What makes Heathland’s golf courses so good
Sunningdale, Swinley Forest, Woking, Walton Heath, Hollinwell – if you’ve heard of, or even been lucky enough to play, any of these fabulous courses, then you’ll already be familiar with moorland golf. Typically characterized as indoor courses, built on quick-drying ‘heather’ soil and framed by heather, these courses are as synonymous with golf in England (particularly around Surrey) as links golf is in England. Scotland. Join us as we look at some of the reasons that make moorland golf courses so special.
The spectacular images of Sunningdale featured below were captured by the brilliant photographer Kevin Diss.
Where else could we start? It’s not a true moorland course without at least some heather, with the plant used to frame the playing areas and give real definition to the golf landscape. Besides adding to the beauty of a course, heather is one of the toughest obstacles in the sport – capable of providing holes with serious dangers and forcing the golfer to “take his medicine” and chip the ball. , rather than taking a hit. to their desired target.
One of the most magical aspects of heather is how it changes with the seasons, with the recognizable purple flowers as a backdrop. However, even during the winter when the plant is dormant, the heather is much more pleasing to the eye than some of the other brambles and gorse that can be found on these courses!
The composition of the sandy soil on which moorland courses are laid generally drains incredibly quickly, maintaining playability for 12 months a year. During the colder months, these fairways will generally turn green, with the moisture promoting grass growth and providing an almost bouncy feel underfoot. However, the warmer months can be an entirely different story, with moorland courses often offering firm, fast fairways that are more reminiscent of a links layout. Due to its sandy nature, the soil itself is not necessarily rich in nutrients on moorland rangelands, and as a result grass can struggle to grow lush in mid-summer. However, this makes these fairways ideal for their course designs, giving the golfer a myriad of options both off the tee and for attacking the greens, and making the courses eminently playable for all skill levels.
The strategy needed to play well on moorland courses has to do with how the course changes throughout the season. Greens can generally be attacked both on the ground and in the air all year round, although the undulations and large putting surfaces can make finding the right sections extremely important. Drivers aren’t always necessary, as the fast-traveling fairways can encourage a long iron to get into position off the tee, allowing you to get really creative with your approach game.
Many courses will follow the mantra of “easy bogey, through hard”, forcing you to at least take a hit or two if you’re looking to shoot in the 70s (or maybe less!), but allowing an 18 handicap to play to his handicap by playing carefully. Shorter par-5s like the 1st at Sunningdale Old tempt you to take a risky shot, but with hidden bunkers and a tricky green, just being able to hit a hole like this in two shots doesn’t guarantee a par. comfortable ! However, golfers of all skill levels should be able to get to the green in four strokes, with two putts earning an easy bogey, or a clear par for the 18 handicap player.
Elevation changes don’t tend to be as extreme on moorland courses as they can be on other layouts, generally sweeping through more rolling and wooded terrain. However, moorland designers have often used hillsides to create fabulous short holes such as the par-3 2nd holes at Woking and Camberley Heath. In general, most will find the courses relatively easy to navigate (helped by the firmer conditions underfoot), which allows for faster play at many established Surrey golf clubs.
The wild life
Due to the frequent woodland nature of moorland courses, wildlife can often be seen in abundance around the properties, with deer, foxes, rabbits and birds traversing the fairways. Many moorland courses have adopted these animals into their very club fabric, with Berkshire going so far as to use a club logo inspired by the deer found on both of their courses. Indeed, there are very few things more beautiful in golf than playing an early evening round on Berkshire’s red or blue courses and watching deer dance between the trees.
The caliber of the courses
This last point is a bit existential – are these courses so great because of the design and layout, or does the moor nature of the landscape make them so? Either way, it is indisputable that moorland courses dominate the lists of great courses in England, with at least 10 of the top 20 courses on almost every list built on this land.
Part of the reason for their brilliance is also a quirk of location – with many of these courses in the affluent county of Surrey, just outside London. They were built a century ago for the city’s wealthy workers to enjoy on weekends, and so employed the best designers of the time to create these masterpieces. These courses are visited by golfers from all over the world, desperate to take on Swinley Forest – dubbed ‘the least bad course’ he designed by Harry Colt, one of the finest architects in the history of the sport.
That said, there’s no denying that the firmness of the turf, the undulations of the greens, the framing of the heather, the clever use of bunkering and the beauty of the scenery combine to make moorland courses truly special; indeed among the best and highest ranked on the planet.
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