Southerndown is unique, as nature crafted an unusual ‘limestone-heath’ base on which this downland course sits. The massive limestone outcrop, which rises over 70 metres from the sea and gives such superb views, accounts for the course’s superb drainage. The overlying soil supports acid-loving heathland vegetation such as heather, bracken and gorse and the westerly winds have deposited centuries of sand to give the first eight holes a springy, links-style character.
This ‘limestone-heathland-links’ presented the original course architects with a unique canvas on which to work. Willie Fernie, Herbert Fowler, Willie Park, Harry Colt and Donald Steel – great names in golf course design – have all played their part over the years in creating Southerndown as we know it today.
Southerndown has an infamous opening shot of the day, one that is surely one of the toughest starts in British golf. The 1st is an unforgiving hole played uphill and when there’s a strong wind – either into or across in either direction – you’d settle for a bogey there and then.
It’s not as exacting as this throughout but the wind is frequently a factor and so is the gorse, which is just about the only thing the grazing sheep don’t seem that keen to nibble on.
Other highlights on the front nine include the blind tee shot on the 2nd – where you must play the tee shot left of the marker post as the land slopes from left to right – and the 7th, a demanding par three played downhill to the green that slopes from back to front and is well guarded at the front and right.
The next is a slight dogleg left to right where you can lay up short of the large fairway bunkers or take on the carry if the wind is with you. Played uphill, the land slopes right to left. The green is well guarded, and slopes right to left and from the back.
The nine closes with a short par 4 setting up a birdie chance if you avoid the bunkers guarding the fairway and green. The green slopes sharply from back to front. The second half opens with a downhill par three that can play much shorter than the yardage and is followed two holes later but consistently one of the most difficult holes on the course.
The 12th’s tee shot is intimidating, with gorse left and right and the prevailing wind blowing across the dogleg. The green is large and club selection can vary by up to four clubs depending on the pin position. An easier hole follows it, a short par five, generally played downwind before 15 is the first of three of the last four holes generally played into the prevailing wind.
The 18th is the ‘signature’, played downhill to the split level fairway. Trouble left and right, while the green is one of the largest on the course but is well guarded. The relatively flat green sits right in front of the clubhouse.