Only 18 miles from the centre of London you can find an absolute gem of a golfing destination. Sitting in 300 acres of beautiful English countryside, The Grove not only boasts one of the top rated hotels in the UK and a world rated spa but far more importantly it boasts one of the best courses in South-East England.
What makes The Grove so special is that it manages to combine the best of British traditions with completely modern attitudes; while there has been a house at the site since 1400 and the core of the present structure dates from 1754 when was the home of the Earl of Clarendon, there’s no fustiness here. In fact, there’s not even an on-course dress code. That’s like being able to watch the Ashes from the Pavilion at Lord’s without having the wear a jacket and tie or fitting in at Ascot’s Royal Enclosure while wearing shorts and a T-shirt – you get to enjoy the occasion without focusing on the distractions. It goes without saying that the sort of golfers you find here are far more likely to be decked out in J Lindberg and Galvin Green than tracksuits but it’s incredibly refreshing and highlights the lack of pretensions.
The gorgeous changing rooms and bar were originally the stables (which tells you that the Earl did things in style) and since converted very stylishly. The pro shop is small but perfectly formed and most importantly, the staff are incredibly helpful. No snobbery here.
Now for any golf course, no matter how beautiful the surroundings or pleasant the staff, it has to be about the experience on the course. The Grove is a fantastic example of a modern stadium parkland course – a long demanding track that combines wide rolling fairways with sharp changes in elevation. A traditional links or heathland track would have looked out of place in this rolling countryside and as the course winds through mature woodland players will enjoy some swooping changes of elevation. The course takes pride of place alongside Kingsbarn and Loch Lomond as Kyle Philips’ best known creations and shares some trademark touches: a course that seems to have emerged from the landscape rather than having been mechanically hewn from it and hazards placed to allow it to be a challenge to the better golfer while still being enjoyably playable for us lesser mortals. Another noticeable feature is the large fast undulating greens. From the first green you will see that they normally consist of 3 or more completely separate levels. Leaving your ball on the wrong level can result in either a putt that requires a good thump to get it close or one that you barely need to breathe on. As you make your way around the estate the course is slowly revealed and while there are birdies to be had, the final 4 holes make for a grandstand finish for any standard of golfer.
It’s impossible to talk about this course without mentioning the AMEX World Golf Championship that was hosted here in 2006. Then, Tiger Woods was at his peerless best on his way to a 12th WGC title. Recording a score of -23, 8 shots ahead of Ian Poulter and Adam Scott, Woods played the 18th hole in 7 under over the 4 days of the tournament. Uphill and into a prevailing breeze, Woods eagled the hole the first 3 days and only missed out on the Sunday when his drive just missed the fairway and his pitch shot stopped next to the cup. Three plaques, all within 20 feet of each other, record where his drives came to rest on the Thursday, Friday and Saturday. As you walk past them, it’s almost impossible not to drop a ball and see if you can recreate those eagles. At around 250 yards and 30 feet below the flag, you may have swing that little bit harder to get it ball anywhere close.
The course was in great nick when we were there. Despite a scorching summer the fairways were perfect and the greens as smooth as if they were due a Tour event. The management of the course is the responsibility of Troon Golf who say they focus on agronomy and course health as much as managing the course as a business. This doesn’t always seem to be true for some big courses but it is here so you are practically guaranteed a great golfing experience whenever you play.
A must play.
Green fees from £139 – For more information contact, http://www.thegrove.co.uk/golf.aspx