Stoke Park Clubhouse is Fifth Most Iconic in the World

Definition of iconic:
1) …of, relating to, or having the characteristics of an icon
2) a: widely recognised and well-established
b: widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence

Goldfinger owned it. Daniel Craig was shot on its steps. And now, the golf clubhouse at Stoke Park Country Club, Spa & Hotel, in Buckinghamshire, has been named the fifth most iconic clubhouse in world golf.

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Final day of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, England

Last Sunday I made my way from East London to the affluent area of (south-) west of London. We’re talking here about famous names like Windsor, Ascot, Virginia Water and last but not least Wentworth, the posh estate in the middle of a beautiful forest with loads of multi-million properties and, not of minor importance, home to the prestigious Wentworth Golf Club.

The West Course at this club is host to the annual BMW PGA Championship which is one of the most important European Tour events as Wentworth is also the home the tour itself – therefore it’s kind of a flagship event for Europe.

DSC06416I haven’t been to many professional golf tournaments so far and there are advantages to watching it on telly and there are disadvantages but it’s always a special feeling and an exhausting experience somehow. Especially at Wentworth where the course layout is more or less a circle, it’s not easily possible to flip between holes to see your favourite players. Here I had to stick to the round and all I could do was walking quicker or waiting for the next group to come.

I started at the 1 with Bernd Wiesberger and followed him for like 3 or 4 holes. Then I waited for the next group which was Gregory Bourdy and one of my idols, The Big Easy Ernie Els. He used to be a resident at this estate and was responsible for a re-design of the course a couple of years back. So as a South-African, with houses all over the world, Ernie was walking home turf here! And it was a big joy to see him play – it really looks so easy!

After following this group to the 17th I made myself comfortable and watched all the other players coming through: Quiros, Jiménez, Garcia, the Molinaris, Westwood, Canizares and last but not least Manassero. The rest of the tournament, basically for the 4 extra-playoff holes, I had a seat on the grand stand right at the 18th green. A perfect place to follow the playoff action!

Needless to say that I did some extensive shopping in the pro shop…

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Moody November golf pictures

I haven’t played much in the past but I shot some beautiful pictures during my last round at Shooters Hill Golf Club, south-east London. I’m constantly posting pictures to the golficiency channel at instagram. If you’re following me on twitter or if you’re a fan at facebook, you already know. If not; check it out!

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Mercury falling…

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November mood at Shooters Hill Golf Club, London.

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Hole 3 at Shooters Hill Golf Club.

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Ball Showcase: Stoke Park

A couple of weeks ago I took my bag and made my way to Stoke Park, a bit outside of west London. I met with a fellow golf blogger and we had a lovely day at this famous golf & country club that hosted various major films and was set for one of the most important golf scenes in modern film; the round of golf of James Bond 007 playing Auric Goldfinger in a matchplay. I organised a dozen of Penfold Heart balls and my mate was playing with Slazengers – just like Bond and Goldfinger.

Stoke Park owns an impressive 27-hole course and the day was (except some rain during the round) a very enjoyable experience. I wonder why they don’t sell the Bond-Experience in some way: organising the balls, maybe a caddie looking like Auric’s butler Oddjob, some wodka martinis in the bar afterwards… they could really make a fortune I guess, people from all over the world would love it.

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Ending of the season in south-east London: Shooters Hill Golf Club

It’s getting colder, darker, more humid and more unpredictable weather-wise. Daylight is gone by 4pm, at least if you need enough light to see the ball, especially when your swing is so inconsistent at the moment that you can’t predict whether the ball smashes into the bushes on the left, into the trees on the right or will come to a rest 275m further in the middle of the fairway. But what could I ask for – I have only played 5 rounds this year so far!!

So I wanted to play one more and call it a season here around London and a colleague wanted to come along to have a very last good golfing day in 2012, enjoying the game, enjoying a beautiful autumn day, breathing freely and to have a nice refreshing pint of Guinness at the club house afterwards.

We decided to play a round at Shooters Hill Golf Club, which is not far from our office in Canary Wharf. We left office quite early, headed to the course, jumped into the golf gear and off we went.  I have to say that I wasn’t really impressed with the course. It’s a par 69 course on a tiny field, leading to the fact that at some places everything is so small and compact and jammed together that within a lob wedge shot distance you’ll find 3 greens and 2 tee boxes. We even had to drive over another green on a par 3 and were hoping the other guys had seen us in our pre-shot routine.

Plus, the condition of the course wasn’t the best. That is probably understandable this time of the year with less maintenance efforts and lots of rain, but still, made the impression of a cheap public course – which it is not!

But what was really underwhelming was the club house. I haven’t ever seen such a run-down building on a golf course before. And the pro shop next to the putting green was no better. Truth be told, I was really disappointed because if you have a look at the pictures on their website, you’ll think: “holy moly, what a posh place just around the corner!” Realising though, that this is far from reality, you understand the reduced prices and that in the lounge bar, there were only 4 grandpas playing cards (with no car at the carpark, therefore locals).

So after playing 10 holes (till it got too dark to continue), walking the course up and down and up and down – it’s called Shooters “Hill” for a reason, we decided to quit, have a pint, head home and conclude the day and season.

And to be honest, I’m not sure if I’d be back soon. Probably next summer, I give it another try, the pictures on their website are so damn good looking… see here.


Ball Showcase: The Grove

The Grove is one of the finest golfing venues I visited so far. The attached hotel is awarded as one of the finest in the world and  and is beautifully situated in the countryside in Hertfordshire, north-west of London. The hotel is equipped with luxurious spa facilities and the golf complex is fitted with cosy restaurants, bars and everything a golfer could ask for.

I highly recommend a round or two when you are around. The venue hosted the 2006 WGC American Express Championship that Tiger Woods could win these days. He currently holds the course record as well, if I’m not mistaken.

Lucky as I am, my employer organised a golf day here with customers and we enjoyed a perfect (Mon)day, out in the countryside, on a spectacular course and as we sit together in a private dining room, we were told that Rory McIlroy just left the driving range… We had no idea he was there and were disappointed we missed him. Maybe next time…

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Hacking at Stoke Park

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 ( 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.

How I missed Rory McIlroy

It was one of these days; almost everything perfect, a nice round on a fabulous course, great service and amenities… so everything great till someone enters the room and ruins your day.

My employer invited me and some good customers to a small little golf tournament at The Grove, a prestigious resort north-west of London. We had a great time, the service was superb, the course really beautiful and we all had a lot of fun. After the round we had an opulent lunch, some drinks and were basically chit-chatting about our achievements during the day. So far so good…

At some point one of the staff members entered the private room, asked if we were all good or whether he could do something for us. We neglected and said we’re having a good time. The next sentence he said, was something like: “Ah, and just to let you know, Rory McIlroy already left…”

He looked into 30 astonished faces, we had no idea Rory was even there. As it turned out Rory McIlroy was, 50 meters away, practising on the range for 2 hours and had, as the official part, the EA Sports Crossbar Challenge to play. It made me want to tear my hair off. Rory just around the corner, ready for some autographs or even some down-to-earth talking… that would have been the ultimate icing on the cake!

And I remember me saying to myself during warm-up: why the heck is there a football goal on the range…

End of the story: I went home, glumy and all what was left was this youtube video I found in the evening:

Ball Showcase: London Golf Club

Starting off with this new section on the website, I dedicate the first ball in the showcase to the City of London. My first round in the UK I played here on the Jack Nicklaus Heritage Course of The London Golf Club, a very nice venue just outside (south-east) of London, near Brands Hatch.

It was the very first time I played such an elite golf course, designed by a spectacular golf celebrity and this really blew me away. I played some nice courses in Germany as well, and some may belong to the Leading Golf Courses in Europe, but The London Golf Club (Heritage Course) is truly a beauty.

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The Grove: an elite golfing venue!

Last week it was the London Golf Club, south-east of London, this week it was The Grove, north-west of London. Both fabulous golf courses and venues but The Grove really blew me away today. It’s a fairly new course and really everything is in perfect shape.

What’s as well in perfect shape is the service. You have no idea how incredibly thoughtful the staff of The Grove is. Really amazing how they organise stuff, care for you and make your stay as comfortable as possible; beginning with valet parking, golf bag handling, carts preparation, club and shoe care and not ending with delicious food in one of the restaurants, tournament management etc.

If you’re in the Watford area in Hertfordshire or just fancying a perfect round of golf, please consider to play a round at The Grove, you’ll never regret it. It’s not cheap but definitely worth it. Best would be to stay for the whole day… or even overnight in the stunning hotel (member of The Leading Hotels of the World).

Tiger Woods won the American Express Championship here in 2006. It’s just an amazing place: