Anyone who arrives in this part of the North Downs without prior knowledge would doubtless anticipate Hankley Common to be a traditional Surrey heathland layout of around 6,000 yards. Designed at a time when a good drive was considered to be anything going further than 200 yards, such delightful layouts designed a century or more ago are commonplace in this part of the world. So it comes as something of a surprise to see the Hankley Common scorecard, which shows that the recent addition of some new back tees has resulted in a near 6,800 yard beast.
Make no mistake, even in the 21st century this remains a championship course. And to the great credit of the powers that be, it has been lengthened in such a way that has only added to the quality of the holes and restored the kind of challenges that its famous designers, James Braid and Harry Colt, surely intended.
It is easy to build new tees here and there but much harder to do so in such a way that actually makes the course better as well as longer. Dating back to the late 19th century, when there were doubtless far fewer trees than there are now, the course is set on a huge expanse of land, similar to that of Sunningdale.
That has given Hankley an opportunity that depressingly few of their peers have had available to them – namely to build new tees where required and combat at least some of the excesses of modern equipment. Take the start of the course, which was considered to be a relatively benign stretch of holes.
Now, in addition to the testing 1st, a new tee at the 2nd has meant it is a mid iron rather than a wedge while the 3rd has been transformed. The back tee adds the thick end of 100 yards and suddenly a three wood and a pitch is a very good drive and a decent iron.
It has been lengthened in such a way that has only added to the quality of the holes and restored the kind of challenges that its famous designers, James Braid and Harry Colt, surely intended.
If any lingering doubt remains following a couple of more gentle par 4s, the 6th, 7th and 8th measure 587, 183 and 549 yards respectively. The 7th is perhaps the most famous hole here, with views across the open heath it is a point-to-point short hole across a valley to a two-tiered green.
The back nine begins with a wonderful and testing trio of holes. The 10th is almost 480 yards and doglegs – eventually – to the right. The next is a long par 3 to a slightly raised green and the 12th turns left and, from another new tee, stretches to over 435 yards.
Then comes chance to catch breath before the run for home, with a reachable par 5 and a couple of shorter 4s. The 17th however presents an awkward tee shot, which must be taken across the angle if the approach is not to be from long range. The 18th is then as good a finishing hole as you are ever likely to find.
The tee shot is blind and intimidating while the second, likely to be played from the greater part of 200 yards out, must carry a deep grass gully in front of the green. Make four here and you will deserve to have won any match.
Throughout, the turf is firm and bouncy, the greens fast and true and the heather a delight so long as you are beside rather than in it. It all adds up to mean Hankley Common can make a genuine case to be the best course in Surrey – and that is no mean boast.