The second instalment of our Surrey Tour series picks up with our Friday afternoon round where we headed further into Surrey heartland to play Surrey National Golf Course. We had originally planned to tee off at 2.10pm, to give us plenty of time for our morning round and lunch – however we managed a very quick round at Banstead Downs in the morning, and the friendly staff in the pro shop were more than happy to accommodate us in moving up the tee time to 1.30pm. We still had ample time to sit on the clubhouse terrace, which overlooks the stunning 18th green, and have some lunch before we teed off.
Surrey National has your typical modern style clubhouse. Opened in 1999 (modern for the part of the golfing world we come from), it is spacious with a well-stocked bar and has the ability to host large wedding and other such events. Although this was a bit foreign to us, we could appreciate that golf clubs are looking to generate money from other means – and if it keeps the price of a round down, and the course in good nick then it can’t be a bad thing.
Onwards to the course review…
Surrey National plays 6,612 yards (6,046m) with a par of 72. The course has an interesting split with a 3,093 yard, par-35 front 9, and a 3,519 yard, par-37 back 9. This would make it appear that, for only two extra shots and 500 extra yards, the back 9 would be substantially harder – however we didn’t find a noticeable difference.
There are three par-3s, three par-5s, and a good variation of par-4s; with some seriously sloping fairways. Most holes require at least one shot either playing up or down a sizeable slope – which isn’t a bad thing, as it really makes you think about your distancing when it come to approach shots (something us amateur golfers never put enough time or thought into).
The course is very open, so driving off the tee tends to be the play on most holes. We found it quite difficult to lose a ball (which keeps the cost of a round down). Having said that, you should be aware that there are areas of the course where the rough has been grown up (for example the left hand side of the fairway on the 5th) and it is definitely recommended to avoid those parts – have a bit of course management and think about where is a good place to miss. When HotShotGolf guys are out for a game, you’ll inevitably hear “good miss” at least two or three times a round.
When we played in late-July, the course was in excellent condition. Every tee box, fairway, and green had been properly maintained and was exceptionally green in colour – the sign of a club that takes care and pride in its course. Again, like Banstead, the fairways and greens had a good roll to them (when we managed to find them at least). The greens were a little slower than Banstead, which took us a couple of holes to get used to, but still a decent level of quickness for golfers with our mid-teens handicaps. They were also very receptive to a golf ball this is a massive bonus for guys who are not able to get the same spin off their wedges as single figure handicappers.
For us, two of the top holes were the par-3 3rd and par-5 5th holes. The major reason for us loving them is the carry required to hit the green on the approach shots. The 3rd plays with water down the right, which from the championship tees is all carry. From the whites – where we played – its 165 yards, and if you’re lucky enough to hit a controlled fade you don’t have to carry the water. However be aware because anything heading too far right will end up wet. On the other hand, if you play a draw, it’s a really testing hole, as you’re starting the ball out over the water and flying it all the way to the green – cue the club twirl if it sticks on the green!
The par-5 5th hole stands at 521 yards; which is reachable in two shots – well it’s not really, but HotShotGolf-er Ryan managed to get there in two…you need to be hitting the ball a seriously long way to reach in two. After smashing his drive down the middle, he took a solid 215 yard 4-iron approach. After nailing the shot onto the green, he said “I didn’t realise the water cuts in front of the green. I would never have gone for it if I’d known that.” They were two of the best shots of the day, and seeing them come one after the other was a real treat. The 5th hole plays down the other side of the water the 3rd plays up, so, for most people, your second shot can’t be going too far right and your third shot needs to carry all the way onto the green (which for most of us should be 100 yard or less). There are a number of very strategically placed bunkers both along the fairway and by the green. You want to stay down the left hand side of the 5th hole as much as possible as this provides the best angle for approaching the green and keeping the water out of play. This stretch of holes (3,4 and 5) really feels like it’s been designed as a single section to take advantage of the lake, rather than as individual holes – a sign of a good golf architect.
The final highlight hole for us was the 18th. This is a 441-yard par 4, which will challenge any golfer – it is a seriously well-thought out and designed hole. Hitting a good drive down from the elevated tee brings the fairway bunkers on the right into play but, thankfully, when the three of us were playing, we managed to stay on the fairway – eating up around 260-yards of the hole. This left us about 180-yards the middle of the green, but with the pin cut at the front, it was playing a good 10-yards shorter. Attacking a green from that distance is not highly recommended, particularly with our handicaps, but we went for it anyway. The green is one of the most well-protect on the course, with bunkers on the left and right, as well as water further left. The key play here, with the pin at the front, is to use the steep slope to the right hand-side of the first section of the green – keep the ball away from the water and let it roll down onto the green. If the pin is cut further back, the only real play is to hit the ball straight, and hit it stiff – easier said than done. Again, a superbly thought out approach shot from the course designers, so if you do manage to get it close to the flag, make sure you bring out the club twirl for the spectators watching for the terrace at the clubhouse!
After the round in the morning, at times the hills were quite punishing on the knees and ankles but, rather surprisingly blind shots were kept to a minimum. The walk between the 9th and 10th hole is particularly long and uphill and a real challenge if you have had a tough front 9.
The 10th tee (when you eventually reach it) is the start of what should be a relatively straightforward hole. The 10th itself is not a particularly long hole, nor are there any particularly challenging hazards to contend with, other than the road leading in and out of the golf course. Whilst we were playing the hole no less than 10 cars passed down this road which is very much in range should you happen to hook a shot. The road runs down the entire left hand side of the hole and it is very off-putting when you are standing on the tee with cars driving almost straight at you in the distance.
There are no traditionally “short” par 3s at Surrey National with each par 3 requiring a tee shot in excess of 170 yards which can be a challenge for some shorter hitters. It is a shame because short par 3’s (generally those under 140 yards) are often some of the most fun holes to play on a course.
The 15th hole is a relatively short par 4 at 342 yards but one of the narrowest holes on the course. Between 220 and 260 yards from the tee (where most people will land their driver) the fairway narrows to no more than 10ft in width and is lined by 2 long and narrow fairway bunkers. Driver is not the tee shot required from this hole as the chances are you will end up in one of the bunkers. Take a medium iron so that you are short of the bunkers and leave yourself an easy 130 yards into the green.
Surrey National was again a really good course. It’s a good yardage, but is very open, so the length doesn’t seem over-bearing. We were, however, slightly caught out with how hilly the course was, and being our second round in the day, I was close to taking a small dent in my ego to get a trolley (us “young guns” take great pride in never being a member of the Push Cart Mafia).
HotShotGolf would definitely recommend a round at this course. Again, we managed to get on for about £20 – very good value for money. Unlike Banstead Downs, which plays a bit tighter, Surrey National is more open and therefore you can get round it, even with a handicap in the 20s – so everyone should definitely give it a go if you are in the area – particularly if you play the brand of golf called: hit it, find it, hit it again.
#Tip3: Planning makes perfect
If you want to play a few rounds over a long weekend, make a plan with particular attention to timings. We’d recommend starting your first round as early as you can manage, as you are less likely to be delayed – down in London we were even conscious of the rush-hour traffic. Starting early always has the added bonus of playing with like-minded people who want to get round in under four hours.
It never hurts to build in a bit of slack. We had planned to tee off in the morning at 8.30am at Banstead Downs, then head over to Surrey National for lunch and a 2.10pm tee off time. You want to enjoy both rounds, so don’t feel like you have to rush the final few holes of the first course, or skip lunch. With that being said, most golf clubs are flexible enough to move tee times around for you – so just give them a call if you are running behind schedule.
Also, booking your tee times in advance is another good planning tip. A couple of the courses we originally wanted to play were not able to accommodate us due to Club Championships, society days, etc. If you are trying to get a couple rounds in on a single day, you don’t have too much flexibility as to when you can tee off. So again, phone the pro shop and ask; there is nothing worse than showing up and thinking you will easily get on the course at 2pm, only to find out that a society has booked the next 2 hours’ worth of tee times.
#Tip4: Course management is a better stroke saver than hitting better shots
Sounds strange right? I’ve only been playing golf for the last 4 years, and the biggest way I have improved my game is through course management, rather than getting my swing super consistent, or clean striking every ball. As we only play once a week, we are never going to get a super consistent swing – but what we can do is limit the snowmen (8s) or higher on the scorecard. Turning 8s into 6s is just as important as getting those pars and birdies.
We discovered this on our Surrey Golf trip because of the number of different courses we were playing for the first time. At our home course in Edinburgh, we knew what club a shot was, rather than really thinking about the yardage or where a bad place for the ball to end up was. Zombie golf.
Playing each course for the first time meant we thought about good places to miss, how far we were trying to carry each shot, or a few other factors that would impact the distance of the shot (for example the wind, or if we were playing up or down hill, etc).
I would definitely recommend getting out there and playing other courses – even if it’s just in your local area – but doing it in a mini-golf trip made it super-enjoyable for us; so have a think about courses and places, and get planning.