Sand bunkers are a routine feature of most golf courses: some hugely penal, some little more than an irrelevance. But for those whose sand play is not the strong suit of their game, playing a course which has no sand on it (other than, ideally, just below the turf) must be a kind of golfing nirvana. Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire fits this description, as does the gloriously tumbling course at Royal Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. Not far away from there lies the village of Piltdown, home to another golf course that is devoid of sand bunkers.
I played there for the first time a couple of weeks ago. It was a gorgeous day out, some idea of which you might glean from the accompanying photos. Before the course was developed in 1904, Piltdown Common was a riot of gorse and heather, meaning yellow was the predominant colour in May, purple in August. The initial layout was the work of Jack Rowe, the pro at Ashdown Forest. His fee was reportedly £1 for designing the 18 holes. Put another way, in pre-decimal terms, that was a little over a shilling each. Given what he came up with, he clearly didn’t feel short-changed. At a later stage, J.H. Taylor, five times Open champion, made amendments to the course, which has been upgraded and modified in various subsequent ways.
At 6055 yards from the back markers, Piltdown is no monster. Instead its integrity is largely protected by trickily contoured greens, several of which have been created – a bit like at Royal Dornoch – to encourage anything less than a perfect approach shot or chip to be ushered gently off the green, inviting the golfer to have another go and try to do better. There is only one par-five, which arrives as soon as the second hole, and five par-threes. As par-68s go, courses don’t get much more demanding than this.
I played at Piltdown with David Cannon. This week the PGA of America will present him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Photojournalism ahead of the USPGA Championship at Southern Hills in Tulsa. However, for the avoidance of doubt, the photos you see here, for better or worse (surely the latter!), are mine.
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