Golf Course Review of Stoneham Golf Club
Stoneham Golf Course
Reviewed by Ed Battye -
Quick Summary: Brilliantly routed over dynamic terrain
Our 5 Star Rating: 4.3
Stoneham’s biggest asset is undoubtedly its superb routing over adventurous terrain which ultimately lends itself to some unique and brilliant golf holes.
And with well over 3,000 trees recently cleared the beauty of the property can now be showcased properly which also goes hand-in-hand with greatly improved playability and better ground conditions.
Add into this a restoration of every bunker back to the original vision of the course designer, Willie Park Jnr, and it’s clear to see that this is a course heading in the right direction. A prime example of this is on the opening drive where the golfer is now greeted with three staggered, heather topped bunkers that not only look attractive but improve the strategy compared to before.
The blueprint for the project, which will take 5 years and cost around £1m, is now into its second year and is working off a blueprint created by Ken Moodie and Ken Brown although most of the work is being overseen by ex-Sunningdale man Murray Long and recently appointed head greenkeeper Matt Plested.
The course, founded in 1908, is not a true heathland in the strictest sense but definitely plays more heath than park and with rough management and heather regeneration in full swing it certainly leans more towards the former. Indeed, at times there is a real feel that you playing on the Surrey-Berkshire sandbelt, admittedly not too far away up the M3 motorway.
The aforementioned routing firstly takes us around the outer perimeter of the course on the front-nine with the inward-half located in the middle of the undulating property. The energetic topography is constantly used to maximum effect throughout.
Stoneham is not long at 6,392 yards (par 72) – and is all the better for it - but there are times when you are restricted from the tee so it does play a bit further than the scorecard suggests. This is done with a brook at the fourth, cross bunkers at the sixth, a natural valley at the 11th, another ditch at the 15th and again at the 17th.
As a result of its modest length and turbulent landscape there are some really fun and exciting holes.
The fourth is a wonderful two-shotter where the first part of the fairway slopes downhill and right-to-left whilst the second half of the fairway, towards the green, is uphill and angled the other way; a lovely old Victorian ditch splits the two sections at around 280 yards and when the course is fast running (which I suspect is most of the time) this water hazard must be given due respect from the tee.
The approach bunkering at the fifth is very pretty and causes a dilemma on the tee, whilst the sixth boasts one of many stellar green complexes which defends this shortish-par five extremely well with a steep incline leading up to the green.
I didn’t particularly like the 231-yard, semi-blind par-three seventh but the next is a lovely looking hole which I think could be made even more visually appealing due to the enviable location of the green on a secluded little plateau. Nine is probably an underappreciated hole but is not a looker with its hog-backed fairway whilst the same could perhaps be said of the tenth although I really enjoyed four-putting the long, sloping green – stay under the hole!
However, the 11th is a real doozy and sums up Stoneham perfectly in its 405 yards. You can’t go too far from the tee because of a deep valley and burn that separates the end of the fairway and the green complex, which is located on a plateau the other side and calls for a high, softly landing approach onto a putting surface that slopes from back-to-front quite significantly.
At the outset the 13th is the most innocuous looking hole of all but ultimately, if not the best, it’s certainly the most infuriating on the entire course! In all honesty, from the tee it looks a bit of a damp squid; a mostly blind drive with no real direction and seemingly little danger up ahead apart from trees. A quick look at the scorecard and you will see a yardage of just 273 so let’s pull out the driver, one good swing and it’s a certain birdie. STOP! Unless you are confident of hitting a green about four paces wide 270 yards away driver is not a good ploy. Miss this green left-or-right and you could be going back and forth quite a few times. You really need to be shooting up the narrow, bunkered green to master this exasperatingly good hole. It’s a “Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda” hole. You could have birdied it, would have birdied it and should have birdied it. You probably bogeyed it at best.
The 14th just pips the 12th as the best three-shotter on the course. A thing of beauty from the tee as the dramatic fairway heaves in all directions as it dips, rises and sweeps up to the right before we approach the picturesque green complex.
The closing stretch has a good mix of holes too; the 15th is a fine two-shooter, the 16th a dainty par-three, the dog-legging 17th has a winding burn and the last is a climbing par-five. From the third right through to the 14th is Stoneham is outstanding. The opening two and closing four are also very good and I came away as a big fan of this largely unspoken about venue.
A fairly unusual feature is that the course has five par 3s and five par 5s. This gives the course a little bit of a staccato effect with par. You must wait until the third before you play a par four whilst from the sixth you never play two consecutive ones! For the most part I quite liked this although there were times when it didn’t quite flow right.
If we’re discussing the best that Hampshire offers then Stoneham is right up there. Taking away the links at Hayling (always a tricky comparison) there is very little between the inlands treats of Blackmoor, Stoneham, Liphook and North Hants. My personal preference is that running order but Stoneham arguably has the best property of the quartet and if it owned the greens of Liphook then it would be a clear winner. Blackmoor strikes the perfect balance for me and has just a touch more strategy to pip its neighbours but we really are splitting hairs with all four.
Stoneham is featured in the National Club Golfer Top 100 under £100 Golf Courses of Great Britain.
Club Website: www.stonehamgolfclub.org.uk
Tournaments: Open golf competitions at Stoneham Golf Club.