Golf Course Review of Swinley Forest Golf Club
Swinley Forest Golf Course
Reviewed by Ed Battye -
Quick Summary: One of the most charming courses in an area blessed with a plethora of wonderful heathland venues
Our 5 Star Rating: 4.4
Swinley Forest is a delectably English golf club set in the heart of the Berkshire sand-belt on a secluded parcel of land boasting beautiful heather, gorse and pines.
It’s not only one of the most charming courses, in an area blessed with a plethora of wonderful heathland venues, but also one of the best.
There is certainly an air of exclusivity, privacy and tradition about the place, but where the welcome was as warm as any I’ve received, and the ambience only adds to the experience. Out on the course the only things you are likely to hear are the rumble of a train dashing down the side of holes six, seven and eight or the odd bark from a golfer’s four-legged companion.
Described as Harry Colt’s ‘least bad course’ it’s impossible not to like Swinley Forest because it is infinitely playable; the yardage is modest at well under 6,000 yards (par 68, SSS 69) from the normal competition tees and it is not overly tight. However, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a course you will destroy. It teases, tricks, tempts and torments you in a way no other course can and most certainly plays longer than its length.
The fairways are generous but an errant drive is likely to find a heathery grave from where the uncertainty of how the ball will come out usually costs you a shot. And on some of the holes you are restricted from slashing away with a driver from the tee; a ditch at the second, a pond at the fifth, mounds of heather at the seventh, cross bunkers at the 12th and a swathe of heather at the 14th just some of the obstructions you will encounter.
This therefore places a premium on accuracy and placement from the tee because approaching the greens from the correct angle at Swinley is often important. On my round in September 2014 the greens were quite frim and this exaggerated the challenge, especially to certain pin locations.
A prime example of this comes at the third hole, a shortish par four that initially appears to be relatively straightforward from the tee and a good birdie chance. However, a drive up the right (as I found out to my peril twice) leaves the most difficult of pitch shots over a greenside bunker and although you may be less than 50 yards from the green you know that you'll be struggling to make par. One is in a far better position down the left hand side, even if much further back, to approach this green.
That said, it is the cunning putting surfaces which are Swinley’s main defence. As a set of green complexes you will struggle to find a better collection anywhere. With perhaps the exception of the fluid 12th none of them really shock you with heavy contouring but simply rely on elegant borrows to deceive the golfer.
The front nine is the more scoreable of the two halves. Three short par fours start proceedings before you play one of the best looking short holes I have ever seen. The only par five arrives at the fifth and played downhill at a maximum yardage of 505 yards this is another birdie opportunity.
The challenge stiffens with a run of three holes in a linear direction including two stern par fours followed by another excellent par three. A sweeping par four, with a stunning drive from an elevated tee, completes an enjoyable front nine.
The back nine at Swinley is probably the hardest sub-3000 yard nine holes you will play but perhaps the most enjoyable. All three of the short holes are truly outstanding and although the driveable 11th is undoubtedly a good opportunity to improve your scorecard it is not without its dangers. And that apart you have a catalogue of excellent and challenging two-shotters. The 12th is arguably the pick of them with decisions to be made throughout its 455 yards; two bunkers must be avoided or skirted from the tee and then you must decide how you approach the green, located amongst a cluster of rhododendrons, and which slopes from back-to-front and left-right with lots of movement in-between.
The 15th and 16th are also exacting holes and although relatively long at 450 and 425 yards respectively from the Blue tees it is their green settings that create most of the problems you are likely to face. Meanwhile, the 18th offers a little respite in its length but the steep uphill approach to a green situated just in front of the magnificent clubhouse is just as taxing.
The Club has received much negativity over the past few years regarding its condition. On my visit the course was generally in very good condition. The greens were fine in the morning but did deteriorate through the afternoon and became a little bobbly.
It may lack the grandeur of neighbouring Sunningdale or The Berkshire but it makes up for that in its diversity of holes and the fun element it exudes. And it may not be without its blemishes but this merely adds to the appeal.
Swinley Forest delivered everything I was hoping and expecting of it for my first visit. I’m pleased I played 36 holes in the same day, enjoying a superb lunch between rounds, because there are so many subtleties to this course that I’m sure long standing members are still learning new things about their delightful golf course.
Club Website: www.swinleyfgc.co.uk
Tournaments: Open golf competitions at Swinley Forest Golf Club.