Knole Park Golf Club

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Full Course Review

Knole Park Golf Club is set within 1000 acres of a medieval deer park in Kent that is still home to 350 wild deer. The course was built and opened for play in 1924 despite the construction being hampered by severe weather. (7 November 1924 Sevenoaks Chronicle and Kentish Advertiser) Bernard Darwin and Roger Wethered opened the course by playing a friendly match.

Prior to consent being given and leasing the land to the club, Lord Sackville needed to be reassured that the nature and beauty of the deer park would remain unaltered. Upon seeing the course, he agreed this condition had been met. From the outset, the members reportedly complained the course was too difficult. Wisley and undeterred, it was suggested that no alterations would be made until the course matured.

Abercromby or Simpson?

The course itself is known to be a JF Abercromby design. When the course opened, Abercromby was cited as the designer in the press and not Simpson. However, Tom Simpson later claimed it as his own and the course map which hangs in the men's locker room is clearly a Tom Simpson original. Without definitive evidence, either way, it would seem prudent to ascribe JF Abercromby the lead role and Tom Simpson adding strong consulting support.

Elevation & Ravines

Knole Park makes the most of rather outlandish golfing terrain and deals with it rather elegantly. This is observed, firstly, in shots across ravines. Examples of shots across ravines on one-shot holes are seen on the 5th and 12th. The tee shots on the 6th, 9th and 13th follow the same formula. Tee shots into ravines are found on the 3rd, 4th and the 15th are followed by shots to elevated greens on the 3rd and 15th.

Bunkering

Strings of pearls (a diagonal row of bunkers) are a common occurrence as well. This hazard type is used to good effect on the 1st, 2nd & 6th. With the correct landforms, these bunkers can be both particularly stunning and intimidating – imagine what could be if restored to the Abercromby/ Simpson aesthetic!

Minor Details Matter

A real interesting detail is noticeable on the 12th tee. From this perspective, you can see the 12th green, 9th tee, 8th green, 8th tee and 7th green all in a tidy row. The viewpoint is quite exquisite and framed too well to happen by chance. It happens again on the old 16th tee. The eye line back over the former 15th green, 5th green, 6th tee, 6th green and 7th tee is also a stunning vista. It does remind one of The Addington and in particular the 14th green, 17th tee, 16th green, 17th green & 18th tee eye line.

Minor But Significant Changes

The most significant change to the course is the new 15th green. It was moved nearly 50 yards back. Even with the new back tee, most of the Tigers will be going for the green in two and even with a miscue, they should walk away with a par. The new green will cost the average club golfer a shot and it adds 50 additional uphill yards to an already uphill shot. The original green was a large punchbowl and offered considerable variety to the set of greens on currently on offer.

What is gained by a new green had a knock-on effect regarding the teeing grounds to the 16th. The 16th is a difficult par 3 and the orientation and bunkering would suit teeing grounds further right from their current location - in fact, precisely where the original teeing ground still lies! Tee shots played from this angle would force a player to carry a bunker 200-yards uphill or run in a shot between two bunkers - reverse Redan in nature. If you wanted to test the better players and help out the average club member, a longer tee on the original line would satisfy all parties.

Intrigue Persists

Knole Park is an interesting tale. The 1923 map shows a characteristically Simpson layout. The course opened in 1924 with Abercromby as the noted architect but Simpson later claimed it as his own. From there, the earliest aerial photography is from 1940 - 16 years after opening. Changes from the concept design certainly exist, especially the bunkering which is different on virtually all the holes. This is not a surprise as the notation on the map says: "The position of the bunkers on this plan are merely tentative, and should not be regarded as indicating a considered and final scheme of hazards." Some very Simpsonesque features, it would seem, never saw the light of day. For example the string of pearls on the short 10th or the enormous centreline bunker on the 17th.

Next Steps

There exists research work to do in the club minute books to establish which, if any, alterations were made. Only after this could one start to piece together a comprehensive picture of the design, who had the input and what was done in the interim. The original tee for the 2nd hole nearer the practice area makes the original bunkering scheme very desirable. The abandoned 4th tee to the left of the 3rd green would create a thrilling tee shot over the corner and remove the need for two holes crossing each other - if reinstated.

On the back nine, the 16th could be a brilliantly ruthless par-3, perfect for the close of any tight match or to test the scratch player who is trying to finish low. The 17th and 18th have all the natural features you could want to add strategic value to a closing set of holes. There are ground features on the 17th (WW1 trench and grenade pit) could add strategic value to the hole with simply adjusting mowing lines. The alternate tee's for 18, to the left of the 17th green, could be used to encourage play towards the boundary wall and bring the pond into play as opposed to away from it.

Conclusion

Whatever the case may be, Knole Park Golf Club is a thrill ride. The opening 6 holes are full-on before settling into a solid set of strategic golf. Highlights on the back nine include the 12th, 13th and 14th - which are very clever and test distance control in completely different ways. The club has modern practice facilities and has, for the most part, avoided the scourge of rampant and unmanaged tree growth.

Knole Park Golf Club somehow escapes notice from the golfing public at large but JF Abercromby's work here is further evidence that he is one of the Golden Age's greats. With Aber's work nearby about to be thrust into the spotlight, Knole Park is well situated to take advantage of the Abercromby awareness renaissance -  and we haven't even mentioned the Willie Park Jr influence found throughout that...


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The Essentials

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