- Neil White
Paintings, photos and memorabilia reminded us of Sunningdale’s illustrious past inside the clubhouse while those who were the very best in their sports held court on the veranda.
We ate lunch adjacent to members, cricket legend Lord Ian Botham and former snooker world champion Stephen Hendry, as a jeroboam of rosé was delivered to the neighbouring table.
As the rich and famous held court, we mulled over our thoughts about the real star of the morning – Sunningdale’s magnificent Old course.
These are 18 of the very finest holes on the planet and certainly the best inland route I have played on my top 100 quest.
A sense of excitement swirls around Sunningdale from the moment its iron gates open. A coachload of American guests were being facilitated as we gently supped complimentary coffee on the sublime terrace overlooking the practice putting green and first tee.
Sunningdale has embraced the corporate world but has lost none of the Surrey sandbelt charm.
Its pro shop was buzzing but those spending their bucks would have been well advised to spend as much time practising bunker shots a few yards away.
The fairway traps which are the hallmark of Sunningdale lurk as early as the first hole alongside clumps of its beautiful but devilish heather.
The opener may be straight but, with deep trouble on either side, it sends a clear message that strategy is essential for success.
Those who are accurate and can carry the purple calluna from the tee may score well on the Old but both are easier said than done.
Often the set-up is very intimidating - as on the second which curves to the left between bunkers.
The par-fours on the Old course are varied – the second is 470 yards from the white tees and yet the third is under 300 yards and offers a great chance of success if its eight big traps can be avoided.
After the lovely uphill par-three fourth, the sight from the elevated fifth tee is glorious. The fairway, mown in lovely crisscrosses, emerges after another long carry with bunkers down the right awaiting overhit drives.
Thereafter, the Old’s only water hazard protects the green. I was thrilled to be 20 feet past the flag in two.
The seventh is another belter with a rare blind tee shot and a fairway which falls away to the left and then ascends to the green on the right.
Every hole on this course is worthy of description but the tenth is the most memorable – with a perfect photo opportunity from its high tee looking down on a wonderfully manicured target between bunkers on either side.
Thoughtful strategy is required if a score is to be achieved before a drink and snack in the smart halfway hut.
The hits keep on coming and the 11th begins with another blind shot which needs to be punched down the left to avoid rough, bunkers and a tree on the right.
Almost all of the Old’s greens have run-offs but putting surfaces are immaculate and fair. It is simply a case of understanding the pace and sticking to it.
The 12th is a heck of a par-four, horrors awaiting to the right and several deep Colt-style diagonal sand traps to be avoided.
Brains, not brawn are required on the short par-five 14th because of the heather-lined bunkers which stretch across the target.
This is followed by a sublime run-in, beginning with a 222-yard par-three demanding a tee shot which comes in from the left, just inside traps.
On the 16th, the carry is tough enough but then there is a horseshoe of eight bunkers which will get inside the head of a golfer who fancies an over-ambitious approach.
The 17th and 18th bring the stunning clubhouse back into view and provide a classic finale.
We played at Sunningdale on a very warm day which sapped energy but, on the plus side, the sunshine gave it an extra gloss.
We won our round in an auction run by the Press Golfing Society for a charity which was founded by Charles Dickens.
I doubt even his mighty pen would have mustered adequate words to describe the masterpiece which is Sunningdale Old.