Located just beyond the small village of Pulborough, the West Sussex Golf Club was the brainchild of Commander George Hilyard, a close friend of King George V, who supposedly conceived of the course while shaving and looking out across neighboring farmland. Recognizing the potential of its softly rolling heather-strewn slopes for golf, Hilyard managed to help assemble the necessary people to create a club. Remarkably his chosen site proved a geological godsend as the course is built on some of the brightest white sand in Britain yet surrounded by the harsh clays and marshes of the Sussex downs.
Set within a picturesque forest of pine and birch, the course was designed primarily by Sir Guy Campbell and Cecil Hutchinson, who were in partnership with Colonel S.V. Hotchkin when they started the project but apparently not when they finished it. There is evidence, however, that Hotchkin spent time on site and had a hand in the design, though disagreements, possibly over the now legendary consecutive par threes at 5 and 6, brought the partnership to an end with Hutchinson and Campbell completing the job and credited by the club for its design.
Blessed with an ideal base for inland golf, the design here is suitably sensitive to the surroundings with all the undulation utilized, the bunkering both visually and strategically outstanding and the shaping and construction of the course first-class. As was common practice in the 1930’s, the round begins with a friendly five that does little more than get play away and into the rich golfing ground that follows. The next hole is a bunkerless falling four and the start of a long run of glorious golf, as memorable as any stretch of holes in southern England. Standouts include the beautifully bunkered and highly strategic 3rd hole, the rumpled 4th fairway, the strong par four 7th and the short 8th with its gorgeous green site elevated beyond a small gully. Most notorious, however, are the back-to-back par threes at 5 and 6, the first a sublime short-iron into a wonderfully bunkered green and the second a fairway wood played down across a marshy scrub toward a slim target cut into the side of a hillock and sandwiched between bunkers and an out of bounds fence.
Both the terrain and the quality of golf is more varied on a back nine that includes a very strong closing set of holes and individual gems like the flat, but spectacularly bunkered, par four 13th and the long 14th, which tumbles across clever sand traps set well back of its tight target. The natural and bunkerless 16th is another cracking hole and features a drive across a crest to a diagonal shelf of fairway followed by an approach into a green saddled within a heathery knoll.
Though it may be short by modern standards, Pulborough is a real throwback to the Golden Age of golf when a day’s play meant less than three hours toil and both enjoyment and strategic endeavor were essential virtues of course design. While understated and underrated are both apt descriptions of West Sussex, make no mistake about its quality, the course is exceptional and a round on this small sandy jewel comes very highly recommended.
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