Sunningdale Golf Club (Old Course)
Ascot, Berkshire, United Kingdom

Thirteenth hole, 185/175 yards; This is the most user-friendly of the one shotters and it’s an ample target with everything graciously laid before the golfer. Absent is the steeply pitched fourth green, the sharp fall-off at the eighth or the fifteenth’s bruising distance. What does all that mean? It’s the one green that Jones missed in regulation: Go figure!

The prospects from Colt’s elevated thirteenth tee are more cheerful than at the other one shotters. Darwin hailed Colt’s modifications: ‘The thirteenth, as I said, was once one of the very worst holes in the world, and is now a thoroughly attractive one.’

Fifteenth hole, 240/220 yards; The master architects of the Golden Age strived for variety among their one shot holes. Almost by definition a wood would be required at one of them. Professionals and amateurs of that era expected such and got on with the task at hand but today’s sniveling professional would gasp if confronted with a 280 yard one shotter requiring a 3 wood. Most of us use that club here and marvel how this flat hole hasn’t been tricked/messed up over the years. The features are at grade and nothing is provided to comfort or aid the golfer’s depth perception. Holes should reflect their environment and that includes flat ones.

The fifteenth green is an oasis in a sea of heather.

The fifteenth green is an oasis in a sea of heather.

Sixteenth hole, 435/425 yards; Park’s hole gently flows across a valley in which the golfer is blissfully surrounded by heather, birch and pine. Like hole 5, this one kicks off a trio of sturdy 400 yard plus challenges. Darwin penned in The Golf Courses of the British Isles, ‘ Of all the inland courses Sunningdale is perhaps the richest in really fine two-shot holes, where a brassey or cleek shot lashed right home on to the green sends a glow of satisfaction through the golfer’s frame.’ That’s certainly true but an equal case can be made that in this day and age, Sunningdale is first and foremost a superlative test of driving the ball. Good driving is paramount because bunker schemes and bands of heather conspire to force the errant driver to lay well back (e.g. the 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th, 12th, here, 17th and 18th). Though most tees demand a certain amount of carry to reach the fairways, the green complexes tend to allow for approaches played along the ground.

Seven horseshoe bunkers extend well out from the elevated green. If the golfer doesn't place his tee ball in the fairway, getting past them in two is problematic.

Seven horseshoe bunkers extend well out from the elevated green. If the golfer doesn’t place his tee ball in the fairway, getting past them in two is problematic.

Golden Age architects viewed upslopes as ideal canvases for bunkers with character -  so it is at the sixteenth!

Golden Age architects viewed upslopes as ideal canvases for bunkers with character – so it is at the sixteenth!

Seventeenth hole, 425/415 yards; Home holes bring the golfer back to the clubhouse and professional shop.  Sunningdale’s finish is unique in that the valley that falls away from the clubhouse was broad enough for not one but two holes. The huge oak tree and the Sunningdale clubhouse are iconic in the golf world and the golfer admirers them at both the penultimate and Home holes. Be it the lighthouse at Harbour Town or Riviera’s clubhouse, most landmarks are appreciated only at the last. As for the golf, the fairway bends right but the ground in the landing area slopes left. The old trooper delights in needing to shape his tee ball to hit and hold the optimal spot in the fairway.

As one bends right down the seventeenth fairway, one of the game's renowned vistas unfolds.

As one bends right down the seventeenth fairway, one of the game’s renowned vistas unfolds.

Eighteenth hole, 425/410 yards; For a course with such severe topography it is remarkable that the Home hole is the only hole where both the drive and approach are guaranteed to play markedly uphill. As such, it plays longer than advertised and makes for a satisfying, if testy, conclusion. A diagonal string of four bunkers occupy an area 40 to 80 yards short of the green and come screaming into play should the golfer not get away a good drive. Here is Guy Bennett’s account of the hole’s evolution in The Sunningdale Story:

Like the seventeenth, the eighteenth green was re-sited nearer the big oak tree in order to make room for the New Course. It was larger than at present with a very wide entrance so that any sort of second shot, given sufficient length, could find it.  In the autumn of 1940, a squadron of German planes dropped upwards of ninety high explosive and incendiary bombs in and around Sunningdale. One of the former made a large crater on the right hand near side of the green. Whilst clearing up the mess, someone had the bright idea of making two insidious bunkers on the site of the bomb hole, thus transforming the second shot from very ordinary to first class. It is amazing how many balls they catch. The writer on one occasion counted nine consecutive professionals playing their seconds into or to the right of these bunkers. The large bunker to the left of the drive, once called “John’s” bunker, after its designer John Morrison, was so placed to check those who endeavored to drive too much onto the first fairway.

This view across the seventeenth green and up the eighteenth hole shows the fairway bunkers en echelon prior to the Home green.

This view across the seventeenth green and up the eighteenth hole shows the fairway bunkers en echelon prior to the Home green.

There you have it – a wondrous walk with nature, made all the better by some of the best minds that the game has known. One last quality to make note of: the Old’s mesmerizing pacing. Easier holes are spliced with the hardest and enable the golfer to be hopeful through his round. Too many modern courses feature holes that are hard and harder, that punish and ultimately demoralize the player. Players can age gracefully here with their dignity in tact. Sunningdale is the rare place where one’s love of the game actually flourishes – instead of diminishing – with each visit. No wonder the man who played the ‘perfect round’ remarked, ‘It’s a wonderful course, Sunningdale and I wish I could carry it about with me. I wanted to bring it back home…’

We can not play like the maestro but we share his sentiment.

The Sunningdale clubhouse: Home to wise decisions.

The Sunningdale Story by Guy Bennett and John Churchill is the definitive read on the evolution of the Club and its two courses. It can be found here.
Additionally, p
lease click here for the January 2011 Feature Interview with Club Secretary Stephen Toon and then Courses and Estate Manager Murray Long.

The End