Swinley Forest - Berkshire - England

Swinley Forest Golf Club,
Coronation Road,
Ascot,
Berkshire,
SL5 9LE,
England


  • +44 (0)1344 620197

  • 2 miles S of Ascot

  • Contact in advance

  • George Ritchie

  • Harry Colt

  • Stuart Hill

Swinley Forest is a charming golf course set on the famous Surrey/Berkshire sand belt. A few decades ago it was a club frozen in time, exclusive, unusual and totally eccentric. One commentator went as far as to say: “The inescapable impression is that the place fell asleep many years ago and slumbered on for decades, the Rip Van Winkle of golf clubs.”

In fact, you would be hard pressed to describe it as a conventional golf club; there was no captain and despite being in existence for nearly 100 years, little history, except in its members’ heads. However, in the 1990s, scorecards were printed, holes allocated par figures, and competitions introduced for Swinley’s distinguished members.

Harry Colt designed the layout and the course opened for play in 1909 – he modestly described Swinley Forest as his “least bad course”. One of the many delights of Swinley is the ambience, which is hard to define but ubiquitous. It’s also totally unpretentious, having none of the new money glamour of its near neighbours, but more style than all the other Surrey clubs combined.

If you were lucky enough to play here around the turn of the new millennium, you would have often had the entire course to yourself. It’s possible you’d have spotted Major So-and-so and his dog, or Lord Such-and-such enjoying a Pimm’s in the clubhouse. It was likely that you’d be able to count other golfers playing the course on one hand. Today things are different. The club has opened its doors to societies and green fee visitors and there’s a tangible optimistic buzz around the place.

Swinley Forest came into being thanks to Edward George Villiers Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby, and one of Sunningdale’s founder members. Lord Stanley became fed up with Sunningdale’s policies and a number of theories as to the real reason(s) exist, which are all documented in Nicholas Courtney’s Swinley Special – One Hundred Years of Harry Colt’s ‘Least Bad Course’.

“Another theory why Lord Derby was disenchanted with Sunningdale was their attitude to women. Lady Stanley became a keen golfer,” wrote Courtney, “yet under the original rule 4 she could not even set foot in Sunningdale, as women ‘be not allowed to play over the links’.”

Lord Stanley mentioned his gripes to King Edward VII, who suggested Lord Stanley build his own course at Swinley Forest, part of the Windsor Great Park. The King provided the land (on a peppercorn rent) and Lord Stanley built the clubhouse and commissioned Harry Colt – who was then the Secretary at Sunningdale – to design the course, and the rest, as they say, is history.

We will make no bones about it, we’re very fond of Swinley and it’s undeniably an attractive course. The short, one-shot holes are simply outstanding and varied in terms of length and design. The site/position of the greensites sets Swinley apart from many of its contemporaries. Although the yardage was only a little over 6,000 yards a few years ago, the par of 68 made the going challenging.

Today’s course is longer and plans are afoot to add more tees to extend the yardage to 6,400 yards, which may still not sound long by today’s standards, but with a par of 69 it will test and delight not only the scratch golfer but also the high handicapper.

The summer swathes of purple heather and firm fairways that wind their way through mature pines epitomise heathland golf along the London sandbelt. Add in the crafty greens, with false-fronts and cunning run-offs along with old world allure and you have the unique Swinley cocktail, which is very pleasurable indeed.

So, what are you waiting for? You don’t need to send a letter in the post to the secretary by way of introduction these days, simply pick up the phone, or use that newfangled email technique: [email protected]
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Reviews for Swinley Forest

Av. Reviewers Score:

Played Swinley for the 5th time in Sep 2016 and this is best condition ive seen it. Extra tees have helped lengthen the layout and the greens were very true. They were very slow but i assume the greenkeeper is letting them grow in ... once cut they will be excellent no doubt. I love the layout in particular the 7th which looks short but the second shot takes some nerve to get it all the way. The back nine is fantastic with a great run of holes which play tough when defending a score.

September 14, 2016


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Time flies and a decade has passed since I was last at Swinley Forest, so last month I joined Jim McCann for a morning forest ramble.

Bad comments posted over the past few years surrounding conditioning problems caused me great concern, so last year I called the new Secretary to get his perspective. He told me that there had indeed been conditioning issues, caused by neglect and lack of investment, but the situation was in hand and a multi-year plan was in place to return this Colt masterpiece to its former glory.

Swinley Forest Golf Club - 18th green and 1st hole

The morning sun was shining on the clubhouse terrace as we enjoyed a pre-round coffee last month. Things looked different as I gazed up and down the first hole and last hole, but I couldn’t put my finger on what had changed.

I would never have described Swinley as a big course, but it is now expansive, wider, firmer and faster. Gone are most of the evergreen rhodies and straggly birch trees. The majestic pines now stand proud affording open views across the course. This clearance work has optically created a sense of greater scale. Swinley no longer feels cramped or hemmed.

There’s a little way to go before the club achieves all its objectives, but Swinley remains my favourite Southern England heathland course. If I lived near Ascot, I’d beg to become a member. Keith Baxter

August 18, 2016


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STUNNING. Proves golf has gone mad thinking that the only way courses can be designed/built theses days is if they are stupidly long. Course designers need to look back at classics such as this; under 6000 yds off the whites but with classic Colt angles off the tee and strategically placed bunkers for short and long hitters you will do well to play to your handicap around here. Of course the course is beautiful, quintessentially English and is an example of golf from generations gone by. I implore every golfer to who is passionate about their hobby to try and play Swinley once; I know it is not easy to obtain a tee time and it is not cheap but it is only money, you cannot take it with you and you are a long time dead. At least when you are not able to play golf anymore you'll have some great memories.

August 17, 2016


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Swinley Forest had been on my radar for a very long time. The way it was once described to me on a flight into Heathrow a few years back by somebody who used to caddie for Douglas Badder, a former distinguished member of the club, had me anticipating a rather crusty old club with a tired old course.

Recent reviews that I’ve read on this website and elsewhere indicated that things had changed both on and off the course in recent years – certainly since the current secretary was appointed – and I’m delighted to report this new outlook was very much in evidence when I played here a few days ago.

Swinley Forest Golf Course - Photo by reviewer

The rolling topography is sublime, with holes beautifully routed to allow thrilling downhill tee shots from a good number of tee positions. Many of the greens are set on ridge tops or benched into hillsides, forcing golfers to play an exacting approach shot to a heavily contoured putting surface, many of which are further protected by heather fringed bunkers and mounding.

The five par threes are all brilliant but the first of these, the 171-yard 4th, is the best of that handful in my view – just how difficult can it be to make an uphill short hole appear so attractive? The left doglegged 9th is the pick of the par fours on the front nine, plunging down off the tee then rising up to a green that falls away into a gully on the left hand side.

Swinley Forest Golf Course - Photo by reviewer

The par fours at the 12th and 15th were my favourites on the back nine and critics of the greens on the Castle course at St Andrews really want to check out the putting surface on these holes to see what truly outlandish outlines look like! The sumptuous 18th ends the round in fine style, where a newly planted area of heather to the right of the home green further separates the putting surface from the 1st tee.

This little ground improvement is just one of a myriad of course upgrades that have taken place in recent months. For instance, huge swathes of invasive rhododendrons have been eliminated from the fairway fringes, new tees have been added on several holes and a new practice area has been built close to the clubhouse. General course conditioning has also been advanced, though there’s still some way to go before things are exactly as the club would want them to be.

Double checking the Top 100 re-rankings that took place at the start of this year, Swinley Forest made really significant moves within every chart: up 4 to number 6 in England, up 7 to number 22 in Great Britain & Ireland and up 16 to number 71 in the World. From what I saw the other day, those positive move were well merited for a course (and a club) that is firmly embracing the golfing challenges of the new millennium.

Jim McCann

July 23, 2016


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I have been very critical of the condition of this truly great course over the last two years. Not any more. I have never seen a golf course improve so much in a year. The greens have gone from slow wooly and far too soft to firm and fast for the ime of year. This has brought back the slopes on these very interesting greens, and some of the subtle runoffs on the corners of them as the course's defence. There have been new tees built, the fairways have finally been mown and worked upon, and, glory be, the inadequate practice ground has been rebuilt and looks top notch, complete with an all weather green. All power to the secretary, to whom I talked, for saying that it is still about a year from where they want it to be, but if this progress continues, welcome back to one the very best inland courses in the UK. Superb.

April 29, 2016


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This course is situated in a wonderful location and is brilliantly routed through stately Pine Forests and Heath Land. The elegance of the topography is picture postcard in every respect. We played 36 holes here in July and the place felt timeless. Could the course be bettered by extending a few of the holes? Or tightening the approaches? I think so. Some of the fairways are very forgiving in their width but overall I think this is a great day out for the double digit handicapper. There is very little here sadly to really stretch a Cat 1 Golfer for any duration. Just enjoy the lovely walk, The understated hospitality the welcoming members and the sumptuous aesthetic of quintessential Olde English Golf. I should also say that the condition of the course was excellent. JCB Lay
October 08, 2014


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Jonathan Furness
October 17, 2014
I endorse everything said in this review. A beautiful course and fair for middle handicappers. A privilege to play here and a marvellous lunch to boot!
First of all, how we ended up logistically playing Rye Golf Club in the morning and Swinley Forest in the afternoon is a question I will not soon have an answer for. Somehow we managed to arrive only 45 minutes late and as I’m guessing is the case most of the time. Swinley was completely empty on this Friday evening. Leaving us the course entirely to ourselves. Wonderful weather, rhododendrons in full bloom and simply a magical experience. I would only have one gripe about Swinley and that would be conditioning, unless we caught it at a bad time. The landscape and the routing make it my favorite of all the London heathland courses but the conditioning leaves much to be desired and was by far the worst of any course on our trip. That being said, Swinley Forest does not disappoint and delivers one beautifully framed hole after another. My favorite holes were the par 3 4th and 10th, both are certainly world class. The 4th one of the best one shot holes I’ve ran into and the 10th while also a great hole was certainly one of the most spectacular with the rhododendrons in full bloom. So many of the par 4’s were excellent but the 12th and 15th both standout as lovely holes requiring exacting shots.

It is noteworthy that I simply loved this course and will dream about returning to play it after a long dry period when it’s playing really fast and firm and the greens have been mowed in the last week (at least).
September 24, 2014


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pip
December 08, 2015
Rye in the morning, Swinley in the afternoon, did you arrive on unicorns
A time warp. You get lulled into a false sense of security because it's short but trust me, it plays longer than the card. Unfortunately, the greens had just been sanded but the course was otherwise in great shape. Terrific par 3s, and many wonderful par 4s. Charming, totally charming. Play it if you can get on!
July 02, 2014


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James Bloomer
August 25, 2014
I agree with all of the above review. Perhaps my favourite set of par 3s anywhere, and many other wonderful holes BUT (and I have been lucky enough to play here twice this year, so this was not a one-off) please please cut the greens. They are not in bad condition, there is no visible sign of last years problems, they are just soooo slow. While you have the mower out, might want to cut the fairways too. Quite impossible to spin the ball at all from them as they are. Sadly, as it is, it is like having a treasured Old Master, and not cleaning it often enough.
Swinley Forest did not disappoint. Despite having to play the entire round in a fairly heavy rain the jaw dropping beauty of the course kept ones spirits up.The rhododendrems were in bloom and were stunning against the grey sky.The collection of par threes are amazing at Swinley with my favourites being the 4th and 17th. As the rain never let up during round the greens became water logged so l am not able to pass comment but they look to be in good condition. Hope to have the opportunity to return again and play in sunny conditions.
May 28, 2014


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Having played very recently, I can confirm that the greens are absolutely fine now. Swinley is a real privilege to play, and as well as being a tough test with many outstanding holes, it is extraordinarily pretty. The settings and framings of greens are an object lesson for modern course architects. If you get a chance, go.
October 30, 2013


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