The A23 does not normally conjure up pleasant memories.
For me, it means delays, roadworks and wondering what chaos awaits when I hit the M25.
But now, when I drive up that stretch of road, my thoughts drift to Mannings Heath Golf Club - a golf course roughly between Horsham and Crawley, and one I never know existed until I was invited to play there last month.
Due to a dodgy shoulder I hadn’t played golf for more than two years.
The last time I wielded a club was at the Royal Eastbourne Golf Club and I sliced, hooked and shanked my around round the course to such an extent, I wasn’t encouraged to return to a tee box anytime soon.
But the lure of a freebie and the fact that the Mannings Heath Waterfall course is rated in the top 100 golf courses in England had me scrambling into the loft and dragging out some dusty looking Titleist golf clubs.
My wife and I motored up the A23 (which was unusually clear), checked into the impressive South Lodge Hotel and made the short 10-minute trip up the B2110 and through the village of Lower Beeding. I meandered along B roads by Walders Wood and Gaggle Wood before arriving at the golf course with the imposing and immaculately maintained 17th century clubhouse looking stunning.
It’s fair to say I was a bit nervous. At best I could potentially go around a course like Mannings Heath in mid to low 80’s but I was expecting the worst and given my iffy shoulder coupled with zero amount of practice, anything better than a 100 blows would have been a result.
My confidence was dented further when I looked into my golf bag and remembered I had Ebayed my Scotty Cameron putter months ago. I did get £80 for it but at that moment, 10-minutes before my tee-time, it didn’t make me feel any better.
I was given a run down of the course and I was loaned nice putter by the friendly clubhouse staff and I set-off for the first tee on the Waterfall Course.
Mannings Heath is among 500 acres and has two championship golf courses. The par 72, 6,506-yard Waterfall Course was established in 1905 and is set alongside mature forest, with streams, a waterfall and tree-lined fairways where it’s easy to spot deer.
The Kingfisher is a par 70 and the course measures 6,217 from the back tees and although the Waterfall Course generally gets the plaudits, the Kingfisher is said to be one of the best pay and plays in the country.
I arrived on the first tee and tried to remember all the golf etiquette required not to get one of those glares only a hacked-off golfer can give. I put my bag down - in the correct place - referred to my all-important course stroke-saver and teed-up from the yellows which measured 309 yards. I did a couple lazy stretches, a few stiff and awkward practise swings and pulled out the driver.
It could have gone badly wrong but the contact was reasonable and although I pushed it out to the right behind a tree, I punched one to the front of the green, chipped on and two-putted for a bogey - no major damage done and anybody watching would have at least thought I had played the game at some stage in my life.
The course was simply fantastic. The greens had just been spiked and were jumpy but every member I bumped into assured me they are normally lightening quick and resemble billiard tables. The rest of the course was tip-top having just hosted the Women’s Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship.
After a few holes the shoulder was holding up OK. I was never blessed with a fluid Ernie Eels or Fredie Couples type full-swing, and I think I was lucky if I reached a three-quarter swing, but I managed to get the ball around. And, for the most part, I played decent enough and kept the ball in play - apart from one lost ball when I shanked a long-iron into the trees on the dog-leg par-four fourth.
The par threes were great fun. The fifth hole, known as the Punchbowl, has you playing a mid-iron (yellows tees) from an elevated tee with a huge mound wrapping around the back of the green.
Hit the mound and the ball should trickle down nicely to the green but over-shoot and your scorecard will take a hammering as you attempt to chip back over the hill and stop it before it rolls back off the green and into a gully on the other side - I write with authority on the last matter!
The signature 10th is the kind of hole where you could spend hours pinging irons from on-high down to the green. All sorts of trouble lay between tee to green with trees, bunkers, a stream and rough all very much in play as the waterfall runs down the steep banks to the right. With no-one behind I bent the golfing rules slightly and fired off five shots from the tee, two of which landed on the green.
I conveniently selected the best, putted out and walked on to the 11th hole, called the Valley, which Gary Player included in his imaginary best 18 golf holes in the world.
It’s a top course - It’s minutes away from the A23 and not far from Gatwick Airport but among the deer in the woodland, accompanied by the odd decent golf shot every now and then, it felt like a true retreat.
The 89-room South Lodge Hotel is the sister property to the golf course.
It’s a 150 year-old former family country house that has been extended and renovated to a modern hotel with plenty of character. There is a decent gym on-site and the 93 acres of land include mountain tracks and three different sign-posted running routes to help you explore the grounds.
However, the exploring was saved for the morning and we were more interested in the Michelin star Pass restaurant. You can chose from a five, six or eight-course tasting menu and watch on to kitchen as a small army of chefs create some of the most exquiste dishes. Wine flights are selected to accompany and compliment each course, and although it comes at a price, it didn’t disappoint the taste buds.
The hotel rooms have everything you expect from a high-end hotel with some nice little touches such as a cup cake and tea on arrival, Bose sound through out, a pillow menu, a built in TV in the bathroom and the most fantastic shower room.
However, what stood out was the service. Each member of staff we met from reception to restaurants and everyone else inbetween were polite, helpful and keen to make it an enjoyable experience for the guests.
Plans are also in place for a spa facility and if it’s completed as tastefully and to the standard of the rest of the hotel, the South Lodge will be a truly impressive place to stay indeed.
South Lodge – From £135.00 (Dinner, B&B and 36 holes of golf). For more details visit: www.exclusivehotels.co.uk