It is curious, to me at least, that Wildernesse, a course of over 125 years of age and shaped largely by the skilled hands of James Braid should be so rarely mentioned in a broader context. Visit the handsome town of Sevenoaks, which marks the point where south-east London becomes Kent in its sense of being the Garden of England, and it turns out that Wildernesse enjoys great local renown. Small wonder – its impeccably presented parkland fairways sashay smoothly through the woodland and the recently renovated clubhouse is now equipped with what might just be the most idyllic terrace in the whole of English golf.
The lucky denizens of Sevenoaks actually have two fine courses to choose from, with Knole Park less than half a mile away at their closest points. Both feature in our England’s Top 100 Courses ranking – and deservedly so.
What a contrast though – while Wildernesse is green, tree-lined and just so, Knole Park is open, on higher ground and firmer underfoot.
In design terms, not much had changed at Wildernesse since Braid’s day until recently. Work is ongoing to improve what was probably the weakest section of the course – relatively speaking – on the far side of the road at the start of the back nine. Allied to the conditioning, this will surely result in the club starting to enjoy the national reputation it deserves.
After a suitably unexacting opening hole, of which it would be wise to take advantage, you are immediately put to the test at the 2nd, which doglegs to the right and calls for a particularly strong approach. That is followed by two more testing par 4s and a very fine short hole to a green on a shelf that you really do not want to miss.
Survive this stretch and there are chances to score, in the shape of a par 5 and two short fours before Wildernesse once again bares its teeth with the dangerous – and long – 9th. Back-to-back par 5s, sandwiched in between par 3s, set you up for the closing holes.
If the 16th and 17th are challenging par 4s there is at least a final par 5 – always a good way to conclude a round – sweeping elegantly downhill towards the clubhouse.