The Grove: course review

Enjoy pro-like pampering and pro-worrying greens at 'London's country estate'

Ever felt like a pro? Not in the playing sense, obviously, but in the way they are treated.

At The Grove, you might. From valet parking to pyramids of practice balls, free tees and pencils to club cleaning and bag carrying, the welcome is a glimpse into life on tour.

Factor in lightning-fast greens as treacherous as many on the circuit, and you are about to discover why pros need looking after.

The Grove, billed as “London’s country estate”, is set in 300 acres of rolling, leafy Hertforshire just a couple of lusty blows from the M25 near Watford.

The five-star hotel, centred around a Grade II listed manor house, is a favoured haunt of pop stars, celebrities and sportsmen, particularly Wembley-bound footballers. Recently, too, American Football franchises in town for the NFL game.

But The Grove is far from an exclusive, high-rolling members’ club. There is no golf membership, so everyone is welcome. Or at least those with deep enough pockets, given the peak time summer green fee is £185.

The 18-hole course, which opened in 2003, was designed by Californian Kyle Philips, the man behind Kingsbarns in Scotland. It quickly gained a reputation and hosted the 2006 World Golf Championship event, which was won by Tiger Woods. The venue is very proud of this fact and the logo adorns plenty of spare surfaces.

The welcome begins at the clubhouse reception – “Let me take your bag, Sir” - and continues on the immaculate grass practice range where you can help yourself to logo-ed tees, ball markers and pencils. “Just leave your club there, Sir, I’ll clean it for you,” says another smiling employee.

The starter greets you onto the first tee with another invitation to delve into the “pro” box for more tees and other golfing goodies, like you’ve seen the big-boys do at the start of so many tournaments.

He gives you a run through of the yardages, with precise pin locations printed on the card afresh each day. You can take your pick of the four tee options, from the Back tips playing at 7,104 yards to the Front at 5,507 yards.

A sign on a tree alerts you to the pace of the greens – 11 on the stimpmetre is quick. You have been warned.

With a final advisory on pace of play, the staff have done their job, like a team of extremely courteous executioners. Now it is up to you. The first is something of a gentle pipecleaner, or at least you might think it is until you hit the green, where the true meaning of “slippery” is revealed. 

The second takes you down towards the flood plain of the River Gade and the Grand Union Canal, while the memorable third offers a dramatic tee shot onto a diagonal fairway before a green protected by “Hell’s Lake”. The classic do-I-don’t-I scenario.

The short fourth is arguably the most picturesque corner of the course, with the river and canal meandering by. Don’t, however, be fooled by all this serenity. This is a deceptive hole, guarded by a brook in front of the green. Anything just short is wet, long is woody. And then you have to putt.

The fifth green, following a humpy, linksy approach, is a veritable upturned saucer of slickness. By now you should be aware of the menace radiating from these emerald gems so putt or chip with the shadow to avoid running off the big sloping front. 

You might also be coming to the conclusion that fast is fun and putting on greens as true as these is a treat. Choking down on approach shots is another good idea.

Somewhere on the front nine a man in a buggy will catch up with you to check everything is OK and remind you about pace of play, should it become an issue.

From the seventh the course climbs back towards the hotel, culminating in the celebrated ninth, which Woods eagled three days in a row in 2006. A plaque on the tee informs you his three tee and approach shots travelled over 1,762 yards, or more than a mile. More plaques on the fairway invite you to have a lash from where Woods fired his second shots.

Past a well-stocked halfway house, and more friendly words from the staff, the 10th offers the tightest drive of the day to jolt you out of any halftime reverie.

The back nine takes another trip down to the flood plain via the steep 13th,  another cunning, hard-to-judge par three. The instant reaction is to aim at the well-guarded pin and hope you’ve picked the right tool, but local knowledge would tell you to land the ball to the right and watch it feed in.

The 15th is dubbed “Temple of Pan” (all the holes are named) but could very easily be ”Temple of Pain” if you are not pin-point accurate with both your drive and approach.

The final stretch is an uphill haul back into the arms of The Grove staff, who will offer to clean your clubs before the handshakes have stopped tingling.

The Strokesaver guide for The Grove says the 18th hole: “Sums up the course perfectly – a combination of bravado, finesse, fascinating trickery and honesty.”

There is no doubt the surroundings, with vistas uninterrupted by the modern world in virtually every direction, offer a sublime experience.

The course is maintained in superb condition and offers a varied, thought-provoking test.

The subtle sculpting suggests a course that will reveal its nuances, if not its secrets, the more times you play it.

Instead of a signature hole, the real feature of The Grove is 18 signature greens that will live long in the memory.

If you can afford the green fee, you can probably afford some refreshment and The Grove’s clubhouse offers the smart Stables restaurant or drinks and food in the bar. The Glasshouse or Colette's restaurant are other dining options available in the hotel.

The Grove’s residential packages make decent financial sense, offering golf and a stay in one of 26 luxury rooms in the old manor house or 191 rooms in the contemporary West Wing.

Guests can enjoy access to the sumptuous Sequoia spa, with indoor pool, bike tracks in the grounds, a Premier League standard football pitch, or the idyllic Walled Garden featuring “The Grove Beach”.

Watford Junction seems a million miles away. Or three, if you're driving.

Designer: Kyle Phillips
Length: 7,152 yards off the back tees 
Par: 72
Green Fees: ££££

For more details visit The Grove

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