I should firstly explain the purpose of the deviation from our usual approach to course reviews. This summer, the HotShotGolf team visited four courses in Surrey, as part of a miniature tour played out as an Open-style tournament (with cumulative stableford scores, rather than cumulative strokeplay).
Whilst each review will still provide our unique take on the courses and their merits or drawbacks; we are keen to give you a flavour of how the 4 days went, as well as an idea of how easy it is to organise a tour of this nature. Therefore, along with the reviews, we have compiled a list of top tips, and what to look out for when deciding on the courses you want to play.
We spent a couple of days hammering out the details; the plan was to play four courses across a Friday, Saturday and Sunday in July. As two of us are based in Scotland, we got the train down on Thursday night, throwing the clubs into the Guard’s Carriage, at no extra cost. We were then able to meet up with our good friend and HotShotGolf’s founder Fraz TY, who is based in London.
When deciding which courses to play, we did a bit of research online to see what deals were out there. There weren’t many great reviews of the courses in the area (or maybe we just couldn’t find them) – so we took a couple rules of thumb: yardage, and price. Obviously the bigger the yardage and the higher the price tends to mean a higher quality of course; but as we all play with handicaps in the teens (12, 15 and 17), we were aiming for something more middle of the road.
In the end, we went for a mixture of private and public courses; with Banstead Downs, Surrey National, Horton Park, and The Oaks all being selected. Therefore our selection does not represent the best, or our most desired courses to play in the area – but it definitely gives a good representation of what is available in the area, and all for a reasonable price.
Banstead Downs was the first course we played, on the Friday morning, and, as members of a James Braid association course, it only cost us £20. For the quality of the course, this was an absolute bargain. We managed to get an 8.30am tee time, so were out with the keen pensioners – this is our favourite time to play as everyone is aiming to get round in under four hours and get on with their day (which, for us, was playing more golf).
Originally designed by James Braid in 1890, Banstead Downs sits on top of the Surrey Hills overlooking the city of London. Like many courses in the area, the views across the financial district of the city provide a perfect backdrop to a testing round of golf. On this particular Friday, the course was bathed in the early morning summer sun with not a breath of wind in the air – ideal conditions for a low score.
The course plays 6,581 yards (6,018m) with a par of 71; however it is not it’s length that will challenge a golfer, but the tight fairways and quick greens. Expect to lose a ball or two if you are taking an aggressive approach to tee shots, but, due to the clever layout of the course; where there is risk, there is reward. Nothing epitomises this more than the four par-4s in excess of 400-yards. Piping a solid drive down the middle will still leave you with a bit to do with your approach shot, but trying to get there with three irons is a big ask – particularly as your third shot will still be attacking the green from over 150 yards.
Of the four courses we played on our Surrey golf trip, this was by far the highest quality. HotShotGolf was most impressed with the variety of holes, boasting three par-5s and four par-3s, along with the range of par-4s out there. Holes play both up and down hill, and the course has utilised the space expertly. The only drawback would be the A217 running through the middle of the course – which you have to cross after the 6th and cross back after the 12th. It’s not the noise from the duel-carriage way that was the issue but lugging a set of clubs over four lanes of fast flowing traffic – without finding out what a lorry tyre tastes like. However, as this was the only contentious point of the whole course, we can safely say it was a very enjoyable experience.
The highlight hole for us was 9th hole, 503 yard par-5, which plays downhill and downwind – a real chance to make a birdie or better! With the Shard and the business district of London in the background (if you’re lucky enough to get a clear day like us) the best play is to strike a drive down there and go for it in two. Ideally you want to be on the right hand side of the fairway for your approach; however there are bunkers at about 250 yards, and as the fairway provides a decent amount of roll, be aware – even if you are not the longest off the tee, you can still end up reaching them. We were lucky enough to avoid the bunkers and be sitting pretty in position A; so out came the five wood for the second shot. As long as you can pass the bunkers 50 yards short of the green, you should roll nicely onto the putting surface. Sadly the eagle putt didn’t drop, but taking a birdie was a good consolation.
Another standout of the course is the condition of the bunkers. Playing in mid-summer you would usually expect most golf clubs to be playing at their peak – and Banstead Downs did not disappoint. The big plus for me, with the bunkers, was the consistency of the sand in them. Many bunkers were found on the course – I would argue due to excellent course design, more than our poor play – but each time you were in one, you felt that you could confidently play a proper bunker shot to get out. This included fairway bunkers; as, on the 16th, one of us was in the fairway bunker 60 yards short of the green, but were able to clean hit a wedge out of it, and watch it chase up onto the green.
The final highlight for us were the greens. The greenkeepers of Banstead Downs should be getting a decent Christmas bonus this year, as the consistency of the speed and trueness of the roll is probably the hardest thing to get right on any golf course – but those guys did an excellent job. That, coupled with a really testing speed, meant each putt required a fair amount of concentration and good weight. It makes you work for a good score, but that is never a bad thing.
Banstead Downs was a great course that has been well maintained. Our group all played marginally above handicap, off the whites on a course we have never played before. We would recommend this course for anyone playing off a handicap of high-teens or below; it’s a real challenge without having to spend the big bucks. HotShotGolf will definitely be heading back there some time in the future.
#Tip1: Happiest days of your lives
Bob Torrance was renowned for telling each player, as they walked to the first tee: “happiest days of your lives”. The phrase gives us a reminder that we play the game purely for enjoyment. With that in mind – play a course that suits your ability and handicap – one that you will enjoy playing, and have a chance to score well on. It’s great to challenge ourselves against Championship courses, but it can also be an expensive way to realise we are not a single figure handicapper!
#Tip2: Find golf deals; they are out there!
We spent a couple days scouring the web for golf deals and got on each course for £25 or less – which is good going for being visitors of every course we played, and with some rounds on the weekend. Start with your standard big websites: teeofftimes.co.uk or teetimes.co.uk; to get an idea of the price of each course. Then give the pro shop a phone, 9 times out of 10 they will either beat the quote, or match it and throw something else in (for example free trolley hire).
Don’t forget, if you are currently a member of a golf club, it is highly likely your membership entitles you to play at other courses for a reduced rate. Examples of this are the Association of James Braid Courses, the Royal Association or 1895 Club.