If you've never visited The Addington Golf Club and Mr Spock beamed you onto the first tee, you would never believe you were a mere ten miles from the centre of London. The Addington is an extraordinary heathland golfing paradise. It's a course which has remained virtually unchanged since J.F. Abercromby, the man behind Worplesdon, designed it back in 1914. Many believe the Addington is Abercromby's finest creation.
In the early days, The Addington boasted two golf courses, the Old and the New - 36 of the finest golf holes in England, as good, if not better than Sunningdale. Unfortunately, the New course no longer exists; a housing estate now stands in its place.
The current course is an idiosyncratic affair, with rickety trestle bridges spanning glorious heathland dells. Mature pine and birch trees provide a wonderful feeling of intimacy. It really is a delightful place to be, especially in the winter, because the sandy course drains perfectly and remains bone dry underfoot.
The course measures slightly more than 6,300 yards and opens up with a challenging par three. The 5th hole is a long par four with a slight dogleg to the left. An accurate tee shot is required to the right to the left-sloping fairway. A hanging lie is often the order of the day for the second shot, which is uphill to a well-guarded green. Take plenty of club for the approach shot, which is usually longer than it looks.
Bernard Darwin was a lover of The Addington, especially the new course, which as we have already said, sadly no longer exists. The course we play today remains witness to Abercromby's skill. Or as Darwin said in his book, Golf Between Two Wars: "He had admirable material, the country of sand and heather and birch trees, and with what an artistic eye he used it!"
In 2019, the club appointed Clayton, DeVries & Pont to conduct a long-term course plan with a view to returning the design to its Abercromby origins using historical photography. The aerial images show the course was much more open and tree removal will open up views and assist with heather regeneration. Greens have shrunk by 30-40% so the intention is to push them out again wherever possible. “It's almost like a Rembrandt found in an attic," says Frank Pont. "You need to take four layers of varnish off, just clean it up and bring back what's there. But the whole painting is still there.”
I was able to play The Addington during a recent trip to the Southwest of London. My goal was to fill in my resume by playing as many top heathland courses as possible. My brave wife Ruth accompanied me on this golfing adventure and on this day we were able to meet up with top 100 editor in chief Keith Baxter and editor Jim McCann.
It was a very warm day, so warm that I ventured out in shorts. The course was extremely dry from the weather this summer so that the course played extremely hard and fast. Given the rolling terrain that this course is laid out on and the twists and turns of the holes The Addington demanded your best to place the ball in play and in proper position.
The first is a rather average par 3, but the difficulty ramps up at the dogleg right par 5 second, the uphill par 3 third, and the very difficult par 4 fourth, where the trees pinch about 100 yards short of the green blocking off the approach unless it has been perfectly placed on the left side of the fairway.
The course really begins to take off around 6 . To the right of the green lies the only greenside bunker I've ever encountered that has a bridge over it! I would estimate that the bunker is 5 to 7 yards deep and I'm not sure I could get out if I got in. From 6 on the course just continues to build in character. 8 is a marvelous dogleg left with a semi blind tee shot. 9 is a great par 4 as well. The drive is hit up hill and then the hole turns left to hit to an upside down bowl of a green that must be approached over an ocean of heather. 12 is a unique hole that no modern architect would design today. As others have described it is downhill to a terrace and then back uphill over a rugged expanse of heather and fescue. I somehow negotiated the terrace in the middle of the fairway was able to hit the green in two but I'm not sure I would have the nerve to try that in a medal competition. 13 is probably the "signature" hole here, and it's simply a matter of bashing a shot 230 yards on to green with trouble right and a severe slope left. No problem there.
14 and 16 are fine holes which offer beautiful views of downtown London off the tee.
The Addington is a tough test of golf but great fun to play. The course is laid out over some rough and tumbling terrain that architect J.H. Abercromby used to great advantage and is a textbook case of how to design a course around the natural contours of the land. The course is 6300 yards from the white tees, but par 69 is a tough score. My wife Ruth is a relative beginner, but she enjoyed the course. The greens are all designed to allow a run up shot and she was soon figuring out that her 100 yard carry with her 4 hybrid could often negotiate over 150 yards on the dry rolling terrain. This course is a very solid 5 ball course. I agree with Keith that more tree clearing would only improve the aesthetics and playability of the course. A great test that I think golfers of all levels would enjoy. Read my story: Diamonds of the heather - golfing London's heathland
I certainly enjoyed The Addington when I teed it up here alongside Jim (and Richard & Ruth Smith) on a scorching hot Sunday afternoon earlier this month. I was amazed at how browned off some of the fairways were and I feared they were on the verge of being lost after such a long, dry and very hot spell of weather (thankfully the rain came soon afterwards). The greens on the other hand were lush and rather too soft and spongy for my liking, but that’s a minor quibble because I think The Addington is an inspirational treasure in the heart of South London’s uninspiring and incredibly busy suburbia.
By some distance this heavily doglegged course was the toughest challenge we encountered while Jim and I were on a whistle stop six-course Surrey tour. The fiery hard and fast fairways made the course shorter but by no means easier. If the greens had been a tad firmer it would have been a scary golfing test. In places the tumbling topography is genuinely stirring and, as Jim has already mentioned, the bridges are The Addington’s trademarks and I made a point of using each and every one.
The opening five holes failed to get my golfing juices flowing. Even the much-lauded 4th didn’t stir my golfing soul (despite being a strong two shotter). But then, bang! You encounter the ravine on the right of the approach to #6. I couldn’t help but think that the bunker set menacingly in the depths of the ravine was a tad too cruel. I’ve never seen anything like it before and I doubt I ever will again. From here on in, The Addington just gets more and more interesting.
The 7th is a drop dead gorgeous short hole and the 9th is nerve jangler from the tee and also for the approach. Actually, there are far too many good holes to mention but the short par five 12th is a conundrum – why would anyone bench steps into the hillside midway down the hole? We pondered this and came to a conclusion, thinking that maybe it was once played as a short par four from the terraced area adjacent to the steps.
Having referred the puzzle to Darwin, our theory was quickly proven to be wrong and perhaps a little bit right, “the twelfth, though very nearly the most magnificent hole in creation, has blemishes. If you an place your tee shot on the small plateau built to receive it, then there is no shot in the world having a more glorious zest and relish than the second across the big valley to the narrow green with the background of fir trees. But that plateau is small and on either side of it and beyond it are lies something too sloping and the element of luck plays too great a part. Nature has tantalized the architect by dangling before him the prospect of one of the great two-shot holes and then leaving him in the lurch with a hole that is only great fun.”
Presumably, back in Darwin’s day, #12 was played as a par four. I cannot imagine how difficult this hole would have been as a two-shotter one hundred years ago.
There are still rather too many trees that are preventing the course from reaching its full potential. The tough 220-yard par three 13th is an example where the beauty (and daunt) of the greensite is shrouded by foliage. A tree-clearing programme is being undertaken (especially evident at the 9th) but there’s still a way to go.
The Shard London Bridge is the line for the tee shot on the short par four 14th.and I’ll bet there are not too many golf holes in the capital where you can say that!
Abercromby certainly created something very special and daring here at The Addington, but despite the drama (and some world-class golf holes), I personally find his collaboration with Willie Park Junior at Worplesdon more agreeable. However once the Croydon tree-clearing programme has completed, who knows? All bets are off.
The course gets off to a bit of a slow start. I didn’t have a problem with the uphill, par three 1st, played to a two-tiered green with a big back to front tilt – if anything, it was refreshing to begin with something other than the usual humdrum par four or par five hole. That said, there’s a very similar, slightly longer par three played only two holes later at the 3rd so I imagine competitions can quickly become backed up right at the start of the round if golfers struggle for whatever reason to get away from these holes.
The first of The Addington’s trademark bridges is encountered to the right of the 6th green and, although it’s a largely superfluous structure at this hole because you can comfortably walk around the little gully that it spans, this wooden structure (and all the others) add greatly to the ambience of a wonderful course that’s absolutely bursting with character – and later in the round, you’ll be glad they’ve been built to take you across some of the deeper ravines.
For me, the round really got under way at the short, downhill par three 7th, protected by bunkers eating into the hillside on the right and a large fall off area to the left of the green. Immediately following this hole, the par four 8th is somewhat controversial – blind off the tee with a hogsback fairway to negotiate before the fairway veers left to the green – and it precedes my favourite hole on the course, the 375-yard 9th.
This hole requires TWO wooden bridges to get from tee to green: the first takes you across a deep gully to reach your tee shot then, after playing your approach shot at a 45 degree angle left to an upturned saucer-shaped green, the second bridge crosses another bracken-filled ravine to the putting surface – for me, it’s one of the most distinctive par fours I’ve ever played!
The back nine is just unrelenting in the quality of holes that appear in front of you as the fairways are routed across acres of totally turbulent terrain. In particular, the rather eccentric par five 12th, (played blind off the tee then uphill to a plateau green) and the long, demanding downhill par three 13th are as tough a two-hole combination as you will find anywhere.
The par five 16th doglegs left then downhill, with the fairway narrowing to just a few yards in front of the green before dropping off to the right of the putting surface. I’m sure many will think this an unfair design feature but the single digit player in our group (playing the course for the first time) narrowly missed his putt from close to the pin for an eagle so it can’t be that unfair for the better golfers among us.
Remarkably, there’s still time to squeeze in the SIXTH par three of the round at the 17th and again, it requires a little wooden bridge to get from tee box to green, across yet another bracken-infested gorge. The half dozen par threes here, varying in length between 140 and 230 yards, will live long in the memory at The Addington, but then so will so many of the other unique holes on this tremendous one-off layout.
The Addington is a golf course that divides opinion. Some say it is one of England's finest courses. Others regard it amongst the World's best!
Wherever you place it there's no denying that this is a very fine golf course and in many ways a little different to the norm with a few quirks thrown in along the way.
The rule book is flung out of the window at the first hole when the course opens with a par three. It's a great little hole played up a hill with a tricky green and menacing bunker to the right. That said, I'm not particularly a fan of par three's to start the round and couldn't help thinking this would have been an even better hole had it come mid-way through the round.
The second hole is a par five which is then promptly followed by another one-shotter, the second of six short holes throughout the round and one of the reasons the course clocks in at under 6,300 yards.
The fourth, fifth and sixth are all solid par fours before another delightful short hole followed by a further run of three strong yet differing par fours. The short 11th is nothing more than flick with a wedge but the green is well protected by sand.
The closing holes at The Addington are great fun to play.
I liked The Addington very much and the highs were certainly just that but I personally thought there were too many lulls during the round to consider this as a contender for serious world stardom.
Regardless, it is still one of England's shining lights and a fine example of a wonderful heathland golf course. It has a certain uniqueness to it and that alone should be warmly welcomed.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
In my quest to play the Top 100 before I am under the grass (15 to go), The Addington, a heathland course within easy reach of London (and with great views to the city skyline), uniquely features par 3’s to commence both nines. After five rather bland holes, you might well feel that this track has no place on any list but then you reach the par-4 6th hole… and from there, you are in for a real treat. Some absolutely brilliant holes nestling into heathland dells, with the 13th long par-3 and absolute cracker. If the club can find some improvements early in the round, The Addington could sail up the rankings.