Entering the gates at Sweetwoods Park you wind your way dramatically down towards the clubhouse and gain your first impressions of this contemporary parkland design. What’s immediately clear is that the defining feature of the course, and with it the foremost challenge, are the undulations. I guess, by its very nature, every course is defined by its topography but at Sweetwoods the gradient changes are the very essence of its character.
Sloping greens, contoured fairways, and marked elevation changes are evident throughout the eighteen holes, with the result being a course that’s endlessly changing and testing your shot-making skills. If golf’s sole purpose is to entertain – and its easy to make an argument to say it is – then this is the kind of course that will leave you feeling deeply satisfied. Constantly requiring your imagination to find the best way of getting around, the course abounds with twists and turns, ups and downs. It’s just great fun to play.
Of course, there’s more to Sweetwoods than its many slopes and, in fact, the course boasts more than its share of characterful features, some of which are genuinely unique. Which other course can promise you a Doric temple, links-style railway sleeper bunkering, and a greenside monument? Even still, on completing your round it’s hard not to feel that the real show-stealer are the fabulous views over this bucolic corner of Kent and Sussex.
Complementing the modern design of the course, the club’s state-of-the-art facilities include an indoor Swing Studio that operates as both a world-class fitting centre and a simulator for whiling away a rainy day playing some of the world’s great courses. So, even when the English weather doesn’t oblige, Sweetwoods Park can!
The blind tee shot only hints at the multitude of dangers in play on the long par four 4th hole, where a drive needs to be played tight down the left hand side. Once over the brow of the hill, where the distant village of Cowden comes into view, the fairway slopes steeply downhill and to the right so you need to allow for the run. As a result, the hole plays significantly shorter than the yardage suggests, but the greatest challenge is yet to come. Separated by a mere few inches, the lake that abuts the right of the green promises a watery grave to anything pushed a fraction, while on the opposite site a bunker refuses to allow you to play safely away from the water. It’s an intimidating approach, but visually one of the prettiest on the course.
Another hole where the tee shot benefits from a little local knowledge. For the life of you, standing on the tee you’d swear the hole is a dogleg right, but the reality is to the contrary. Turning sharply left at the corner of the fairway, the drive must favour the left or even be played over the tree line to finish in the fairway. A drive down the right isn’t a disaster but will leave a significantly longer approach shot.
For your second, you’ll have a sight of the pin but not the putting surface, and with slopes encouraging your ball away from you, it’s a very tricky hole to negotiate successfully.
Holes No. 13 & 14
If there are two holes to sum up everything this course is about, the back-to-back par 5s at 13 and 14 are they. Fun, quirky, and really enjoyable to play, they represent the very best of the Sweetwoods’ experience.
Both holes require a pinpoint drive to have even the slightest opportunity of hitting the green in two, although arguably they are more fun to play in regulation.
The tee shot on the 13th is played to a fairway that cambers right as the hole itself turns in the same direction. With out-of-bounds lining the right side of the fairway, it’s a very demanding shot.
The mid-point of the fairway is bottlenecked by encroaching trees, which make it likely to mean you’re second will be a lay-up to the flattest part of the hole some 100 yards short of the green. From here it’s relatively plain sailing but you have to play your second shot well, whether it’s a high shot over the trees, a prod to the corner, or a cut around the dogleg.
The 14th hole is a dogleg in the opposite direction, with the shape of the hole creating almost an entire ‘U’ by the time you reach the green. Along the way, the challenge is to carry ditches and ponds, miss trees and bushes, and plot to perfect points of the fairway in order to give yourself a chance of making a par five.
Very consciously, Sweetwoods Park has worked hard to create an attractive golfing proposition to the great miscellany of golfers in search of their next experience. From the local member, where an always-interesting course and friendly vibe provide the foundations for an enjoyable club membership; to the day-visitor looking for a welcoming club and an enjoyable course, and the golf day or society golfer who will be impressed by the private terraces, quality catering, and experienced events team.
Personally, I found the course a lot of fun to play. There’s nothing mundane about the layout, and the contours ensure that it’s a stern challenge throughout. It also demands an imaginative golf game (more akin to a day on a traditional links) if you’re going to score well, and, for me, that is always a joy in itself.
Of course, it helps that Sweetwoods is situated in a particularly beautiful part of the country, halfway between the Kent town of Tunbridge Wells and East Grinstead in Sussex. In fact, the club straddles the county border along the A264 road that joins the two towns.
For small groups of visiting golfers there are always good value promotions on, whether in the form of inclusive buggy hire or drinks and meals. Visitor play is offered every day, while individual and corporate membership applications are currently welcomed.