Designer: Harry Colt
In a part of the world where tradition is king, Swinley Forest defies convention. While courses across the globe have raced to join the 7,000 yard club, Swinley proudly clocks-in at just over 6300 along with an atypical sub-70 par. In fact, an actual measurement for the course is a relatively new phenomenon, and the same is true for the assignment of par for each hole and printed scorecards. The club having decided early on that such frivolous details were rather unnecessary.
It is that brand of offbeat flavor which has allowed Swinley to remain first and foremost a members club, free of any care or concern for the trappings of the modern game or its position on any Top 100 list. This despite being a mainstay on any such list that’s worth its salt. On even the busiest of days, there’s likely to be no more than a handful of groups roaming the links, with the four-legged friends of the membership possibly outnumbering the players.
The story of Swinley Forest begins in equally unconventional fashion. In 1909, Lord Derby found himself tardy for a meeting with His Majesty, King Edward VII, due to a rash of slow play at Sunningdale. The King responded by offering Lord Derby a prudent suggestion: Build a new course on a piece of the Crown Estate in the nearby Berkshire Heathland. Soon Harry Colt, then the Club Secretary at nearby Sunningdale, was commissioned to carve a course through the dense thicket of pines and heather. The result being what Colt would later describe as the “least bad” course of his career. High praise from a man who was seldom, if ever, guilty of puffery.
When Colt commenced his work at Swinley, he started by first identifying the site of the five par-3s, then completing the puzzle of the rest of the course around them. The London heathland is home to a wealth of incredible short holes, but none can hold a candle to the collection found at Swinley Forest. In addition, the challenging par-4s will pose a formidable test, especially if an erratic tee ball leads to frequent visits to the gnarly heather. But it’s the terrific green complexes which may pose the greatest threat to the scorecard, thanks to a variety of false fronts, severe run-offs, and tricky putting surfaces.
Of all the unforgettable features of Swinley Forest, what nearly every visitor remembers most is the abundance of solitude. With the hustle and bustle of greater London looming in the distance, the forest of pines completely secludes the golfer from the outside world, providing an unmatched setting to enjoy the game. When paired with Colt’s “least bad” masterpiece, and the one of a kind atmosphere of the club, it’s no wonder why Swinley Forest is beloved by nearly all of those privileged to pass through its unconventional gates.