Stoke Park has always been renowned for its bunkers – and they’ve all been revamped in a multi-year redevelopment. So did our club golfer avoid a sandy nightmare?
Note: We visited Stoke Park, and filmed the video review below, in early February – before the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the temporary closure of all UK golf courses.
Few things feel more classically British than Stoke Park. Whether it’s the stunning mansion, or the sense of serenity, it always conjures in my mind the kind of country we now only see in Pathe news reels.
Hollywood has certainly thought so. Whether it was the clash between Goldfinger and Bond, or the foppishness of Bridget Jones’ Diary, the estate has been a magnet for stars of stage and screen for decades.
But, on the course, it’s the Harry Colt-designed 27-holes and, in particular, the bunkering that grabs the spotlight.
That’s because a three-year multi-million pound project to alter, remove or revamp every sand trap on the course has transformed what members and visitors see when they arrive to play the three 9-hole loops.
I made my way round the Colt layout to see the impact. But did I need my sand wedge, or a bucket and spade?
What can we expect from Stoke Park?
Bunkers. Lots of them. There are 45 alone on the Colt 9 and so it’s no surprise, given they are such a feature of the layout, the club decided to invest such a significant sum of money in putting them right.
Significant tweaking over the decades had left a legacy of work, with as many as six different shapes cluttering the course. There were the ovals, the tiny traps you couldn’t get both feet into and the hazards that would wash clean out every time the heavens opened.
What they’ve got now is consistency. The shapes aren’t uniform by any stretch but their look – which you could class as MacKenzie-like if you wanted to peddle a cliché – do give a flow to the Colt layout.
That’s particularly important on a hole like the 8th, where eight of them are waiting for errant shots. Four line the landing areas just off the fairway with a further quartet around and in front of the green.
When they form such a visual threat off the tee, they need to look the part. Now, they do.
They work much better as well. The cross bunkers at the 5th and 6th – both waiting to hoover up poorly struck shots short of the green – are basically half a penalty shot.
But if you do find the misfortune of landing in one you’ll quickly have the confidence, considering lie and sand depths, that a well-struck shot will get the result it deserves.
A parkland course might arouse fears of encroaching trees, narrow chutes and a driver left in the bag but that’s not the case on this loop.
There’s plenty of wood about but it frames rather than playing an active part in proceedings. You’ll have to be pretty wayward to find yourself needing to avoid some branches.
What were your favourite holes?
Colt aficionados won’t be surprised to hear me say the two par 3s are the clear highlight of this nine. The 3rd is an absolute beast – at 216 off the back tees – and with the hole travelling very slightly uphill you’re going to need to hit every yard of it. The greenside bunker on the left, which I found, gives you plenty of room to find an escape but you can’t really see the flag and that brings the uncertainty. Depending on the pin position, nothing good can come from being in the bunkers short and right.
If the 3rd sets the standard, the 7th is the crown jewel. It’s said Alister Mackenzie took inspiration from this hole for the original 16th at Augusta. If you study old pictures of both, there is a definite resemblance. But it’s possible the good Dr considered this design in far more different ways.
Look at the hole from just off the 6th green and you’ll also see more than a passing glimpse of Augusta’s famous 12th, while Jack Nicklaus once told club chiefs he saw echoes of the 15th green.
Whatever you see, it’s a cracking challenge. The pond on the left shouldn’t come into play but catches the eye, while anything slightly right is likely to find the creek that runs alongside the putting surface.
You need to hit across the hole to a green that’s angled away from you. If you’re long and left, three bunkers – the middle hazard stretching most of the way along the green – are going to make things very difficult.
Why? Well, you’re hitting out to a green that feeds towards the water and once the ball gets running it can get very quick.
Tell us about your best bit?
I’ve given it the big build up so, thankfully, I didn’t disappoint at the 7th. I hit 5-iron into the heart of the green – it was one of the better contacts that day – and wasn’t too far away with a sweeping right to left putt from about 35 feet. With a little bit more pace it might have troubled the hole. That left a couple of feet for par and there was no problem. Given this hole’s storied history, and the challenges presented off the tee, I was very happy to walk off with a par.
Will you do anything different next time?
I’ll stay another day and play the Alison and Lane Jackson nines. The former in particular, which meanders round the boating lake, and past the famous bridge, looked a decent test.
Finally, where is Stoke Park?
A couple of miles outside Slough, the massive Stoke Park estate is found in the village of Stoke Poges. It’s 35 minutes outside of London and only seven miles from Heathrow.
For more, visit their website.
Have you played Stoke Park? Let me know in the comments below, or tweet me.
Thanks for stopping by.
We wondered if you might like to contribute to supporting our journalism?
As the world enters uncharted waters, we’d like to be able to keep our content open for all to entertain and inform in the months ahead.
We’d like to think we are the voice of the ordinary golfer the world over. Whether your interest is in the game from tour level to grassroots, the latest equipment, or independent course rankings, we’ve got you covered.
If you want to read more about how you can help us and to donate, please CLICK HERE.