- Neil White
My eight-iron approach drifted away as I conjured wistful thoughts of Henry VIII, accompanied by trumpeters and outriders, emerging from the gates of Knole House to hunt the deer in the estate’s grounds.
The reverie was broken by the sight of my ball plunging into the sand at the side of the seventh hole – a short par-five which runs parallel to the imposing National Trust property where the king once lodged and entertained ladies such as Anne Boleyn.
Proximity to a former royal residence is far from the only stand-out feature of this intoxicating Kent parkland course.
It was also the backdrop for the videos of the Beatles’ great songs, Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane, and is believed to be the scene of witchcraft!
My host, a club member, even suggested the magic had been focused on a specific tree – the one which I hit on the 8th. Eerily, my ball was deflected into a most favourable position in front of the green.
Knole Park is golf mixed with history and environmental quirks, such as the hundreds of potentially ankle-breaking mounds made by the intrepid Yellow Meadow Ant.
This site is of such interest that the club is compelled to work with the National Trust and the Knole Estate on any developments.
And some people think it is only well known for the 600 deer which meander across the entire course.
The quality of the track and the animated tales from my knowledgeable host made it one of the most enjoyable rounds of my top100 quest so far.
Every hole came with a story, diverting my attention from my recent bad run of form so effectively that my game improved beyond recognition.
I hasten to add that that was after the toughest opening stretch which I have experienced so far.
After a particularly warm welcome in the splendid clubhouse and pro’s shop and cobweb-blowing on the impressive practice facility, we took on the daunting opening par-three, the first of six at Knole Park.
It would be foolish to think this means that the course is a pushover. Indeed, the first sets the marker – so tough it is stroke index five.
Before we could take it on, we had to clap the gathered deer away from the tee. They seem to enjoy posing for photos but I am told the stags’ temper can rise when it gets close to rutting season.
Apparently, they don’t usually attack golfers but I was happy to see them trundle off before firing at a green defended by bunkers at the front and sides and bracken to the rear. It was a struggle but I was more than satisfied with a four.
For me, the third was the course’s most memorable, with echoes of the superb second at Hindhead, even though I made a mess of it.
The tee shot is blind over the brow of a hill and the approach goes back up to a green which is tucked high on the right. Correct club selection is essential. I failed to take full consideration of the gradient or breeze.
The fourth is another intriguing hole with a narrow landing area from an elevated tee before a sharp dog-leg to the left.
Knole Park’s slopes and blind shots reminded me of coastal courses but here they complement deep bracken and ferns – the hallmarks of parkland.
There are also the remarkable ‘knoles (a real word, according to my host) ’ – hundreds of anthills giving the rough a lunar feel. Minding one’s steps is essential to avoid injury.
The public is very present at Knole Park, particularly on a Sunday which was when we played. It was astounding to see so many people who seemed to have no regard for the safety of themselves or their small children as they wandered from the designated paths.
My assumption that they were not aware of their surroundings was confirmed when one child picked up my ball and looked as if he was going to walk off with it before I intervened.
Anyway, after this digression, the hits kept coming with a wonderful variety of holes.
My back nine favourites included the long par-four dog-leg 14th with a steep drop to a green protected by out-of-bounds on the right and knoles on the left.
This is followed by a par-five with the understandably named heart-attack hill. By then, I had learned that my conventional club judgment needed strong revision, so I slammed a seven-iron to create a birdie opportunity.
The 18th is a strong home hole with a blind opener followed by a downward approach around the deer (you are not allowed to hit directly at them).
The condition of Knole Park was admirable. The greens have plenty of borrows or, in the case of the 200-yard 12th, a giant hump across it.
The fairways were also impressive but there are tranches of light rough between the tighter cuts which add to the interest and make more fodder for the wildlife.
Most of all, it is fun. I love the quirkiness, the tales of the past and the stunning scenery.