I generally hold the opinion that with so many good courses in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, I don’t feel the need to travel far to play, with the exception of playing outstanding courses. So when the shout came from Lefty ‘We’re playing next Monday at a course called ‘The Shire’ in London’ my heart sank. Firstly, my memory of London was a place built nearly entirely out of concrete, where you have to strain to see anything green (not a huge fan of the place!) and secondly, the M1 south bound on a Monday morning, great! However, finding out that it’s a Seve Ballesteros designed course changed everything!
Braced for the traffic, Lefty, the Yorkshire Terrier and I set out at 7am with the obligatory McDonald’s cappuccino to a course rated as one of the biggest challenges south of the Watford Gap!
The course itself is only 2 junctions round the M25 and took a little over 2hr 15mins to get to from junction 28 of the M1. Against all odds we avoided any traffic too, so were able to play a few shots in the driving range and the practice green before we tee’d off which must be a first for County Golfer!
As soon as you arrive, it’s obvious it’s a new course; the pro shop, lockers and bar are all super modern and it felt more like being at a nice city bar than a golf club. But that wasn’t what we were there for, we were there to see what the maestro Seve had left for us to enjoy!
6 par 3s, 6 par 4s and 6 par5s! That’s definitely a first for me and gives you an insight into the uniqueness of this course, the 14 holes encountering water tell you it’s going to be tough too. An opening par 3, always a nice, gentle start to a round…..Wrong! At 154 yards it’s not the longest, but with water in front, to the right, behind and some to the left too, you have 2 options: 1: hit the green or 2: get lucky (no singing!) any other option and you’re in the water!
By the time we’d played the 2nd hole and all lost a ball, we realised that you can’t attack this course in the usual way; when you’re playing with friends and having a little competition between you, the testosterone starts flowing and you feel like you have to take everything on. If you do that here it will kill you! I’m never one for listening much to advice, I’m way too stubborn for that sort of thing on a golf course, which is one reason why I’ll never play off a low handicap (there are many more of course!) but the advice on the course planner was invaluable. Seve designed it and talks you though it too in the planner. ‘An iron down the hill over the water to a landing area leaving you a low iron, over water again, back up the hill onto a green surrounded by bunkers.’ Every hole really makes you think and plan your golf, at no point do you just aim to hit down the fairway as far as you can. You’re always planning ahead for the next shot or two.
The 6th is a great example of this, the fairway bends left with OOB down the left, water all down the right and a bunker right on your line to the left of the fairway at 230 yards! Try and go over it? There’s a dyke at 261yards too so that’s not possible either. So it’s either a perfectly placed drive or an iron leaving a 165+ yard shot into the green. The whole course is beautifully manicured and you feel like you’re playing a course in the condition it would be in prior to holding an open. I would love to play this course again, knowing now how to tackle it and despite it being a 2hr drive I definitely still will. It’s well worth a visit, though as far as being a member…… I’ll probably leave that for those with a more accurate iron game.
The grand finale and the course’s signature hole is the 18th. It verges on the sublime and the outrageous! It’s very hard to describe, so rather than try I’ll let Seve have the last word: ‘A spectacular finishing hole that can easily ruin a good round. A drive to the start of the plateau will leave you with a good view of the green, which is surrounded by the ‘S’ lake. This hole takes no prisoners.’