Swinley Forest

Harry Colt
Colt designed, sandy, heathland course among pine woods. Heather, rhododendrons, tranquil.
South of Ascot, Berkshire. (postcode: SL5 9LE)
George Ritchie
01344 620197
Stuart Hill
Green Keeper
John Band
Access Policy:
By prior arrangement with the secretary
Dog Policy:
Open Meetings:
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£200 - 2018


There is something about Swinley Forest similar to Brancaster, an unpretentiousness with none of the glamour of its near neighbours, Sunningdale and Wentworth.

Quoted in Nicholas Courtney’s book to celebrate the Club’s 2009 Centenary, it is said that ‘members of The Berkshire Golf Club are all gentlemen and love to play golf; all the Sunningdale members love to play golf but not all are gentlemen and all the Swinley  members are gentlemen but don’t give a fig whether they play golf or not!’. Its accuracy surely proved by the many exceptions.

swinley forest golf club

The clubhouse

Over recent years the club has been greatly improved in many small ways and you can see the thought and care that has been put into every element of the clubhouse and course, even if the greens have suffered from being predominantly annual meadow grass (Poa annua).

The Club is unashamedly exclusive and perhaps that is why Frank Pennink left it out of his Golfer’s Companion but on the FineGolf  “joy-to-be-alive” factors it is a complete delight to play and has to be in any fine golf course guide.

Swinley has always held a liberal attitude towards its female members and is a two ball course run in the manner of a benevolent dictatorship.

The fact that there are no obligatory handicaps and members choose what they play off says something of the membership’s attitude to life.

Harry Colt, the great ‘Golden Era’ golf course architect and Secretary at Sunningdale at the time, was commissioned to design Swinley. He subsequently became its Secretary, it being reported that he was ‘no easy man to serve’ but scrupulously fair and cared deeply for his staff’s welfare.

swinley forest golf club

The attractive 1st drive

He tramped the dense woodlands avoiding the wetlands at the centre of the site and cut down some 14,000 pine trees to create vistas known as his ‘landscape aspect’ across the naturally sandy based draining fairways that are lined with trees but seldom come into play. They allow a width with many choices to be made between safety and heroism across the 179 acres.

You never used to get really tight turf on the predominantly fescue fairways at Swinley, but with the Club becoming more interested in attracting visitors the fairways are now being trimmed lower. The greens are typical Colt, not a straight putt to be found but without the extreme undulations to be found on many modern target courses.

The course starts off with three shortish Par fours though the drive at the second can be unnerving and best played on the line of the left-hand Scots pine behind the green, that now has a back banking with heather mounds connecting it to the new teeing complex for the third hole.

Some greenside bunkers were added at some point and have now been taken out again at the third green, to which it may be now possible to bump-and-run in your approach, as it was in Colt’s original design. The green is still elevated and now with smooth run-offs all around. The look is dramatic and attractive, though I am not sure how it plays is yet quite right and the apron needs to be firm but time will tell.

One of the things for which Swinley was in recent years known, were its enormous banks of rhododendrons. It is at the third hole one enjoys for the first time the new policy of these being taken out across the course wherever they came into play, gobbling up your ball and slowing the pace of play.   On this hole, on the right of the fairway and to the left of the green. No doubt some will regret the passing of the purple magnificence in the spring.

swinley forest golf club

Lily pond on the 5th

Thank goodness the idea of a penal lake across the 1st and 18th has been laid to rest, while a new lily pond at the Par five fifth is a welcome addition for not only giving the many dogs that roam Swinley a cooling swim on a hot day but also a challenging choice for their second shot to the driver who has not hit their best.

The quintet of short holes have the brilliance and beauty of Colt, more than anything else known for his Par threes, all different in length and direction. The fourth with its double-tier, shelf green is particularly praised and Colt repeated its design at a number of other courses.

The sixth gives a wide vista and is a big hitters hole while the seventh, stroke index one, must be one of the most difficult small greens to hit in two to be found anywhere, with two sets of ‘penal designed’ bunkers across the fairway distorting the assumed length of the second shot on rising ground. A five is always acceptable to me here and easier achieved by keeping-up the left-hand side of the hole.

The par three eight used to have a deep fall-off from a sharp line across the front and right of the green. This has now been softened with a ledge half way up the slope. This certainly makes the hole less terrifying to those who tend to come-off their ball on the tee.

The drive at the ninth

The ninth, a tough, dogleg Par four requires a decision from the new teeing ground that is now below the elevation of the eight green, as to whether one tries to play up a ‘Hogan’s Alley’ to the left of the drive bunker or take the safer route to the right, though a long drive there can run out under the attractive ridges of a hazard leftover from some original timber workshop. The approach shot from the left, now no longer hindered by rhododendrons is considerably shorter but has its risk coming at the green from 45 degrees. Always a very fine hole now made even finer again.

I have never played to the green of the long par three tenth with any confidence and a bale-out right short of the bunker is often the percentage play, though the movement in the green makes one’s up-and-down really testing but all the more fun for that.

The wonderful seclusion at Swinley is said to be down to the majority of the course being on Crown Commission land and Lord Derby, who effectively created and ran the Club for his friends, being successful in not encouraging development on the periphery of the course.

One was never aware of any large roads nearby that were a noise blight, like they are to a number of courses around London – for example, Walton Heath with the nearby M25. Nevertheless the forestry commission has now felled most of the trees between the tenth green/eleventh tee and the Bagshot road that runs between The Berkshire and Swinley Forest can now be seen and unfortunately one is reminded that even Swinley members have now to put up with the noise encroachment of modern traffic jams.

approaching the twelfth green

The twelfth is the hardest hole with an S-shaped fairway the more difficult to hit for the angle of the tee. Behind this green is a magnificent rhododendron.

The fetching short thirteenth, has been made even more attractive with a new teeing complex for the fourteenth opening out the left hand-side.

The fourteenth green is difficult to stay on, though made easier with the removal of the drainage ditches on the right of the drive.

The fifteenth used to be an easy Par five with a long walk back to the tee which is now re-instated as the blue tee. But the hole is a better hole as a long Par 4. The front of the green slopes too much to allow pin placements to be there and it is proposed to flatten this area in the future.

The sixteenth along a ridge is a most tantalising drive rewarding those who are straight with a medium iron to a two tier green now with a hump on the left protecting the new teeing ground for the seventeenth.

the short 17th

the short 17th

The seventeenth, 170 yards to a pulpit green sorts out many matches and a 3 at the eighteenth really should not be that difficult but rarely seen to an elevated blind green in front of the imposing Edwardian style Clubhouse. The new back tee brings the stream fully into play.

Swinley is now over 6400 yards, Par 69, SSS 71 and, though still short for most numerical comparisons, it plays longer with some enormous carries, while there is a subtlety and atmosphere of true fine running-golf with a remoteness from the stresses of life that gives a refuge and a huge FineGolf “joy to be alive” factor.

Swinley Special, One Hundred Years of Harry Colt’s ‘least bad course’  by Nicholas Courtney (ISBN978-1-86077-481-2) is an entertaining read, not the standard golf club history written just for the members but a book to delight the golfer and the historian alike.

Review by Lorne Smith 2008 and updated in 2018

Reader Comments

On January 19th, 2009 Nick Chamberlin said:

I like the style and shape of your new website.

I read your Swinley highlights with interest. I do find it hard to think in terms of a three on the 18th. I am always very happy with a four!

Lorne’s reply: Many thanks for your kind words. You do yourself a disservice, a man of your tremendous length surely thinks in terms of driving the 18th!

On August 26th, 2011 Hyun Griesmeyer said:

Wow, The overall look of your web site is excellent, as well as the content!

On May 2nd, 2015 Kevin McPartlan said:

Played April 2015. OUTSTANDING! Significant investment in refreshing many holes including new tees is nearing completion. Keen to revisit in later this year with new length added to course. One of the best!

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