London’s place as one of the most visited cities in the world is without question. A couple thousand years of history, not to mention a shared language for American tourists, make it an easy choice for those with a case of the travel bug. In addition to renowned sites like Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, and even that ghastly ferris wheel, there is plenty of the Good Life to be found in London thanks to a host of Michelin starred restaurants and world class hotels.
But what of the golf?
There are nearly 2000 courses in England, over 150 of which lie within the M25 beltway that encircles London. Choosing which ones to play while also reserving time to visit Her Majesty can be a difficult task. Thankfully, The Major has a few favorites to help guide the way.
Harry Colt called Swinley Forest the “least bad” course of his storied career, which one can only take as the highest of compliments. This heathland masterpiece measures to a paltry 6000 yards over a par of 69, but that doesn’t keep this beauty on the western outskirts of London from ranking in the Golf Digest Top 100 – by far the shortest course on the list. The collection of magnificent par 3s and lengthy two-shotters found at Swinley will likely test every club in the bag. All the while offering a bit of solitude that is in short supply so close to the M25.
From Dukes and Lords, to Prime Ministers and Chancellors of the Exchequer, to captains of industry and financiers from The City, Walton Heath has long served as a retreat to London’s power brokers. King Edward VIII even served as the club’s captain before he was distracted by more pressing matters, and the great James Braid acted as the head professional for nearly 50 years. The golf at Walton Heath is just as illustrious as the club’s membership and history, thanks to a brilliant design by Herbert Fowler which is possibly the best test of inland golf found in GB&I. Combine all of the above with a full bloom of heather and an inspiring lunch in the clubhouse, and one finds an afternoon at Walton Heath is difficult to match.
The debate between Sunningdale Old and Sunningdale New is one which has carried on for nearly 100 years. It was of the Old which Bobby Jones once proclaimed “I wish I could take this course home with me.” Likewise, Pine Valley – the seemingly undisputed #1 course in the world – draws many comparisons and was at least partially inspired by Sunningdale New. To further pontificate on the topic would be a waste of precious kilobytes, so let’s just leave it that 2% of the top 100 courses in the world are found amongst the wooded heathland at Sunningdale. Willie Park Jr. and Harry Colt gifted the golfing world with a pair of courses that have withstood the test of time, and there is no better example of Golf and the Good Life near London than a gin & tonic on the clubhouse terrace after a glorious day spent on these two classics.
St. Georges Hill
The prettiest courses are also the best, and certainly one of the prettiest and the best is St Georges Hill.
Exactly what suited the eye of Bernard Darwin and led to this assessment of St. George’s Hill is impossible to know, however he is among many that hold this heathland great in such high regard. Perhaps Darwin was enchanted by the view from the stately clubhouse or the rolling terrain and elevation changes found at St. George’s Hill that serves to set it apart from the other heathland courses near London. In any case, what is clear is Harry Colt was blessed with a canvas that begged for his master stroke, and the outcome was a treasure that ranks among his very best.
Idiosyncratic. Quirky. Fun. All are words commonly used to describe The Addington and its unique collection of holes crafted by the club’s architect and founder, John Frederick Abercromby. The Addington is the only course of this group not found on the Golf Digest Top 100 list, but that doesn’t mean it is without praise from the highest levels. In his pseudo-manifesto, The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, Tom Doak included The Addington in his Gourmet’s Choice of 31 favorite courses around the globe. While much has been said about the course over the years, Doak best summarized The Addington in just a single sentence:
“Either a shot is good enough or it isn’t, and the course is the sole arbiter of justice.”
Whether you choose to enjoy the jewels of the heathland shared above, or the classic links found on the Channel Coast (which Sam examined in this previous post), those seeking Golf and the Good Life near London will surely find it in no short supply.
What is your favorite golf course near London?