Contributed by Sean Arble
Camberley Heath Golf Club (Camberley, Surrey, England)
Green Fees: 60 Pounds ($87 at May ’10 spot rate)
Architect: HS Colt
Designed in 1913, fairly early in Colt’s career, Camberley Heath GC is perhaps the most unbridled of all Colt’s English courses. Colt routed the course to take advantage of the plentiful and often steep hills to great effect in creating all manner of holes; valley, double valley, up n’ overs, flat, side hill, downhill and uphill. The varied green complexes are also a testament to the designer’s creativity. To off-set the many high, flat areas used for greens sites, Colt utilized mounding as a way to create individuality among the holes. Over the years there have been many changes to the course, some of which were not terribly sympathetic with the original design. There are many newly created bunkers and the odd tree which raise questions, but the most obvious aberration is the Koi pond on the 16th. However, the quality of Camberley Heath wonderfully shines brighter than the odd feature or two which rankle.
Holes to Note
The elevated tee shot of #1 affords a promising start. The tee used to stand in what is now the parking lot, some 40 yards to the rear and left of the current tee. The approach is slightly elevated and well guarded by sand.
True to Colt’s standards, all the short holes are a delight. The 2nd is particularly good because the green has two tiers and a ridge bisecting the green into a left and right half as well.
It is often said that good things come in threes and this is most certainly the case for the opening trio of holes at Camberley. The third is three-shotter and is often cited as the favourite of many.
We now cross under the Chobham Road for what are the next ten holes. The walk pays off for the 4th is a gem of a hole which is drivable par 4, but not without its risks.
The 6th is another drivable two-shot hole.
In appearance only #8 is a Redan-like par 3 benched into the side of a hill. The hole requires a long carry unless one is adept at hitting the flat long iron utilized so often by enthusiasts of links golf.
The outward nine finishes with a shortish par 5 cutting up the head of a little valley.
Much like a traditional links, the golfer is now at the furthest point away from the clubhouse. The property, which looks like an arched ballerina’s foot, is not suitable for two loops of nine. However, Colt creatively designed a routing whereby one can play a perfectly flowing nine holes by jumping to the adjacent tee 13th after playing #3. Additionally, there are a few other opportunities to easily cut short a full round if so desired.
The remarkable 10th is a double valley hole over heather and canting severely to the right.
The 11th is a somewhat long par 3 with a flat landing area short of the green. Often times for the British architects of Colt’s era this sort of characteristic signals a front to back green.
After playing the rather modest 12th we cross once again under the Chobham Road to play the final three-shotter. As on the tenth, heather cuts the fairway in two and thus thwarts the flat belly from opening his shoulders.
#14 takes us back to the house. There are a handful of sloping front to back greens at Camberley, but this short hole’s green is the most severe of this type and thus explains the placement of the forward bunker.
The home hole is a lulu. It reminds the author of a shortened version of St Enodoc’s 10th. Is the play right or down the skinny strip of fairway to the left? In the summer this isn’t a difficult decision for most, but one can imagine the golfer leaning into a cold winter puff and not coming up with the correct choice, if there is one.
When visiting Camberley Heath, be sure to take a look at the trophy case behind the pro shop. There is a touching display of Molly Gourlay memorabilia. Several medals, paper clippings, posters etc. are the mainstay of the collection. Sadly, no mention is made of Mrs. Gourlay’s architectural contributions at Ballybunion or County Louth, but one can’t help but be impressed by her career as a golfer.
To some degree, the flotsam and jetsam of various owners and time have tarnished the design, but Camberley Heath remains a striking example of Colt’s abilities. Hopefully the new owners will relish their role as guardians and take the cardinal steps to preserve and enhance what is surely one of the most unsung courses in the heathlands of Surrey and Berkshire.
RATING FOR CAMBERLEY HEATH GC
Walkability – 3 / 4: The course is designed with walkers in mind, but it is somewhat hilly.
Architecture and Aesthetics – 3 / 4: Camberley Heath has been compromised by design changes over the years, but remains a delight to play.
Strategy and Playability – 2 / 2: Colt rarely puts a foot wrong. His routing solutions always create a bond of intimacy between the golfer and designer.
Overall – 8 / 10
Review by Sean Arble (May, 2010)
All Photos by Sean Arble