Course Review- Pyecombe Golf Club (https://www.pyecombegolfclub.com/)
Conditions: Cloudy, Warm, Mild Breeze.
Green Fee: £27.00
Range: Practice Facility, Short Game Area.
Another weekend and another new course for me, as I take the plunge for a round at Pyecombe Golf Club late on a mostly cloudy Saturday afternoon. The weather is still fairly warm, but a bit of a breeze ensured that I wasn’t going to have it all that easy! I pre-booked my tee time through their website and convenient online booking system during their twilight times, which at the weekend set me back £27, which is a little more than I would normally wish to pay for a round of golf, but after having previously walked through sections of the course when exploring the South Downs, I was excited to play, and happy to pay based on what I had seen from the many public footpaths and bridleways that intersect the course.
Pyecombe Golf Club is very easy to get to from a wide range of places in Sussex, being conveniently situated just off the A23. The course rises up into the South Downs from the road, with the clubhouse amenities and facilities for warming up (practice nets, short game area, putting green) all located close to the carpark. Upon arrival, I checked in with the Pro, and was also able to pick up another course guide for my collection, before heading to the practice green to get the pace of the greens before teeing off. On my way up to the course, I had stopped off at the driving range at West Hove Golf Club, so was suitably warm and ready to go!
As with some of the other courses in the Downs, the course further rises uphill from the clubhouse. The 1st hole is a short par 4 at around 280 yards from the Yellows. With a few trees down the right and the fairway sloping away to the left slightly, I stroke a 5 iron down the middle for safety, leaving only a wedge into the green. From the fairway it can be quite hard to gauge the shape of the green, but with the help of the course guide, I could see that it significantly narrowed at the midpoint, where a second tier also rose. The pin today was on the top tier, and with a solid shot into the green I managed to find the correct level. A good run at birdie slides just by, and I tap in the putt coming back for my par. A nice friendly hole to start the round!
The difficulty steps up with the 381 yard par 4 2nd hole, with its left to right dogleg and fairway that slopes in the same direction towards long rough down the right. A great strike with my 4 wood drawing it back towards the slope helps me find the left side of the fairway 135 yards out from the centre of the green, with a relatively flat lie in comparison to the rest of the hole. The green is set into the slope, which means the ball should feed in from the left, but also means that it should drop off if the miss is to the right. I opt to draw a 9 iron into the green, knowing that the miss left should be safe, but have to say I end up pushing it a little further to the right than I would like, but the ball managed to draw back enough to catch a piece of the green, finishing about 3ft right of the flag, which was situated towards the back of the green about 9ft from the right edge! Approaching the 2nd green, you start to get a glimpse of the elevation change of the 3rd hole, but more on that later! I managed to regain focus, and the birdie putt had just enough pace on it to take out any slight break there might have been, dropping in the centre of the cup for my 3.
Walking through a gap in the hedges at the back of the 2nd green and onto the 3rd tee, the full elevation change is unveiled, and it is spectacular! What previously felt like a slight breeze seemed to pick up, adding to the difficulty, coming swiftly off the right. I was called through by two gents who were searching for balls in the left rough- not a good sign! With my driver, starting it as far right as I possibly could, the ball sailed back on the wind, carrying the pair that had let me through down the left, fortunately not finding the thickest of the rough. Still 180 yards or so out, all uphill and back into the wind, with my line partially obstructed by trees, I pitch out with a wedge back to the middle of the fairway. Still with a short iron into the green, I don’t adjust for the uphill lie when selecting my club and come up just short of the green, which is further raised above the fairway. A pitch onto the green, followed by 2 putts sees me coming away with double, which in reality fees more like a bogey on what is a very tough par 4! Remember to turn around when walking up to the 4th tee, as there are some fantastic views back down the 3rd over the green!
The 4th hole is a little bit of an odd hole for me- it seems a little bit of a nothing hole, but probably the only one on the course. The tee shot is an approach up a hill, not all that narrow, but the course guide shows the fairway running out where a bridleway crosses the hole. Because of this, I opt for safety of a 5 iron off the tee, which unfortunately was caught a little on the heavy side, which finished up just short of the fairway on the upslope. Being a short hole of only 262 yards, I still only had 120 yards or so to the centre of the green. Again, failing to account for the fact my ball was on the upslope, I come up short with my approach, to what is a very, very large green! With the pin towards the back of the green, I still had some work to do in order to try and make my par. A pitch onto the green, but not close enough to the flag sees me 2 putting for bogey.
The 5th hole is the first par 3 on the course, at 147 yards from the yellow tees. A short hole, but one with plenty of difficulty with the green surrounded by bunkers, and the wind howling off the right (on what I believe is the highest point on the front 9). Today, the hole was playing even harder with the pin tucked away on the right hand side, nearly inaccessible even to the better players. With my right to left shot shape I had no hope of getting close, and even finding the green proved too much of the challenge, with my shot drawing away on the wind, finishing pin high left of the green. Luckily, the hole widens level with the green, and my shot finished far enough left to avoid the greenside bunkers. A tricky pitch remained over the bunkers, but with plenty of green to work with I managed to get it within 5 feet, before holing the putt for my par.
There is a short walk back to the 6th tee for the long dogleg left par 4. Turning sharply left at around 210 yards, driver isn’t really an option off the tee for fear of hitting through the dogleg. I hit 4 wood off the tee, using the wind from the right to help shape the ball slightly back with the dogleg, but still right of the marker post in the fairway. The approach into the green was playing downhill, downwind and this certainly had an effect as my second shot from over 200 yards ran through the green, which drops off the back. My ball settled down in the rough, leading to my short game woes creeping back in with a couple of duffed pitches, before a poor chip once I had finally reached the greenside. The short game errors were compounded with a 3 putt, finishing up with a very, very poor 8 having been greenside in 2.
Still reeling from the 6th, 7 does not get off to a good start either. The 359 yard par 4 dogleg right again requires a tee shot too the dogleg, before an approach downhill to the green. Two tee shots off the tee finding the right hand trees and lost, means I’m playing 5 off the tee, and even then it is a little close down the right hand side! Cutoff by the trees, I try to sneak one through rather than punching out, but catch and branch and my ball kicks right. With my 7th, I have a line towards the green, and I utilise the slope down towards the green, pitching it to the left and letting it feed down. Still some way from the hole, a solid 2 putt has me marking a 10 on the card.
A short walk through some trees has you come out onto the 8th tee. The hole, known as ‘High Bank’, is a short par 3 of 140 yards which plays across some of the same dry valley that helps make up the massive elevation changes on the 3rd. The hole plays fairly level over the two sides of the dry valley, but three gaping bunkers short of the green wait for any mishit shots. Wanting to avoid any bunker trouble, I decided to club up and swing easy, hitting 7 iron. The easy swing turned into a crushed 7 iron, easily flying the green and hitting the high bank behind the green that the hole is named after. What can only be defined as a ‘member’s bounce’ sees my ball cannon back off the high bank and back onto the green, some 12 foot away from the flag. I manage to capitalise on this luck, finding the back of the cup with my birdie putt for a 2.
The 9th is the first par 5 on the course, and is reachable in 2 at 489 yards, providing you get a good drive away down the centre of the narrow fairway. I hit a really good tee shot with my driver, drawing the ball from the right hand side back to the centre of the fairway, carrying the slightly sunken plateau to leave myself 180 yards or so to the green. The second shot you have a choice of playing out right of the green, or hitting over the corner of the dogleg to the wide green behind, but with the risk of getting in trouble. I really felt like the ball was sat well and I could visualise the shot that I wanted to hit, a nice high draw over the right hand edge of the trees on the dogleg to the pin that was tucked away far left. I went for it, and pulled it off to perfection. Green under regulation, with a straight enough 20ft putt for eagle. Now to put this in a bit of perspective, I’m not a long hitter- I don’t regularly hit par 5s in two, but two (very) well struck shots with a Driver and 6 iron has me with a good look at what I believe would be my first eagle ever on a par 5. I spend too much time focusing on the line trying to give myself a chance, but forget to notice that it is slightly uphill, and I leave the putt short for a tap in birdie 4. Coincidentally for those wondering- I have eagled both par 4s (couple of hole outs), and also a par 3 hole in one, but (still) haven’t managed to eagle an elusive par 5. This birdie has me closing out the front 9 at 45 (+10).
10 is a short par 4 at around 330 yards from the yellow tees, but with a couple of tricky features to catch out errant shots, there is still room to make a big score if not played correctly. The first hazard that awaits is a large tree in the centre of the fairway, which can catch your eye and make you play away from it. With a 7 wood from the tee for positioning, the often scenario of playing for safety and finding trouble comes into play as I hook my tee shot into the left rough. Having found my ball, and only having 120 or so in, I decide to advance my ball with a pitching wedge effectively taking the second main hazard out of play – the pond, which is located left of the green, and provides the name for the hole. My second shot comes up short right of the green, leaving a pitch up onto the green. The third feature about the hole that is difficult is the green- a false front combined with a two tier green provides the 10th with a lot of protection against its par even as you get close to the putting surface. With my pitch from the upslope, I catch it slightly heavy and end up not making it up the false front, rolling back a yard or so to the bottom of it. With my 4th, I opt for the safer option of keeping the ball on the ground, putting it up the slope with the pin being located on the lower tier, leaving myself 4ft for bogey, which I am able to convert.
11 is another short par 4, just over 300 yards from the yellows, but feels like it plays longer due to the significantly uphill tee shot to the elevated fairway. First time playing the course and not knowing exactly what is up top, despite having the yardage book, I opted for 4 wood, and perhaps thought the line off the tee was a little bit further right than it actually was, saw my ball finding tree trouble down the right. After taking an unplayable and pitching back to the fairway, my 4th shot from only around 110 yards finished short right of the green, which is raised with a drop off to the left, but provides fantastic views across the downs. A pitch onto the green followed by a 2 putt sees me making a double bogey 6.
The 12th is a dogleg left hole which skirts the outside of the course, close to the South Downs Way. With a fairway that slopes right to left towards a cluster of trees, it is important to start your drive down the right hand side in order to bring it back towards the centre. A mistake with a topped hybrid off the tee sees me in trouble with thick rough just in front of the tee. Luckily I manage to find it and manage to hack it out advancing towards the left hand rough level with the trees around 100 yards out. From the left, the approach into the green is a little more tricky, as there is out of bounds right and long of the green. Hoping to use the slope of the fairway, I club down to try and land the ball short, but the ball catches a flyer, flirting with the out of bounds right of the green. Chipping down on to the green from the raised bank, I let the slope do most of the work, but the ball rolls through and onto the fringe. I manage to save a shot by dropping the putt from the fringe for my bogey 5
13 is a long par three going back the other way, 217 yards from the yellow tees. A really nice hole, with the fairway sloping from left to right, with the contours similar on the green. With a hybrid, I get a solid strike and a nice ball flight along my line of the left edge of the green, the ball bouncing before catching the slope and feeding round towards, and eventually past the hole. The birdie putt misses on the low side, tapping in for my 3.
14, as its name suggests is a Long Hole. This 534 yard par 5 sweeps around to the left, and you need to be careful with your line from the fairway as to ensure you either do not hit through it (and into long rough), or miss to the left if you’re too greedy. My drive is the former, going through the fairway. From the thick rough, with ball above my feet and the fairway sloping right to left, the inevitable happens and my second shot end up down the left. From a poor lie, I am only able to advance my 3rd to where the fairway narrows between a tree and the bunker around 50 yards short of the green, but the slope takes the ball into the long rough. I can only hack out, before hitting a poor pitch and missing the green to the left, below the putting surface. My pitch towards the green rolls through to the fringe, but this time I don’t manage to make the putt, tapping in for a poor 8.
15 is a fairly straightforward hole, a 331 yard par 4, but unfortunately my card doesn’t get any better here. A hooked hybrid off the tee has me finding the left rough and trees, forcing me to take an unplayable. With my 3rd, I again get one that jumps out the rough a little better than expected, and end up going through the shallow green. A fluffed pitch for my 4th, followed by an over aggressive pitch that rolls through onto the far fringe, sees me again lagging the putt and tapping in for a 7.
Crossing over one of the many public footpaths running through the course before reaching the tee, 16 is a dogleg right at around 360 yards. With the dogleg occurring fairly early in the hole, you have the choice of hitting towards the marker post which is 175 yards off the tee, or trying to cut the corner. I opt for the latter, but end up popping a 4 wood up in the air, luckily finishing short of the pond and cluster of trees waiting for any errant shots on the corner of the dogleg. With trees closely in front, all I can do is hit a pitching wedge back to the fairway over the corner. Leaving around the same yardage into the green, I find the centre, but still with some work to do. A good lag putt again, sees me tapping in for my bogey 5.
17 continues the dogleg par 4 theme, but this time to the left, with a bunker and trees awaiting on the corner. I opt for the driver, but end up down the left hand side again shut off by the trees. A pitch out leaves me around 90 odd yards to the green. A nice lofted wedge pin high sees me with a good attempt at the par putt, but that slides by and it’s another bogey 5 on the card.
The 18th is, you guessed it, another dogleg par 4 to the right. The tee shot doesn’t require too much shape at all, just correct club selection to ensure you are not cut off by trees, or go through the fairway. The 5 iron for safety policy is out again, but as occasionally happens, it doesn’t work out, hooking it into the left rough. I still have a shot to the green from the 2nd cut, just longer in than I would like to what is a short hole! I manage to get my approach close to the green, but it is gobbled up by the small pot bunker front left. A nice out again sees me with a chance for the par save, but I am unable to convert and finish with a bogey 5, for a 49 on the back nine and a disappointing 94 (+23) total.
In summary, I really enjoyed Pyecombe Golf Club and the really interesting layout. I have a definite preference towards the front 9, which has some fantastic, challenging holes. The back 9 feels a little bit more of a slog (particularly the walk up the hill on 11!), but it provides some fantastic views over the surrounding countryside of the South Downs. The course was in really good condition (as you would hope at this time of year), and I felt the £27 green fee at the weekend very fair. Again, I think it’ll be another tough course in winter when the wind is blowing, but look forward to the test! My favourite holes were the signature par 4 3rd, the dogleg right par 4 7th (despite my score!), the par 3 8th, and finally topped off with the 9th, which is a fantastic short par 5. Hopefully when I return my game will be in better shape and I’ll be able to do this course justice!
–The Sussex Golfer