At under 6,400 yards from the back markers West Sussex is the apotheosis of a traditional, heathland course. This “little sandy jewel set in the Sussex clay”, as Bernard Darwin put it, is among the best-loved inland courses in the British Isles. But while Pulborough, as it is known to the locals, is a simply delightful place to play at any time of the year, do not make the mistake of expecting a pushover. Rather, the modest yardage is a consequence of the longest hole, the 1st, being only 484 yards. The first-time visitor will inevitably wander on to the 2nd tee with his guard very much down.
By that time, the charming clubhouse will have been noted, surrounded as it is by pleasant woodland and firm fairways extending away into the distance in several directions. With a bit of luck, this gentle opening hole will have yielded a comfortable five, or maybe even a birdie, and all will seem well in the world.
Unfortunately, the only par 5 on the course has been and gone and lying in wait ahead are no fewer than six par 4s in excess of 410 yards while two of the quintet of short holes come in at over 220.
In other words, it is real and serious golf from this point onwards. The par is a measly 68 and a glance at the standard scratch of 70 will tell you all you need to know. Designed by Cecil Hutchison and Guy Campbell, Pulborough can fairly be described as a golfing oasis.
This is no Surrey sand belt and the area is not renowned for its courses. Yet, somehow, it is all the better for that.
In style, it is a layout where thoughtful driving is rewarded and the springy, fast fairways mean that an accurate shot is well rewarded by a generous couple of bounces forward. The short holes are outstanding. Perhaps the pick are the two longest, the 6th and 12th.
The former looks like a par 4 in miniature – and that is exactly what it is. From an elevated tee, it curves around a pond to a green protected on the left by a bank of heather. It calls for a draw with a long club and playing short and right is often a good idea if a four is the limit of your ambitions.
The 12th is beautifully framed by heather and does what all good holes of this type should – namely offer a generous, flat target considering the distance but demand a well-struck shot if a par is to be recorded. This hole marks the beginning of Pulborough’s outstanding closing stretch.
The 13th is honest and uphill while the next sweeps down and to the right to a sunken green. The shortest hole on the course follows, where a wickedly sloping green is defence enough, before arguably the best two-shotter, which is high praise indeed.
Here, you must play uphill to an unseen plateau and the quality of the drive has a huge impact on the second shot, played over a valley of heather to the green beyond. From the right place, you will have a flat lie, a good view and a short iron in hand.
Otherwise, the approach is treacherous. The green slopes steeply from back to front, and a four here is a particularly good score despite the modest yardage.
If this is tricky, the last two holes are quite simply tough. Both are well over 400 yards and in total four of anyone’s best shots are required to find the greens in regulation. At which point, you may be wondering what happened to your relaxed air as you left the 1st green looking forward to a profitable round ahead.