was not too intrusive and the only long carry for women is at the 10th tee. Some standouts were all of the four par 3's and holes 1, 5, 7, 9, 10, 16, 17 and 18.
It rained for part of the round so we played the back nine with very few others on the course. My words can't do justice to St George's Hill -see it for yourself as an absolute priority.
I would add that you will find the Secretary, Barry Hill, very friendly and helpful.
(photo St George's Hill- 9th hole and clubhouse)
We were staying near the village of Tilford only about a mile from Hankley Common. If you want to see glorious heather then visit Hankley Common in August. They have so much heather here they are providing it to other clubs who are restoring their heathland. This is a lovely course to play -easy walking, pretty and very good greens.
From the 3rd hole the front nine is open heathland whereas the home nine has many fairways lined with pines. All the par 3's are good as are holes 4, 10, 13 and 16 in particular. It is worth walking along the bridle path beside the long par 3,11th to explore around the Atlantic Wall where the Canadians practiced their artillery in preparation for the D Day invasion.
Plan ahead as Hankley Common gets rather busy in summer. The secretary Ian McColl is very helpful.
Next door is the best pub meals around London -make sure you visit Paul and the Duke of Cambridge Hotel. We had meals there nearly every night for two weeks and were never disappointed.
(photo Hankley Common- par 5, 13th and a sea of heather)
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