Crowborough lies 35 miles south of London in the High Weald of East Sussex. There are essentially three zones to the land squeezed between the North and South Downs which is called the Weald. For the purposes of golf it is the sandy soil of the High Weald which affords the best opportunities to build a memorable course. Indeed, not far to the northwest is the famed Royal Ashdown Forest GC which enjoys much the same soil and hilly terrain. Darwin described the terrain for both courses as “...an undulating stretch of heathery country broken here and there by gullies and ravines...” That description remains apt, but I suspect far more trees litter the property today than in Darwin’s time! Many trees and bracken will need to be removed to encourage heather restoration.
Crowborough Beacon opened for play in 1895 as a nine hole course. It is believed Dr A MacKenzie completed major improvement works to the course sometime in the early to mid 1920s. As many as eight holes were altered and I wonder if the current 3rd
holes were included. The club believes not much has been altered in the past 90 years, but it is clear some bunkers have been removed. The course is routed over Crowborough Common which is owned and managed by the club. There is no right to roam freely over the common, but there are almost as many paths as fairways!
There is quite a discrepancy between the nines with the front 9 being far away the better half and we get a taste of this quality on the 2nd. Playing downhill and turning nearly 90 degrees right then over a gulley, this tricky hole must take its toll quite often.
The short 3rd.
The 4th looks as if it is meant to play from near the 2nd tee. This angle is quite awkward as the far side of the fairway is very reachable and so is the green.
Things start to go pear shaped on the awful 5th. Looking back at the tee playing over low ground.
That said, the short 6th may be the best hole on the course....if the right bunker was re-instated.
The par five 7th is awkward in that the landing zones for the tee and second shots aren't fully visible. The terrain pushes left, yet the hole moves slightly right. When the hole was finished I thought it was very good...I didn't think so when playing the hole! More evidence of bunker removal.
The course hibernates for several holes until we reach the 12th. There is nasty pit blocking most of the fairway around 230 yards from the tee...a feature which is often used at Ashdown Forest, but in front of greens. I spose good hitters will simply carry the trouble, many will have to judge the lay-up.
A par 3 follows. The 14th isn't special except for the heather beaking the fairway in two and the run-way green.
A strong left to right cant is featured on 15. I can only imagine how difficult that drive would be in keen conditions. Playing over Slaughteham Ghyll, a curiously named stream, the 16th is a hole which modern equipment has spoiled. These days its a bit of a dull down n' upper. Playing uphill, the 17th is a decent par 3 which in no way prepares us for the monster home hole. Uphill and 436 yards, this hole isn't so much good as a good walk spoiled.
It doesn't happen very often, but I am afraid Crowborough Beacon wasn't in the least to my liking. My over-riding impression is that I walked up and down hills for 4 hours with scant reward for my efforts. Most of the holes are not even close to achieving distinction. Crowborough Beacon, a common course on common land.