Swinley Forest Golf Club is an absolutely charming golf course on the famous Surrey/Berkshire sand belt, but it’s a club that is frozen in time, exclusive, unusual and totally eccentric. In fact, you would be hard pressed to describe it as a conventional golf club: there is no captain and despite being in existence for nearly 100 years, no history, except in its members’ heads. Only recently have scorecards been printed, holes allocated par figures, and competitions introduced for Swinley’s distinguished gentlemen members.
Harry Colt designed the layout and the course opened for play in 1909, reputedly Colt’s favourite and finest design. One of the many delights of Swinley Forest Golf Club is the ambience and the fact that it’s unpretentious. It has none of the glamour of its near neighbours Sunningdale and Wentworth, but what Swinley Forest does have is bags of style.
The Duke of Edinburgh (the Queen’s husband) and the Duke of York (the Queen’s son) boast membership at Swinley Forest Golf Club. There is a real sense of occasion when pulling through the imposing gates onto the property. The beautiful traditional clubhouse is exactly what you would expect at a club whose course is ranked #92 in the world.
The course starts off with 3 simple Par 4s though the drive at the 2nd can be unnerving and thank goodness the idea of a penal lake across the 1st and 18th has been laid to rest.
The quintet of short holes have the brilliance and beauty of Colt, more than anything else known for his Par 3s, all different in length and direction. The 4th with its double-tier, shelf green is particularly praised and Colt repeated its design at a number of other courses.
The 6th gives a wide vista and is a big hitters hole while the 7th, stroke index 2, must be one of the most difficult small greens to hit in 2 to be found anywhere, with 2 sets of bunkers across the fairway distorting the assumed length of the second shot on rising ground. A five is always acceptable to me here.
The 9th, a tough, dogleg Par four requires a decision from the tee as to how much to take off. Too little and one can run out under the attractive ridges of a hazard leftover from previous allotments.
The 12th is the hardest hole with an S-shaped fairway the more difficult to hit for the angle of the tee. If Swinley is known for anything, it is for its enormous banks of rhododendrons. Playing the 12th in May, one is overwhelmed by their purple magnificence. Nevertheless over the years they have encroached on the playing areas and they have been cut-back at both the 9th and the 12th holes.
The 17th, 170 yards to a pulpit green sorts out many matches and a 3 at the 18th really should not be that difficult but rarely seen to an elevated blind green in front of the imposing Edwardian style Clubhouse.
If you are lucky enough to play Swinley in late spring, look out for the rhododendrons (actually you can’t miss them), they are simply breathtaking. Combine this with swathes of purple heather and lovely springy fairways winding their way through mature pines and this really is a special place. Drop a letter in the post to the secretary by way of introduction, or maybe telephone him. Who knows, he might let you play this amazing private members’ course.