There are special pockets of prime golfing land dotted around the British Isles and one of the lesser known but most delightful is to be found in the north of Sussex close to Uckfield. It has left us with the Old and the West courses at Royal Ashdown Forest, Crowborough Beacon and, perhaps, the prettiest of them all, Piltdown. Cutting through this uneven, elevated, heather-clad landscape are firm, sandy fairways and, in the case of Piltdown, a shade over 6,000 yards of unadorned and bunkerless pleasure.
Less designed than uncovered, the Royal Ashdown club professional Jack Rowe was responsible for turning this land into a golf course.
The five-time Open champion JH Taylor was responsible for improving if not re-designing the seven holes on what is now the near side of Shortbridge Road. Over the last 20 years, a club member and landscape architect by profession, Philip Russell-Vick, has been responsible for the course’s continuing evolution and his work has concentrated on the removal of trees and restoration of heathland characteristics.
Piltdown is at once comfortingly familiar and yet also sui generis. It barely stretches to 6,000 yards off the tips and has a sole par five (which comes very early, at the 2nd) and five short holes. This sounds very much like Pulborough, an hour to the west, and there are shades of here and Liphook in its style. So too, Ashdown Forest, not least with it being bunkerless.
The greens are often tiny – and even more so because their defining characteristic is run-offs, sometimes on all sides. It’s as though the designers are so conscious of the lack of bunkers they made extra efforts to protect Piltdown’s dignity.
The short 4th, downhill and over heather, is supposed to be the hole that lives longest in the memory but the 12th and 13th encapsulate what makes Piltdown so special.
The former is, on paper, a juicy short par 4, 300 yards and dead straight. However, as is often the case here, heather brings an abrupt end to the fairway just short of the green which then turns into the most elusive of targets, even with a wedge. Miss it and you are almost guaranteed to be chipping uphill and have next to no green to work with.
The 13th is much longer and angles viciously left. So much so that there comes a point where hitting it further from the tee actually results in a longer second shot. Unless your angles are perfectly judged, this approach will be longer than you would like and at least partially blind towards a gorgeously sited and slightly sunken green.
Piltdown is simply delightful from the moment you arrive – a course that will charm and confound in equal measure.