By The Sussex Golfer
So it has been a while since I sat down and done a review for the blog, but having played Sweetwoods Park Golf Club twice since mid-August, I felt compelled to tell you all about it!
From the very moment you turn in through the gates off the A264, you know you are in for a treat. As the drive winds it way down between the 2nd green and 3rd tee, across the 1st fairway and down to the modern clubhouse and pro shop complex situated at the bottom of a valley, you get glimpses of what is to come, and your pulse begins to race.
The first starts off with a tough left to right dogleg. From an elevated tee located next to the practice putting green, to a fairway which slopes from left to right, a good drive down the centre will set you up for an uphill approach into the first green, which has plenty of danger short in the form of a steep drop off and deep bunker. Needless to say- a par 4 is a fantastic score here!
As you walk to the second tee, you will notice the competition tee tucked away nestled amongst the trees. Well worth a wander up there just so you can be be relieved that you don’t have to make the substantial carry to reach the fairway by the time you actually get to the second tee! Once you tee off, even from the forward yellow tees the hole is still of considerable length, being the second longest par 4 on the course. A slight draw off the right hand side sets up a nice approach to a fairly large and flat green.
The third is the first par 5 on the course. At just under 500 yards, it is no gimme birdie by any stretch of the imagination, but two solid shots short of the fairway bunker on the right about 100 yards out should set up a decent look.
The fourth hole is one of many which could be considered a ‘signature hole’ at Sweetwoods Park. A short par 5, which plays even shorter due to its downhill nature, gives you plenty of opportunity to get some shots back, but also has plenty of danger to equally prove to be a scorecard wrecker! After taking in the views to come over the sixth and seventh holes, a blind tee shot to a fairway which slopes severely left to right needs to hug the left hand side as much as possible in order to avoid running into the first cut on the right, but also to provide a better angle into the green nestled at the bottom of the valley. Whether you are going for the green in two or three, short left is definitely the safe play, and the ball may even feed down the slope and on to the green. This approach also helps to safeguard from the lake which runs long and right of the green! A hole where nearly any number is possible.
After the challenge of the fourth, the fifth seems fairly tame in comparison, even with water immediately in front . A short par 3 which shouldn’t require much more than a short iron to find the putting surface. Note- being one of the lowest points on the front nine, and mostly surrounded by trees, this green plays slightly softer than the others, so an extra club may be required to get the ball back to the flag!
The sixth is a short uphill risk-reward par 4. At only 259 yards from the yellow tees, some longer hitters may attempt to take on the green, but do so at your peril! Long grass awaits right, trees short left, with a significant drop off left of the green. The safe play is taking a mid iron from the tee and staying short of the pond on the right hand side of the fairway, which will leave a simple wedge into the green, favouring the right hand side and feeding down towards the centre for a decent look at birdie. A very good golf hole, and one that offers excellent photo opportunities from behind the small temple behind the green!
Seven is a fantastic par 3 which will have had you tantalising over it from first glimpse when on the fourth tee. Playing back over the valley, the unique feature about this hole is the railway sleeper lined bunkers, which rumour has it are able to kick your ball back as far as the water hazard at the bottom of the hill! Ensure you take enough club to carry the two bunkers and walk away with a 2 putt par!
Tee shot on the seventh.
The eighth is another hole where you should be looking to score well, a par 4 just over 315 yards off the yellow tees. A downhill, dogleg right, assisted by the fairway sloping in the same direction, a long iron or hybrid is plenty off the tee to leave a wedge into a green which slopes steeply from back to front. Try to leave yourself below the hole for an uphill putt!
The ninth is arguably one of the toughest holes on the course. A long, sweeping slight dogleg left to right requires a long and accurate shot off the tee with OB down the right, and a couple of fairway bunkers to avoid. A long approach into a green which slopes away from you is assisted by a slight down slope before the green. Bogey is not a bad score here by any stretch of the imagination!
The walk down the hill to the tenth tee gives you a little time to reflect on your opening 9, but also gives you an idea of the elevation change up to the 10th fairway. Not the longest hole, a hybrid or fairway wood off the tee will be sufficient, leaving a mid to short iron into the large raised green. Aim for the centre to avoid the greenside bunkers and look to come away with a regulation par.
The eleventh hole is a fun downhill dogleg right to left par 4. Longer hitters will have the opportunity to hit over the corner to leave a short approach into the green, whilst others may opt to play to the corner of the dogleg, allowing the slope to feed the ball down to provide an angle and leave a mid iron approach into the green. The green isn’t particularly well guarded, so hopefully a green in regulation will yield a decent putt at birdie.
The short walk to the twelfth tee crosses behind the eighteenth which is overlooked by the splendid clubhouse and terrace, as well as another practice putting green, and really helps to show off the facilities available. The tee is nestled back amongst the trees, where your drive must find the left side of the fairway which again slopes from left to right. The view from the fairway may offer significant distraction for your next shot- with views over the beautiful par 3 seventeenth. There is again little to guard the green, however due to it sloping away from you, it is very easy to go long as the ball will release.
The par 5 thirteenth may be unlucky for some with out of bounds all the way down the right hand side, but the sensible play is to treat the hole as a three shotter, despite longer hitters being tempted to go over the corner of the dogleg. If safety is the play, a long iron to the middle of the fairway leaves a layup short of the cross ditch with the second, leaving 150 yards to the green. Aim to get on with your third, and take a 2 putt par, although bogey is not the worst score if you miss the green and fail to get up and down.
The fourteenth is another par 5, the second set of back to back par 5s on the course, and is arguably the hardest. The most demanding drive on the course, a long carry is required to get over the ditch, and a draw is the optimum shot shape for this dogleg left. Overcook the draw and there are plenty of trees which will either block you off with your second shot, or deem the ball lost. Again, another definite three shotter, a mid iron with a touch of draw again will set up a short iron or wedge approach into a small green, guarded by a ditch and plenty of trees surrounding it. This hole well and truly plays to its stroke index of 1.
Fifteen is the longest par 3 on the course, just over 200 yards, but possibly the one with least danger. A fairly straight hole, you have the opportunity to run it up to the green if you are unable to make the carry. If you miss the green, there is plenty of chance for an up and down with little around the green, or on the green to provide much to worry too much about.
Sixteen is another short par 4, but definitely takes some thought. A mid iron off the tee is the play leaving the golfer with a wedge into the green. Longer hitters may be tempted to take a shot at the green, but there is little space to do so, and bunkers short and left are waiting to catch any errant approach. If you do find the green in regulation, you should have a fairly good look at birdie, before moving on to the short par 3 seventeenth.
The walk to the next tee is picturesque, between the lakes surrounding the competition tee on the seventeenth, and those short of the elevated two-tiered green which need to be carried with your approach shot. Although just a short approach, club selection is vital on this stunning par 3, not only to ensure you find the correct tier, but any shots short of the green may well end up rolling back down the hill close to the water, leaving an awkward up and down. Find the right tier and seventeen is definitely a birdie opportunity. One of the most photogenic par 3s in the county.
The eighteenth is one of the more daunting tee shots on the course, with a large tree positioned in the middle of the fairway at driving distance. For longer hitters- thread the needle down the left hand side of the fairway to leave yourself the best angle into the sunken green. By accident I managed to establish that you do still have a shot if you finish short right of the tree (particularly if you play a fade or a high ball!). If you’re having to play the hole as a three shotter due to yardage or tree trouble, make sure you lay well back to avoid the deep bunkers front left of the green, which provide a tough up and down for any errant approaches. Once on the green, the struggles are not quite over yet, with a severe two tier green to keep you on your toes one final time. To walk away with par on the final hole, you have played it very well!
Overall, a truly memorable experience from start to finish, made even better by the fact that it offers fantastic value, variety and a friendly atmosphere. At times it is like walking through a perfectly manicured National Trust property! A true ‘hidden gem’.