I’ll admit I’d never heard of the Sweetwoods Park, near Edenbridge, before I was sent an email by a PR company which, in a nutshell, said: “Hey, guess what? This golf course has a new website!”
“Well that’s not much of a story,” I baulked.
Having checked out their incredibly impressive site by Net72, I had a fresh excitement with a dash of added smugness as I pushed my golf bag through the packed crowds of office-bound suits.
I jumped in a taxi at East Grinstead. “Playing golf are you?” asked the driver. It was sweet of him to make conversation, but I didn’t really know how to respond considering he’d just put my clubs in the back of car and I’d asked him to take me to Sweetwoods Park.
“Don’t play myself,” he continued. “Did you see the game last night?”
“Sure did,” I replied. “Great goal by Rooney.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t really watch football.”
After reaching the end of what seemed like the longest ten minutes of my life, I was presented with a very impressive clubhouse.
I met my playing partners for the day – Sam Long, son of owner Martin, a name which will be familiar to Crystal Palace fans, and Charles Waud of Net72, the genius behind the website – and we set off to the first tee.
Opening your round is a sweeping par-4 which is well protected on the left and OB on the right. A good drive down the left-hand side will leave you with 150-yards into the elevated green. Be happy to make 4 here – it’s a tough opener.
The second and third play relatively straight, but with OB dangers down the right-hand side of both, coupled with small, well-protected greens make them far more difficult than they look.
Your tee shot at the fourth needs to be perfect to set you up for what follows, says the pro: “A beautiful approach to a sunken green with a terrific left-to-right camber, framed by the village of Cowden in the background and a lake to the side which brings water into play.
“Many a golfer’s scorecard has been tarnished by this signature hole. If you make a 4, give yourself a pat on the back.”
The picturesque par-3 fifth demands accuracy with the green protected at the front by water and sand, while trees surround the remainder. The reachable par-4 sixth will reward the accurate driver, but punish the wayward with trouble everywhere.
Another picturesque par-3 follows, playing over a swathing valley while club selection is key with the two ‘links style’ bunkers which stare menacingly back at you, with the sleepers threatening to send your tee shot back into the water.
Your tee shot at the eighth is set back in the trees and anything right will leave you a needing a Phil Mickelson-type effort to reach the green. Find the back of the green and you’re left with a nasty downhill putt.
To finish the front nine, you’re left with more options. Play it safe with an iron down the fairway and you have a lot of work to do. Take the driver out to cut the corner and you risk finding OB.
The par-4 tenth and 11th both demand accurate drives which in turn will reward you with very good birdie opportunities.
The 12th is easily the most intimidating tee shot on the course. Not only is the clubhouse gallery watching your every move, but anything slightly right will be in the drink. Get a decent drive away and a three or four is certainly on the cards to the accessible green.
Standing at the 13th tee, you see the flag off in the distance and have to double-take. It can’t possibly be that far! It is. Though surprisingly, this hole is only 499-yards.
The start of Sweetwoods’ very own Amen Corner, a good drive will leave you either a brave long-iron to the green, or to lay-up before the well-placed stream. Just make a five here and move on.
If 13 didn’t beat you into submission, 14 will. Truly earning its stroke index of 1, you simply have to hit three perfect shots if you want to make par here. Your tee shot needs to carry 180-yards to clear the ditch, then your second must find the middle of the fairway on this double-dogleg if you want to have any chance of finding the green set back in a little tree and water-lined cove. A real test of talent, patience and nerves.
15 is a long par-3 but little danger suggests you should really be making a three here, while making the wrong club selection at par-4 dogleg 16 will need you reaching for your bucket and spade. Or your fishing rod.
And then there’s the breathtaking 17th. Admire the fish as you stroll to the island tee and use this as your picture opportunity. When you’re ready to play some more golf, make sure you take enough club. A miss-hit shot will see your ball falling back into the lake, but anything long will leave you needing the touch of Luke Donald to make par on the two-tiered green.
Then onto 18 – and what a fantastic finishing hole. With the back tees set high up you can enjoy the view of the surrounding holes. Take aim left of the large and looming Eisenhower-esque tree guarding the centre of the fairway. Anything right will take a skip into dense woodland.
You are left with a mid-iron approach to a well-bunkered green. Make a 4 in front of the inevitable watching gallery and reward yourself with a well-earned drink.
It’s not often I walk off a course feeling like I’ve been beaten up but loved every second of it. But that’s exactly how I felt after playing Sweetwoods Park.