There are some golf courses in the world that really attract me and which I want to play rather sooner than later. Wentworth in south-west London is one of that category but as well others on the British Isles, like The Belfry, Gleneagles, Celtic Manor, St. George’s Hill or some others world wide in Spain, California, Florida or elsewhere (for some reason I don’t fancy playing St. Andrews at all).
Mostly they made it onto my list because these courses are supposed to be outstanding beauties among all golf courses or they hosted some major golf tournaments, just like Gleneagles which will be the next Ryder Cup venue. In general I think it’s a very attractive thing to do, playing golf where golf legends made their way up and down the fairways and greens that became famous just for that; hosting tournaments and offering the most pleasant course imaginable to the living golfing heroes.
And there are these other courses that made it onto my list because of other celebrities that used to play there. Stoke Park, a stone-throw from central London is one of these facilities. Stoke Park was venue for one of the most famous golfing scenes in films ever produced: Auric Goldfinger playing James Bond in a matchplay over 18 holes at this 27-hole venue, cheating on 007 with the help of his caddie Oddjob and in the end to lose the game against the British MI6 agent.
The course plays a major role in this not-so-short scene and is one of these wanna-play-in-my-lifetime courses for many golf (and Bond) maniacs this then.
Just recently I had the chance to fulfil that dream, following an invitation by a fellow German golf blogger (www.golfnerd.de) who wanted to write a story about the course and the James Bond heritage. No need to say I couldn’t wait for the moment to arrive to pack my stuff and to make my way from east London to Stoke (near Slough), 30mins from Paddington plus a short ten pounds cab ride. [Click for map]
Arriving at Stoke Park is like arriving in a different time or taking part in the particular film, a very strange feeling because you really recognise the venue, the famous club house at least.
The weather was bad the days before, as always in mid-October. It was pouring down just the evening before, so I made sure I had my rain gear with me. I needed it and my thermo underwear as well, so not really the best circumstances to play a round that should be remembered forever but still worth the effort making all the way and having the day off on a Wednesday… btw a day on a golf course beats a day in the office big time, I can tell you (but you probably know already).
As a consequence the course was really wet and with ‘wet’ I mean it looked a bit like the north-England Lake District. Even the greens were muddy and some were covered with water for the most part. Not the best condition to play the round of your life but still not as bad as thinking about cancelling all that!
The beginning at Stoke Park is a fairly wide first fairway with bunkers coming into play on the left and the driving range coming into play to the right! No fence, no security, just the trust in the people and the slicers to have a good day and a good start. My playing partner, a slicer, hammered his ball securly into the fairway. I, as a drawer, ended up in the left fairway bunker (probably the only one without standing water but rock solid unfortunately). I think I had to note down a 6 on this par-4 whereas my mate put down a 3…
The course design by Harry Colt is a parkland style for at least the first 18 holes. There are lots of bunkers but more in this old-fashioned way, and I were lucky enough to stand in most of them (hope you reckognise the irony I put into this sentence, looking at my overall score). The hole no 7 is an interesting par-3 that stood template for the 12th at Augusta National, probably one of THE most famous holes in the world (next to the 7 at Pebble Beach or the 17 at TPC Sawgrass). That was just the moment when the rain arrived again and we had to jump into our rain dresses. Just on-time for one of the toughest greens to putt at the 8th and the green with the most water on it at the 9th where basically 75% was covered with water… interesting putt I can tell you. Approach pitches didn’t roll anywhere and were buried in their own mark on most holes. But I don’t want to complain, we had lots of fun and were just a bit unfortunate with the weather and course conditions. I bet during summertime (in England… see, irony again) the course is in much better shape and a real treat with course design, flora and service in the attached hotel complex.
Holes 15 to 17 and some of the last 9 of the 27 holes have even more water to offer, however on purpose this time as they open up to some tough lakes and several water hazards to cope with.
I will never forget Stoke Park’s 18th, not only because of the Bond/Goldfinger showdown but as well because of the 4-putt I had here. In the end, and I’m man enough to admit, I scored a flat 100 with 2 double-par 8s… shame on me – and all that with the ’break 80’ goal in mind. One could argue I couldn’t find my game on that particular day, which is completely correct, but I had fun anyway. On the one hand because of the famous course we were playing and on the other hand because it was fun to walk 18 holes with my fellow golf blogger. We enjoyed ourselves, had many things to discuss both on and off the course and we will probably meet again for another interesting round somewhere else.