Royal Ashdown Forest (Old)

Royal Ashdown Forest (Old)

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Course Information

A round at Royal Ashdown Forest Old is like taking a trip back in time. A time when courses were uncovered rather than created, and when the game was more about skill than power. Yet despite the fact there is not a single artificial feature to be found – including bunkers – and even though, by modern terms, the yardage of under 6,500 is modest, you will need more than a 460-cc driver to tame this classic old course.

Located in East Sussex less than half an hour’s drive from Gatwick, the idyllic rural environment calls to mind an England you might have thought no longer existed.

Peaceful, unhurried, sweet-smelling and generally mellifluous, expect a day of refined golfing pleasures as you sweep down the entrance road towards the snug old clubhouse.

Ashdown feels like your new favourite course from the moment you spy its firm sand-based fairways that are invariably tree-lined though never intimidatingly so. That said scoring can be deceptively difficult.

But while other courses intimidate with their 450-yard-plus two-shotters, here you are unlikely to see the double-bogey coming much before it is written on your scorecard.

Take the 6th, not much longer than a football pitch, but with a slim, raised green framed on three sides by a stream.

And that comes immediately after the temptations of the 5th, a downhill par five reachable in two but where the same stream runs in front of the green so that a potential four can swiftly turn into a six or worse.

These two are typical in the sense that every hole is different in character to the last. What each has in common is natural appeal.

It is a peculiarity of Ashdown that there is not a single bunker. You might think this would make for rather featureless entries to greens and easy chipping but nothing could be further from the truth.

It is not known for certain who designed the Old Course – one Archdeacon Scott is the founder – but it dates back to late 1888.

Work began in January of the next year with the course created and opened for play before summer had arrived. Royal status arrived courtesy of Queen Victoria within five years.

Because it is part of Ashdown Forest, the land is protected by acts of Parliament lasting to this day, meaning that even if anyone wanted to change the Old Course they would be unable to do so.

And while we will never know what it might have become had, for example, the great revisionist himself, James Braid, been called in what is left now remains a wonderful and natural test.

The club’s motto is Per Tot Discrimina Totum, a phrase taken from Virgil’s Aeneid and meaning ‘through various hazards’. While the task at hand can hardly compare to the classical proportions of that awaiting Aeneas and his men in founding Rome, you can assume that playing well here will involve mastery of most shots in your armoury. Apart, that is, from the sand wedge.

It is a peculiarity of Ashdown that there is not a single bunker. You might think this would make for rather featureless entries to greens and easy chipping but nothing could be further from the truth.

The targets are often small, contoured and surrounded by humps and hollows. Variety is the key. While the aforementioned 6th is the shortest par three, another, the 11th, is twice as long.

By then the course has climbed onto elevated, more open ground, such as that found at the likes of Hollinwell and Moortown. From here the eponymous forest that is forever linked with AA Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories can be seen from on high.

Most would agree the long 12th hole that returns from here back into more sheltered ground is Ashdown’s highlight.

Downhill throughout, shaping from right to left and gradually narrowing, it is tempting to attack but the encroaching heather and trees make this a dangerous policy.

A repeated feature on the uphill par fours – few holes are perfectly flat – is the advantage from a longer drive of not only an approach of manageable length but also one played from a flatter lie.

The 13th is a case in point and from a mediocre drive it can have you reaching for your scorecard to check it really does measure only 370 yards.

The closing stretch is particularly memorable. There are only two par fours over 400 yards and they arrive in quick succession at the end. Before them comes a tempting hole of little more than 300 yards. Technically drivable it may be, the hidden green is resistant to 80-yard pitches, let alone full-blooded drives and should be trated with respect.

The 16th measures 407 yards but plays uphill and therefore longer while the 17th may be almost 70 yards longer but at least offers an elevated tee. In truth, Ashdown neither begins nor finishes particularly memorably but the quality of the golf in between more than makes up for it.

And although the Old Course is more celebrated, there are another 18 holes here in the shape of the West Course, originally created as an club for artisans.

Again, not a single bunker exists and like its more venerable sibling length is much less of an issue than precision. Combined, they make as fine a day’s golf as could be wished for.

What is left is a warm, nostalgic glow in the soul such as Milne himself was proud to create in his much-loved novels and poetry.

Information

William Lee & Archdeacon Scott

01342 822 018

Chapel Lane , Forest Row , East Sussex , RH18 5LR