Visitors to Sunningdale Golf Club probably don’t give the wee course to the right of the Old Course’s fifth fairway a second thought. They’re probably so wrapped up in finally getting to play the course many feel is the Britain’s best inland layout.
I probably did the same myself the first time I played Sunningdale Old, and the second time, and the third, and…. I wish I’d been more inquisitive many more years ago. I’d have sampled the Harry Colt gem Sunningdale Heath (above) much sooner.
I should know better.
Too often visiting golfers, especially overseas visitors, rush to play the championship courses and fail to look beyond them. Sunningdale not only has the wee Heath to complement it. There’s a plethora of great courses in the vicinity. The three Ws of Woking, Worlpesdon and West Hill aren’t far away. The Berkshire and its two cracking courses isn’t a million miles away either. You don’t even have to play the New Zealand Club to come away with a great experience. A walk through the locker room is a trip in itself. You'll have to play this diamond of a golf course to find out what I’m talking about.
No golf club in my experience has lockers like the New Zealand Club.
Britain is blessed with "name" clubs surrounded by wee gems, courses that are sometimes far more enjoyable than the slog the championship layout often is.
If you find Royal Dornoch a wee bit too challenging then fear not. There’s always Brora or Golspie nearby to give you a good time. Ditto for the Gullane courses, Longniddry, Kilspindie and others when it comes to Muirfield.
The Old Course is obviously the holy grail, the mecca at the top of many bucket lists. However, to go there and not play Ladybank, Elie, Crail, Lundin or Leven Links, Scotscraig and others is to miss out. Many go and skip the New and Jubilee courses, too. Sacrilege!
You don’t have to play Royal Birkdale or Roya Lytham to sample great golf in the North West of England. Ditto for Prestwick or Turnberry on the Ayrshire Course. Can’t get on Royal St Georges? Too bad you’ll have to settle for Royal Cinque Ports and Princes, or Littlestone and Rye a wee drive further along the coast.
So many travel to Britain’s championship courses, tick them off the bucket list and fail to sample the delights nearby. It’s like going for a Michelin star meal and only eating the main course.
I’ve had some of my greatest golf experiences on courses that would probably never make a top 100 list. I remember spending a joyous summer’s evening at Comrie Golf Club many years ago. It was my first experience of an “honesty box.” I dutifully paid my green fee and then had the entire course to myself on the most beautiful of Scottish summer’s evenings, just me and the stunning scenery. I’m not sure I even kept a scorecard that evening. Score didn't matter one jot.
I had a similar experience at Tarland, further north. It’s a wee 9-hole course in another beautiful setting where all that matters is going for a nice we stroll with a bag of clubs on your back.
Friend and fellow golf writer Martin Dempster and I had the pleasure of playing the aforementioned Kilspindie Golf Club during an Amateur Championship at Muirfield. I was worried our 7am tee time would mean we’d miss breakfast, since the club stopped serving breakie at 10 am. How dumb was I?
We birled round the Kilspindie links in two hours and 10 minutes. We were sitting in the welcome clubhouse having a bacon roll and a cup of coffee at 9:30am. If not for having to go and cover the Amateur, I’d have gladly gone for another 18 over this short, but delightful course.
Kristian Baker, Sunningdale Heath director and club professional, got it spot on in response to my Sunningdale Heath blog. Baker said:
“A course designed 120 years ago we feel is now at its most relevant for what many golfers require. The trend has been to make courses longer due to equipment, etc., but maybe what the sport really needs and what customers actually want is shorter 18-hole courses for many reasons.”
By all means play that championship course, but don’t develop tunnel vision. Take the time to sample the appetisers nearby that are every bit as delicious as the main course you may struggle to finish.
#JustSaying: “You come to see what you want to see, but you never come to know.” Kinky Freedman