Golf in Surrey - courses, tips and history
PUBLISHED: 08:38 26 May 2011 | UPDATED: 14:42 21 May 2014
Well-known for its fantastic fairways, Surrey is the perfect place to take up the ever-popular game of golf. So, join MATTHEW WILLIAMS as he speaks to the people in the know and picks up some top tips from the county's pros
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine August 2008
Golf may have started with a few lads in Scotland knocking stones around the sand dunes, but these days it is played by people of all ages in nearly every country, with an estimated 1.7 million regular golfers in Great Britain.
Fortunately, for us here in Surrey, we are blessed with one of the highest concentrations of golf clubs in the country and the sheer range is astonishing. At one extreme, you have Queenwood Golf Club in Ottershaw - a jealously guarded secret that is reported to have some of the highest members' fees and a membership reputed to include the likes of Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta Jones and Hugh Grant - and at the other, I can go and dig holes at my local for about £20.
So, who better to give an insight into golf in Surrey than former Crystal Palace Football Club chairman and keen golfer Ron Noades, whose Altonwood Group owns four courses in the county and one just on the borders.
"It's a very competitive market these days," says Ron. "There have been a lot of new courses set up in the county over the years and part of this is because there is a sand belt running right through the county, which is almost the perfect terrain for golf.
A golfing empire
"Our most recent addition was The Addington. I had admired the club for years and at one stage it was one of the best in Britain, but it had become a little neglected. We had to put a lot of work in, even reintroducing the heather on some of the holes, and I feel that we have now got it to the point that it might even be better than John Frederick Abercromby's original, designed in 1912. He was one of the finest architects in golf history, but now we've got trees that are over 100 years old as well!"
The centre of the Altonwood Group empire is Godstone Golf Club - a nine-hole course at Streete Court, which opened in April 2005.
"The concept of Altonwood is that our other four golf courses all circle what will be a hotel and academy at Godstone," says Ron. "This means that people can go and play a different course each day and if you become a member of one course you can then play them all easily.
"For starters, Godstone is a lovely full size nine-hole course that anyone can play - there is no need for a handicap and so parents can pop along with their kids for a round. As people improve, they can then move on to Woldingham, near Caterham; the Surrey National in Chaldon, near Caterham; Westerham, just over the border, in Kent; and finally The Addington in Croydon. The idea is definitely catching on and this year we had our highest renewals ever."
So what does he make of the wider world of Surrey golf?
"My favourite course is New Zealand Golf Club in Woking," says Ron.
"That was one of those that you had to live 12 miles from to become a member, but it's a lovely course. There are some great places over that way, with the three 'W's: Worplesdon, Woking and West Hill. Over this side of the county, though, I think that The Addington really stands out.
It is a beautiful course and it has that prestige. I really like what Tom Hilliard does with Silvermere and Kingswood, too; he runs his places really well."
Steeped in tradition
The correct etiquette has always been at the very centre of golfing values, both in the clubhouse and on the course. This always made the game quite closed: you had to know the right people, practise in the right profession or own the correct property and so on. These days, even though there are still clubs where it is almost impossible to become a member, the game is accessible to a far more varied crowd.
"Golf has definitely become a far more open game these days," Ron continues. "Historically, it was always very elitist, and yes there are still very strict members only clubs, but it is also far easier to pay and play.
Years ago, I remember a story about a man trying to become a member of a club. He got turned down because he only lived in a semi-detached house and that wasn't deemed as suitable for one of the club's members!
"We have definitely seen a lot more people taking up the game in recent years, even though the number of members at clubs has tended to drop - mainly because people don't tend to have the time to make a membership economical and would rather just pay and play when they can."
So, we've come a long way from sticks and stones and Scottish beaches, and it seems as if every man, woman, child and their dog is taking up the game. So, why not dust off your clubs, if you haven't played in a while, or speak to your local club about taking your interest in the game further.
See you on the fairways.
The bluffer's guide to golf
To project a small hard pimpled ball around the countryside using long metal sticks with the aim of getting said ball in an inconveniently placed hole...
Golfing etiquette has changed wildly over the years and while there are still a few clubs where long socks must accompany short trousers, the usual dress code tends to be smart casual.
Long, rubber handled, metal sticks (some of which are called woods...) with oddly shaped protuberances on the ends. These vary in length and are capable of pitching the ball various distances and heights.
Often set among the most idyllic rolling landscape in the area, Winston Churchill once described the game as 'the best way to spoil a good walk'.
To play on some courses you almost have to be Bill Gates, or perhaps a mere oil baron, for others you'll just have to buy one fewer bottle of red a week (price is dependent on your tastes). Shop around and find the best course for your game and budget.
View from the ladies tee
Proving that golf is certainly not just a game for men to escape the housework, the Surrey Ladies County Golf Association has 9,000 members across the county. We spoke to vice-captain SHEILA STIRLING about why golf is being taken up by more and more women.
"Ladies and girls' golf in Surrey is thriving and we are continually looking for new ways to introduce people to the game. Girls are the future of golf within the county and a large part of our association's budget is directed towards their coaching and development.
"We have recently joined with the Surrey County Golf Union and the Southern PGA to form the Surrey Golf Partnership. The aim is to make golf an attractive sporting option. Many taster sessions are being held in schools, at driving ranges and at golf clubs, and already there are a number of real success stories. An example of this is Epsom Golf Club, which has recently built up a junior section of 120 from scratch."
- For more information on the Surrey Ladies County Golf Association, call 01483 751622
Golfing tips for beginners
For those of you looking to take up golf for the first time, it can be quite a daunting task. So, we spoke to PIP ELSON, the director of golf at Burhill Golf Club in Walton-on-Thames, and a former European Tour player, to find out his top tips for beginners.
"I would strongly advise booking a course of lessons with a qualified golf professional. It's easy to fall into the trap of attempting to teach yourself or listening to a friend's well-intentioned advice. But either of these can mean that the golf pro spends his initial few lessons trying to get you out of the bad habits that you have picked up.
"In my experience, it isn't enough to just book six lessons and then do nothing in between. It's important to keep working on each discipline so that you don't spend half of your next lesson recapping from last time. Also, have the lessons close together, in the space of two to three weeks, so that you can see the progression, which will encourage you.
"Playing golf will also mean using different muscles. It's important to have strong hands and wrists and the golf pro should give you some exercises to help strengthen them. You don't have to go to the golf range to do this, but spend just a few minutes each day training the correct muscles and you'll quickly see a difference.
"Golf isn't all about just trying to hit the ball as far as possible. All the best players have a great touch on and around the greens. I figure that well over half of a player's strokes during a round will be either on or around the greens. It is therefore logical that half of your practice time should be devoted to this.
"Have a few lessons before you rush out and spend a fortune on golf clubs. The golf pro is better qualified than anyone to advise you on which clubs suit you best. For instance, a tall strong person will need completely different clubs to someone who is smaller."
- Burhill Golf Club is currently running a fantastic beginners' programme, including introductions to etiquette and rules, as well as the usual lessons. For more information, call 01932 227345.
As well as coaching club members, Wentworth's KRISTIAN BAKER also teaches the likes of Ross Fisher on the European Tour. Here, he offers some tips on how to improve your short game:
Tip 1: Putting - the eyes shut drill
Place three balls down at any given distance from the hole. Analyse the putt as you normally would. From there, set up and have your normal routine. Just before you take the putter back, close your eyes. After you've hit the putt, and before you open your eyes, say in your mind if you think that the putt was short of the hole, good (within one foot) or long. This will help with distance control. With each of the next two balls, try to improve on your previous result, both in getting within the good zone and making the call as to whether it was short, good or long. Ultimately, this will give you better awareness of how you've hit the putt and your brain will be more alert and educated in how to judge hitting a ball to varying distances.
Tip 2: Chipping
The most common fault we see with people's chipping is that they struggle to get consistent strikes and either catch the shot fat (behind the ball) or thin (half way up the ball). This inconsistency means it is impossible to judge distance.
First, we must understand the principles of what we want the club to do to the ball at impact. We're looking for a downward angle of attack, where the leading edge of the club is striking the ground and we make a small bruising on the grass just in front of the ball.
The basic technique is to keep your lower body relatively still and move your arms and hands as one complete unit back and forth. The basic chipping set-up is:
- Feet a little wider than a club-head width apart (4-6in)
- Grip towards the bottom of the handle
- Sit the sole of the club flat on the ground
- Stand closer to the ball than you would for a full shot, with your posture more upright
- The ball position is opposite the inside of the right foot
- The hands are positioned opposite the inside of the left leg
- Make sure that 60 per cent of your weight is under your left foot
Before you take your set-up, place the grip of another club about 6in behind the ball. Then, play the shot, making sure you miss the grip. This will ensure the correct angle of attack and give you more consistent strikes.
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