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|At Knole Park Golf Club, even the clubhouse will make you feel like you're golfing during England's glorious past. (Courtesy Knole Park)|
SEVENOAKS, Kent — Located in one of the very few remaining deer parks in England, dating back 500 years and the only one in Kent, Knole Park Golf Course sits pretty within 1,000 acres of outstanding parkland.
With an intriguing Renaissance mansion as a backdrop, encroaching bracken that grows to a wicked height in summer, between 800 and 1,000 four-legged mowers, and far-reaching views over the North Downs of Kent, a round of golf here offers an enjoyable blend of challenging holes, history and nature. In the 16th century Henry VIII, who enjoyed hunting in Kent, liked Knole so much that in 1538 he forced the Archbishop of Canterbury to hand over the house to him.
Although the mansion (owned by the Sackville family since the 17th century) was handed over to the National Trust in 1946, the family did retain possession of the park. Even to this day, elements of its medieval landscape have survived in the form of ancient grass- and moss-covered ant and mole hills in the rough, and hawthorn, oak, yew, hornbeam, silver birth, bird maple and ash trees scattered around the parkland course.
But it was a hazel stick that was used to make Ryder Cup player Sam King (1937, 1947 and 1949) his first golf club. It's proudly displayed with some fascinating old golfing photographs in the clubhouse at Knole Park Golf Club where he was the professional for 31 years.
Designed by J. Abercromby in consultation with James Braid, utilizing the natural contours of this great estate, this traditional golf course has been enjoyed since 1924 where, true to the trademark of an Abercromby course.
The 18 holes start with a short par 3 first hole that looks easy, but don be fooled. They don't have many bunkers on the course — about 52 of them said Peter Mitchell, secretary of the club and a 6-handicapper.
The course has its own built-in hazards, especially once the bracken gets up to horrendous heights in the summer. Then, all of a sudden, the course takes on an entirely different look. With fast-running fairways the ball can easily run off into the bracken and you'll be lucky to find the ball at all.
Knole Park is an out-and-back walking course. No golf carts are allowed as the golf club is governed by the constraints put on them by the Sackville Estate; in any event the slopes are not suitable and would undoubtedly cause problems for buggies.
The course isn't the longest in the world at 6,246 yards from the back tees (5,952 off the yellows), so it's all about positional play. It rarely plays the same depending on the vagaries of the ground conditions and wind direction; it doesn't take much difference in wind direction or strength to make some holes play completely differently, especially climbing up the sixth and seventh into a prevailing wind.
Work has started on building some championship tees in preparation for the English Seniors Championship, which the club will be hosting in 2008. Although the course won't be extended by a vast amount, some tee shots will have new angles, which will add a different dimension to the course, meaning more brain than brawn will be required.
There's not a lot of water on the course — just two ponds down the left of the short eighth hole. One is located between the ninth and 11th, and one just to the right of the 13th.
The course drains well even in the winter as it's fortunate enough to be built on a sandy, which runs across the normally clay-based county, and there are no temporary winter tees or winter greens. The par-4 sixth (399 yards) is a good challenging hole with a tricky sloping green and a bunker strategically placed right in the middle of the fairway so if there is a prevailing wind that a problem.
Another tricky but large green is on the par-3 12th, tiered and running from left to right. Putting can be a golfer nightmare if the pin is on the right.
Although the four-legged mowers on the course, also known as Fallow and Sikka deer, can add character to the course, they occasionally cause some green-keeping headaches by either nibbling the edge of greens during the winter when there's a shortage of new grass. They also can create mayhem during the rutting season, should they choose a putting green on which to perform their act. But, as Peter Mitchell said, that's how it is here.
To be honest, no one would have it any other way. It's in a wonderful setting definitely nature at its best. Green fees are 36 pounds for 18 holes or 46 pounds for the day.
June 27, 2006
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
Referred to by its hosts as a "hidden gem," the greens alone at Sterling Hills Golf Club in Camarillo, Calif. make this a stone worth turning over. Located an hour northwest of L.A., it's a pleasing, quiet and generally engaging round that will appease players of all levels.
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