Saturday, 17 June 2017

Course Review - Sutton Green Golf Club

Welcome along to another post and another course review. I played at Sutton Green Golf Club in Guildford, Surrey last Saturday (June 10th) in sunny but extremely windy conditions with gusts touching 30mph at times making playing, and playing well a tricky prospect.

If you're a regular reader (and I thank you for your loyalty) you may recall I visited Sutton Green last year to have a short game lesson, using the linear technique, with Gary Smith, a top UK coach and the driving force behind this method of short game play. If you missed the original write up (or need reminding) then this is the review of that lesson (Gary Smith - Linear Lesson). I was mightily impressed with the feel and set up of the place on my fleeting visit and looking out over the course it was somewhere I had been keen to play for a while now.

One of my playing partners actually made the booking, using the TeeOffTimes website (Tee Off Times) and booking in at the professional shop on arrival was a simple and efficient process, brightened by Gary Smith sitting in there enjoying a coffee. He remembered our meeting (not sure that's necessarily a good thing after this length of time) and we had a nice chat about all things linear method. I'd arrived very early for our 1.30 tee time and it was a good job as the A3 was heavily congested in both directions but it did give me time to wander into a well presented clubhouse and enjoy a bite to eat. The menu is fairly standard golf club fare with all the usual favourites. I opted for the sausage sandwich on toasted ciabatta. It was nice although could have been lifted with some fried onions. Never the less, it filled a hole and set me up for the afternoon on the course.

When my playing partners arrived, it transpired he had got the tee time for £28 a head. Now I don't know about anyone else, but that price for a prime time, early afternoon slot in June is very competitive. All it needed now was for the course to be as good as the opening impressions.

We were a three ball and following a rather large society so were resigned to the pace of play being slow. Not a big deal as the sun was out and it was pleasantly warm despite the strong and gusty wind. We were met on the first tee by the club starter, who was very friendly in his approach and gave us an overview of the course, the expected pace of play and a few pointers for the first few holes.

The pleasant clubhouse from the 18th green
The club is still relatively young, having been founded in 1994. The course was designed by David Walker and co-designed by Dame Laura Davies, the top lady professional who has enjoyed worldwide success in her career. It's a par 71 measuring 6,327 off the whites but still provides a mean challenge of the blue tees (tee of the day) at 5,916 yards. It boasts four very long par fives, including the first and last holes, five interesting par threes ranging from over two hundred yards, to a very pretty 125 yard hole perched at the top of the course, The rest are par fours offering a variety of challenges from those being potentially in range off the tee to some that are long, real two shot (or more) holes.

The opening hole was 523 yards off the blue tee and a par 5 but played directly into the strong wind and was going to be a real three shot hole. Taken from the club website:

"The opening hole is along par five designed to allow play to flow freely. Care must be taken with the first two shots to avoid the large trees which protrude into the left had side of the fairway. Two fairway bunkers guard the right side of the fairway. A generous sized green and fairly level putting surface should ensure a satisfactory start to the round"

There is also a video flyover of the hole Sutton Green 1st hole flyover

I hit a decent drive and a well struck hybrid but in the strong wind was only level with the tree in the fairway and some 170 yards short. I hit another good hybrid, slightly left between the path and the left hand bunker, pitched on and made a two putt bogey (net par) for a safe, if unspectacular start.

Water comes into play on a number of holes and first makes an appearance on the second, with a pond short and right of the tee box. The course meanders on and while it gradually climbs uphill, it is not a hard walk. The fourth is a quirky dog leg left, at forty five degrees and the tee shot is played forward towards a large tree in the fairway that needs to be avoided and then it's a simple shot with a mid-short iron in.

After a pleasant par three, the sixth from the high point of the course is a real scenic hole sweeping downhill and from left to right and a good drive with a fade leaves a very short approach in. It plays rather short but is perhaps a lull before the exam to come. The next is a very long hole, in fact the longest on the course and even off the blue markers comes in at 540 yard. The drive is very tricky with thick trees and rough right of the hole and the left hand side of the hole is protected throughout by out of bounds. Off the tee there is a little more room than it appears when standing there looking out on the hole. It then requires another lusty blow uphill and another into the green. Again, this played into the gusty wind and I hit one of my best drives of the day, a decent five wood and still had a five iron left. The right of the hole is protected by fir trees which my approach found and I had to work hard for my bogey (net par). The next offers little respite and is a par four to a sloping fairway and an equally undulating green.

Sutton Green Golf Club scorecard
The ninth is the signature hole with water in play off the tee on the right and again to the right of the green. It is no pushover at 378 yards to another green that slopes front to back. I hit a drive and seven iron to ten feet and was happy to walk off with my par. Adjacent to the green is a halfway hut for those needing a pick me up after the opening half.

The back nine also starts with a par five that plays over five hundred yards. It has a large lake to the right of the fairway and trees down the left and from an elevated tee there isn't much landing area to aim at. With the wind blowing directly towards the water, it was perhaps no real surprise all three of us fed the fish and deposited our tee shot to a watery grave. I struggled my way along the hole to the green. This is a real elephant graveyard of a putting surface. Very undulating and in contrast to the greens on the front nine that had appeared much flatter in comparison. The hard work continues with a long par three measuring 213 yards off the tee of the day to a green protected by trees and needing a very accurate wood or long iron to thread the ball onto the green.

There is a chance to attack at the next and is in range for some. I took driver but carved my tee shot way left towards the tee box on the next leaving a totally blind shot of 119 yards over trees and thick rough. I managed to find the green and make par but definitely didn't play it the way the designers envisaged. After another long, uphill par three the fourteenth is another visually pleasing hole. Again there is water in play off the right and comes into play again by the green, cutting into the putting surface and making it essential to play to the heart of the putting surface.

The 16th is another visually spectacular hole. A mid length par three, there is water the entire left hand side of the green and behind. I have to be honest I hit a really scabby 6 iron and thinned it, with it going no more than head high but it was straight and so to the consternation of my playing partners found the putting surface and nestled ten feet from the hole. Their well being was diminished even further when I holed my putt for a nice birdie.

The view of the 16th green where danger lurks left and long
The course closes with the last of the par fives. Again there is water lurking for a tee shot wandering right and there is a bunker protecting the left hand side. From there the holes sweeps down to a green situated in front of the clubhouse patio ensuring the golfer will usually have an audience watching their final acts. I missed the green in regulation but hit a decent chip to six feet under the scrutiny of the masses of the society that had played in front of us. I missed the par putt but a six (net par) was a nice way to close the round.

All in all my two partners and I had a pleasant day out bu how would I rate it? As always with these reviews, they are strictly impartial and based solely on my own findings

Course Layout and Condition
As I said at the very beginning this is a course I'd wanted to play for a while. While it's long in places, especially the par fives, it is a reasonably easy walk with no real inclines to endure. I liked the layout and the feel of the holes. There were a couple of holes that will split opinion, especially the sharply dog legging 6th, but in general terms what you see is what you get from each tee.

The back nine definitely felt as though it played much harder than the front and the greens in particular were far more undulating and difficult to putt on. I found the pace of the greens very slow, and many putts came up 4-6 feet short. Given the time of year I thought these would have been quicker but the actual condition of the putting surface is very good (but need to be faster). Sutton Green does have a lot of society golf on it which may explain the need for them to be a little longer. There is a distinct difference in the contouring of the greens and those on the front nine are flatter than those on the back nine.

The quality of the tee boxes was reasonable. They were all relatively flat and grassy. It's a real bugbear of mine standing on a tee that has dips, hollows and slopes on it but these were all well presented. There was nothing hidden from view off the tee and so what you see in front of you is what you get. No nasty surprises.

It's a pleasant parkland course with many mature trees, some of which definitely come into play on fairways or protecting greens. In the main, the rough is a reasonable length meaning that an errant shot should be found although making clean contact isn't a given. There are a few areas where it's much thicker and harder to find the ball but that's the same on most courses. The playing conditions were hard with a very strong breeze so it definitely played harder than the card. That said, it never felt like a slog.

The pace of play was very slow and it took around 4 1/2 hours to get around. The card reckons it should be a four hour round but given the size of the society in front, and the ability (or not ) of some of them, the pace was always going to be pedestrian. Pace may have benefited from an on course marshal moving things along but I think had we not had the society to deal with we'd have been very close to the four hour mark.

Score - 7/10. I only marked it down because of the speed of the greens which I thought was an issue. They could only have been 7 on the stimp meter at most and everyone in our group struggled to get the ball to the hole. Had they been quicker this would definitely have been an 8/10

Value For Money
As mentioned this was booked via a third party website and only cost £28 for a weekend round and would be cheaper still in the week. It is possible to book online via the club website. Whether this offers a cheaper rate or not I'm not sure but either way I thought it offered very good value for money. With the conditioning (green speed not withstanding) of the course it was very well priced.

Score - 9/10. Top value

Sutton Green has a large putting green outside the clubhouse, adjacent to the first tee and has a short range facility measuring about 120 yards (from where Gary Smith does his short game tuition) and there are two warm up nets. The professional shop is an open plan facility as you enter the clubhouse. There is a separate visitor changing room and it offers a limited number of lockers for hire on the day. The bar area is well appointed with a number of lagers and real ales on tap as long as a reasonably priced food menu. The food I had was well cooked and very nice (needed some onions!!!). The seats are comfortable and with a large patio as well the golfer has a nice environment to enjoy a post match drink and discuss the proceedings. There is also a large dining room for society and function use

Score 7.5/10. It would be nice if there was a range or longer warm up area to stretch the muscles before playing but that's a minor gripe from myself and not the fault of the club as I could see that space for such a facility is severely limited. The visitor locker room was small but well appointed and I am always happy when a club offers a locker service to visitors.

This is always a very important aspect. I'm sad to say even in this day and age, so many clubs seem to want to take your money but don't make you feel welcome. I'm pleased to say this is far from the case at Sutton Green. Everybody my partners and I met were very welcoming and helpful. In particular, the starter was very good. With a large (30+) society going off in front of us, he did a magnificent job of not only making everyone feel welcome on the first tee but ensured everyone got away and moving as quickly as possible.

The welcome in the pro shop was also positive. From a personal perspective it was nice to see Gary Smith again but the professional behind the counter was helpful and co-operative. Post round, the welcome we got in the bar after was very warm and the bar staff were quick and attentive and served with a smile on their face. All in all there is a real warm feeling at Sutton Green and they clearly work hard at making a visitor experience as positive as they can.

Score - 9/10. A fantastic visitor experience and we were made to feel very welcome

OVERALL - 8/10. Perhaps a tad harsh and only marked down on the speed of the greens. When I return, and I certainly will be, if these were to be better and faster, I'd have no hesitation in raising my overall score to an impressive 9/10

Sutton Green Golf Club doesn't have any pretence and isn't trying to compete with other, older and more famous clubs in the Guildford or Surrey vicinity. It knows what it is and what it is trying to do and is a members club, offering visitors the chance to come and play that has found it's niche and is very comfortable there. The course has clearly matured in the years since opening and is a fair test for all abilities.

All in all then a very, very nice place to spend an afternoon playing. I wish the wind hadn't been such a factor but having spoken to my playing partners I would think we'll be returning again very soon and hopefully will enjoy a fine summer day on the course. If you are in the Surrey area and the Woking/Guildford area and fancy a game then you could do a lot worse than try this place out.

1 comment:

  1. I have played Sutton Green a few times as part of a society and for me this has always felt like like an 18 hole course squeezed into land for about 15 holes.
    The 90 degree dogleg par 4 and close by par 3 on the front 9 feel shoe horned in and 17/18 you constantly find balls coming at you from the other hole as you go down the fairways as parallel and too close together
    Pleasant to play and some interesting holes, and worth it for a deal, but could never believe the membership fees could be justified with such good alternatives in the area.