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  • Alistair Tait

Spoilt For English Inland Golf Choice

Television pictures of the Senior Open Championship over the Old Course at Sunningdale are a joy to behold. A (senior) major being played over a classic English heathland golf course harks back to an age when the best golfers in Europe regularly played the great inland courses of the British Isles.

Former colleague Geoff Shackleford kicked off a twitter debate with the following tweet:

Tony Johnstone and Robert Lusetich were quick to join the discussion:

Johnstone and Lusetich know of what they speak. Six-time European Tour winner Johnstone is lucky enough to be a long time Sunningdale member. Los Angeles-based Australian Lusetich is one of the best golf writers in the business. Speaking of excellent golf writers, friend and colleague John Huggan responded with a truism that those of us lucky enough to reside in England know only too well.

Consult any top 100 golf course list of Great Britain & Ireland and the great links dominate the selection. For example, Golf Monthly’s current top 100 list starts with eight links, with Royal County Down number one. (For the record, Muirfield is my number one.)

Sunningdale Old ranks ninth on the list, followed by younger sibling the New at number 10. Another seven links follow before 18th ranked Woodhall Spa (Hotchkin) kicks in as just the third inland course in GM’s top 20.

Ranking courses is obviously a highly subjective matter. I know. I used to compile the course rankings when I was GM Deputy Editor. I had a panel of approximatley 40 to rank the top 100. I used a spread sheet to create the definitive list, awarding points depending on where panellists rated each course.

As expected, panellists varied on personal preference. I remember one panellist ranking Silloth on Solway number one, with classics like Muirfield and Carnoustie not even making his top 30! I’m a big fan of Silloth, but better than Muirfield, Carnoustie? I don’t think so. To each their own, which is why top 100 lists spark so much debate.

Along with the overall top 100 list, I ranked the top 50 inland courses and top 50 links when I was at GM. I thought that was fair. A look at GM’s current list shows just how biased we are to the great links of these isles.

For the record, here are the top inland courses in the British Isles from GM’s current top 100 (figures on right indicate where they are on the overall ranking). That 30 have made the list just backs up Huggan’s tweet.

  1. Sunningdale Old – 9

  2. Sunningdale New – 10

  3. Woodhall Spa – 18

  4. St George’s Hill (Red & Blue) – 24

  5. Walton Heath Old -– 29

  6. Hankley Common – 32

  7. Ganton – 34

  8. Hollinwell – 37

  9. Swinley Forest – 39

  10. The Berkshire Red – 42

  11. Alwoodley – 50

  12. Walton Heath New 54

  13. Liphook – 55

  14. The Berkshire Blue – 56

  15. West Sussex – 57

  16. Worplesdon – 63

  17. Moortown – 66

  18. Westhill – 71

  19. Woburn Marquess – 73

  20. Aldeburgh – 77

  21. Parkstone – 80

  22. Woking – 83

  23. Sherwood Forest – 84

  24. Woburn Dukes – 86

  25. Ferndown – 87

  26. The Grove – 91

  27. Woburn Duchess – 92

  28. Broadstone – 93

  29. The Belfry – 96

  30. Remedy Oak – 100

Many reading the above list will no doubt note the absences of classic inland courses that would feature in their own top 100. No place for the likes of Ashridge, The Addington, Fulford, Cavendish, Lindrick, Little Aston, Frilford Heath, Camberley Heath, Crowborough Beacon, New Zealand, Royal Ashdown Forest, and others.

The Wentworth courses along with Queenwood do not feature in the GM rankings because the magazine has a policy of not featuring courses that do not accept green fees. Shame Wentworth has become so exclusive, because the Harry Colt gem that is the East should be on everyone’s bucket list.

My own favourite English inland courses? I won’t be biased and say Woburn Duchess, Dukes and Marquess, although as a member I could happily play just these three great courses for the rest of my life and not feel as if I was missing out.

Woodhall Spa or Ganton probably come down to a coin toss for my favourite inland English gem. Then again, whenever I play either of The Berkshire’s two glorious courses, the Red (pictured) or the Blue, I think I’ve died and gone to heaven.

We’re spoilt for inland golf choice here in England.

What’s your favourite?

#JustSaying: “For a long trip with the chance to enjoy fifteen or more courses, England would be my first choice as a golfing destination.” Tom Doak

Photograph by Will Bailey courtesy of The Berkshire

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