So even though it’s surrounded by farmland and covered with grazing animals (Southerndown has the most sheep of any course that I saw), Southerndown plays like a links course. It’s treeless, firm, and surrounded by the thickest gorse that I’ve seen on any course. Although Southerndown isn’t as well-known as its Welsh neighbors Royal Porthcawl and Pennard, I found it to be one of the strongest tests of golf in western England/Wales. The ubiquitous gorse combined with the wind and one of the more interesting sets of greens that I saw in my British golf travels make this course a consistent challenge. While it lacks a bit in hole variety relative to the best courses, it’s a course that I’d be happy to play on a regular basis.
The 365 yard par 4 first hole at Southerndown is reminiscent of its quirky Cotswold neighbors to the east Cleeve Hill and Painswick in that it climbs about 70 ft. from tee to green. It’s pretty wide open so it’s a good test of how solidly you can hit the ball. Hit one a bit weak off the heel and it becomes a par 5.
I suppose that the view of the green is a bit better from the left side but the further you hit it, the more room that there is right than left. Probably the best thing to do is bomb away over the ridge and hope that your ball doesn’t get stuck on it (it shouldn’t).
While the spring and early summer of 2016 were fairly wet in southern England and Wales and the ground was playing like a parkland course, Google Earth shows the course pretty baked out. I can’t imagine playing it on a windy day in those conditions. There isn’t enough room here for both wind and peak links firmness. If you play it in those conditions, you’ll have to adapt your game like Tiger did in the 2006 Open at Hoylake, clubbing down off the tee and playing for substantial runout. Like Rye and probably a few other links courses, you face the ‘Links Trilemma’ at Southerndown in which you can only ever have two of the three: wind, firmness, and hitting your driver.
In short, Southerndown is an excellent test of golf. The lack of variety in the bunker schemes and the modest terrain probably keep it out of the top tier of courses that I played in England and Wales, but there are several outstanding holes, especially the long par 4 second and the par 3s. I’d love to be a member at a course like this because from top to bottom (both in terms of clubs and parts of your body…), it gives your game a thorough workout. It’s like a golf boot camp.