Like many of the other best English courses, West Hill looks fairly short on the card, stretching to just over 6,300 yards. But also like many of these ‘short’ English courses, the par is less than 70, in this case 69. I came to really like courses with par<70 because they all have at least 5 par 3s, which I’ve come to be convinced all courses should have. While many point to Augusta National’s mix of 4 par 3s, 4 par 5s, and 10 par 4s adding up to par 72 (with perfect alternation, at least on the front nine), my ideal is the Addington: 6 par 3s (of varying lengths), 3 par 5s, and 9 par 4s for a par of 69. Two of the best courses in England, Rye and West Sussex essentially have no par 5s for long hitters, which would make them par 67s.
But the focus here is West Hill, which has what’s probably the standard approach to par 69 of 5 par 3s and 2 par 5s. As typical in the neighborhood, the par 3s are an excellent and varied bunch, requiring everything from a short-iron/wedge up to a hybrid. But I would say that the class of the course is probably its set of 10 par 4s, which is quite varied. They range from drivable (13; and not just for the longest hitters), to brutally long (3, 14). There are several blind shots in the bunch and they often aren’t on the easiest holes (like the drive on 3). The course ultimately manages to squeeze a lot of interesting and varied golf into a very small property. It’s also one of the best conditioned courses that I played—I played in March and the greens were faster and the fairways in better condition than most courses that I played in the UK in the summer.
Having praised West Hill’s set of par 4s, unfortunately we start with its least praiseworthy: a 390 blind driving hole where the fairway runs out at about 260 and tumbles into a drainage ditch. Really you should only hit your drive about 240 because the fairway slopes steeply toward the ditch. The hole played fine in the winter but would be very awkward in the summer as you’d have to lay even further back to prevent the roll. You’d need 300+ to carry the ditch, so that isn’t really an alternative for most.
The approach to the green is a beauty and demands a bit more accuracy than some of the previous ones.
I’ve seen many two-tiered greens and they’re usually not interesting because the tiers themselves are flat. That isn’t true here; both tiers have good interior contour, making this an excellent green.
The drive is a fairly narrow corridor through trees…actually I’m glad I played it in the winter because with leaves and firm fairways, it would be uncomfortably narrow. But the main driving feature is a small bunker about 270 yards out on the left. This is exactly where you want to drive it. From here, in typical Colt fashion (although he didn’t design it), there are staggered bunkers starting short-left and running up the right side of the green. The green is angled from front-left to back-right and is narrow. So an approach from the right side of the fairway, especially if you haven’t hit a long drive, is very difficult.
Interesting note: the fairway has rig-and-furrow shaping, long, shallow trenches. You also see this at Sunningdale and Liphook. This is a farming remnant. It adds character wherever you find it.
The green is another two-tier-er and the back tier is very shallow. I don’t remember how the rest of the green was (and unfortunately I didn’t get a close-up) but that’s probably because when the pin is at the back, it captures your full attention.
It’s a controversial hole, but I think it’s a good one.
I would have sworn that because of the bunkering scheme, the course had been designed by Colt, but there’s no mention of any major architect other than Park having had a hand in the course. Knowing that, I guess that I can see Park’s hand in some of the lay-of-the-land green complexes and the willingness to allow blind shots. But the diagonal bunkering doesn’t really remind me of Park’s work on either Sunningdale’s Old Course or at Stoneham and it reminds me very much of Colt’s work at St. George’s Hill and on the Sunningdale New Course. Perhaps Park’s approach to bunkering changed depending on the site? I’ll leave that to the architectural historians.
I have a hard time getting too worked up about golf course architecture history but clearly I love analyzing golf course architecture. And whoever designed it, they did a fine job with West Hill. It’s very well bunkered and has great variety in the green complexes—some quite undulating with mounded edges, others fitting very simply in their surroundings. The holes fall over the land in a varied way as well with several uphill, blind shots but also many lovely downhill ones. Although there’s only one hole that I’d describe as world class (ten), there are a handful of very good par 3s and par 4s, each different from the other. All-in-all, it’s a course that I’d be happy to play regularly and certainly holds its own in a competitive neighborhood for great golf.