Mar 17th, 2016
You Little Beauty: Royal Ashdown Forest
Words: Iestyn George
The tee shot on the second hole at Royal Ashdown Forest has you hitting blind over a steep ridge. The only guidance offered against the water and heather is a tiny marker post in the distance.
What you don’t expect, however, is an appreciative trio of spectators stood over your ball, as I found when approaching mine. “That was a great shot, well done,” they chorus. It’s not every day that this happens, but it’s a proud boast of the unique atmosphere at Royal Ashdown, which winds its way across common land in a quiet corner of East Sussex.
You’re as likely to see dog walkers and hikers as you are diamond knitwear and flying divots; rosy-cheeked passers-by watch and smile politely, even as you wind up for another hallucinogenic, axe-wielding swing.
It’s the golfing equivalent of Cheers, filled with that special rural predilection for plain speaking and acerbic wit. A quick glance through the suggestion book reveals that this has been the way since the club was formed.
In 1929, George Wilson wrote: “The mutilation now in progress at the 12th is absolutely utterly and entirely an unnecessary and useless expense. What sort of shot in what sort of weather from what sort of player is it intended to deal with? At the same time at the same hole any sloppy epileptic could jerk his shot down to the bank to the green without let or hindrance.”
Conversations like this fill the air of the Men’s Bar, a small cove of the clubhouse near the 18th and first fairways where you can nip in for a swift shandy on your way round or stop for a post-round beverage straight from the final green.
The heathland layout is practically unchanged from the original sketched design that hangs in the dining room. This means that the course is relatively short at 6,463 yards, but it also means that Mother Nature has had a whole century to work her magic, the result being a colourful dressing of heather and gorse smattered around every fairway and green.
While aesthetically and aromatically beautiful, this can be a bitch if you find yourself ankle deep in it, often barely a yard off the fairway. The greens have experienced every form of weather imaginable and consequently glow with a smug slickness, knowing that nothing can defeat them. The only impressions time has left are a subtlety of breaks and borrows that make putting a stern challenge.