I find it hard to imagine that life could be any sweeter for an Englishman than to live and play his golf in Sunningdale. ¬†
The most affluent settlement I‚??ve seen since we left The Hamptons. ¬†By far. ¬†A club steeped with an atmosphere of, well, privilege. ¬†And two of the finest courses we‚??ve had the pleasure of playing this year. ¬†Sunningdale really is The Real McCoy; the most English of English clubs. ¬†
Our visit was graciously coordinated by a gentleman whom we met in the R&A Tent at The Open back in July. ¬†Marcus Ferguson Jones is a delightful gentleman, and happens to be a pretty sharp golfer in his own right. ¬†In fact he finished runner up in the Sunningdale Autumn Medal the day before our visit. ¬†When we met him up at St. Andrews, he had been up there trying to qualify as an amateur. ¬†Unfortunately Kingsbarns wasn‚??t kind (enough) to him, so he had to suffer the hardship of just watching the thing. ¬†Anyway, we met him over lunch ‚?? through a mutual friend ‚?? and before long he‚??d offered to tee up a game at his home club for us. ¬†Which happened to be Sunningdale. ¬†Lovely.
Actually Marcus teed up two games: on his counsel, we played both the New and Old. ¬†The New‚??s not that new, by the way. ¬†It was laid down by Harry Colt, who was the Secretary at Sunningdale after kicking off his career at Rye. ¬†The Old was the fine handiwork of one Willie Park Junior. ¬†I dare say there wouldn‚??t be another club in the world where the members can boast having both a Colt and a Park at their disposal. ¬†Apart from anything else, The Sunningdale Lot have 36 holes of dog walking paradise at their disposal too. ¬†We must‚??ve seen a dozen or so hounds of a dozen different flavours, out taking their masters for a stroll.
On this pristine Monday morning the ladies were playing a shotgun start invitational on the Old. ¬†Never in my life have I climbed out of the car to such a hubbub of pucker excitement. ¬†This was Their day. ¬†(Next door is the Sunningdale Ladies Golf Club; Sunningdale proper also has 77 lady members. ¬†This lot were from both clubs and beyond, I imagine). ¬†Each contestant was decked out to the nines in their Sunday (well, Monday) Best. ¬†And each spoke with a more Frightfully Frightfully brogue than the lady before her. ¬†No doubt they were all lovely human beings ‚?? every smile I shot off in the clubhouse was reciprocated ‚?? but I must admit the sense of occasion was almost unnerving.
Equally unnerving was the predicament I quickly found myself in. ¬†I‚??d arrived bursting at the seams and needing quickly to find a urinal. ¬†The pro gave me the code to the visitors‚?? locker room (upstairs, tucked away in the furthest corner from the stairwell), but it didn‚??t work. ¬†So I‚??m sprinting back down hill past paintings the size of a small house and into the pro shop, begging for the magic numbers. ¬†If y‚??er man doesn‚??t deliver second time around, I may be forced to dash into the bushes. ¬†Luckily he comes through and composure is restored. ¬†
Because there‚??s hardly another soul in the joint save for The Galvin Greene Brigade, there‚??s no hurry to tee off. ¬†I while away 15 minutes of Nirvana on the putting green ‚?? perhaps the most magnificent of the year. ¬†A brand new sleeve of Pro-v1s is popped to mark the occasion. ¬†One of our last sleeves, but there‚??s no questionning the decision; much as one may light up a Big Fat Cuban walking down the 18th of, say, Cypress or PV. ¬†Truly one of life‚??s pleasures. ¬†To one side is the grand old clubhouse; 15 yards away is the Old Oak (immortalised as the club‚??s infamous logo); at first base is #1 Old; between first and third and in the outfield are 35 holes of Golf Wonderland. ¬†The sun‚??s shining, the greens are rolling with absolute purity, and the odd putt is dropping. ¬†I could‚??ve left a happy man at this point.
Mike‚??s put together a video with shots of both courses, so I‚??ll let his iMovie wizardry do the talking on that front. ¬†Otherwise we‚??d all be here for days, wading through my lyrical wax. ¬†Suffice to say the morning round ‚?? a sharpish 3 hours playing around The New ‚?? was an enchanting experience. ¬†Between the heather, the pine, the bright morning sun, the perfect greens, the design, the atmosphere, the odd hound and, of course, the company, well...you get the picture.
Because Marcus couldn‚??t join us on the day, he organised for his father Martyn to accompany us around The Old. ¬†Martyn brought his pal Geoff along too. ¬†And Buckley, the most regal golden labrador in The Labrador Kingdom (likely that he‚??s of royal blood). ¬†Geoff‚??s a Heriots Old Boy, and spends 6 months of the year in Nu Zillin ‚?? so we had a fair bit in common from the get go. ¬†He‚??s also struggling with his putting at the moment, so we had more in common again... ¬†Our four had a pint in the members‚?? bar before play, whence we came across one Michael Lynagh who lives next door and who‚??d brought his father along for a game. ¬†The Lynagh Lads were in the group behind us, and played through at the 10th while we were ingesting possibly the most magnificent bangers and mustard ever consumed. ¬†And a gin and tonic (at Sunningdale, why not?). ¬†We spoke briefly at the time, but Goldy got a proper chance to speak with his childhood idol later on back in the bar. ¬†Tickled pink he was (Michael Goldstein, that is).
After nigh on every blow Buckley‚??s stick was hurtled off into the distance. ¬†Buckley would give chase and ‚?? with the prowess of a Golden Retriever ‚?? retrieve said stick, dropping it in front of Martyn. ¬†While one of us was over the ball, Buckley would lie down dead still, not so much as moving a lung until the shot was complete. ¬†He exhibited more discipline than a 14-year-old Chinese girl during exam week. ¬†On several tees Buckley would lead the advance party, darting forward onto the middle of the mown block; he knows when he gets ‚??a throw.‚?Ě ¬†I forget which holes they were, but obviously he doesn‚??t. ¬†
puregolf2010 took on The Old Guard and (largely thanks to Geoff‚??s jetlag ‚?? he‚??d only landed 15 hours prior on the long haul from NZ) managed to come out on top. ¬†Of course we‚??d had the advantage of warming up in the morning. ¬†And being the gracious hosts that they were, Martyn and Geoff probably let us win too. ¬†In The Press ‚?? this time Geoff and I paired up ‚?? I ruined the makings of a happy friendship by missing a 4 footer for par on the last. ¬†My excuse being distraction a la Old Oak.
The afternoon was a rather surreal experience. ¬†Bart‚??s figure emerged from the trees on 17 (he‚??d just rejoined the tour after a 36 hour hiatus up the road in London); I‚??m glad he got a short glimpse into The Sunningdale Experience, because the purity of it all is difficult to capture. ¬†In the members‚?? bar we were summoned to have a ginger beer with a trio of gentlemen parked at the window seat. ¬†On the left was the most French Frenchman in Le Monde: beige blazer, open neck white shirt with collar turned up to the ceiling, brightly coloured handkerchief tucked with casual indifference into the breast pocket, round tortoise shell glasses and a mop of ruffled brown hair. ¬†Jacques, we will call him for now (I‚??ve lost his actual name). ¬†In the centre sat Nicholas Royds, who may well have seen Queen Victoria on the throne. ¬†(His surname sticks in the mind because his pals took us through some gag about how there‚??s haemerrhoids, steroids, and myriad other -roids, but only one Nicholas Royds). ¬†In his crisp green Pine Valley blazer Nicholas looked quite the picture. ¬†I suspect he‚??d be the sort of character that might frustrate one or two others, only in that he‚??s a member of both Sunningdale and PV but no longer plays golf! ¬†To the right was John, who belonged to the ‚??very old‚?Ě Oxford & Cambridge Golf Society. ¬†An idiosyncratic threesome.
Happily we had the opportunity to thank the Secretary for his hospitality before leaving (he too was in the bar, entertaining a couple of guests). ¬†Nice guy. ¬†Then we took advantage of the best showers in Golf England (perhaps equal top with Goodwood) before leaving with heavy hearts. ¬†Sunningdale really is Another World, a world I could happily return to time and time again.
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