The opening of the exclusive Centurion Club on July 1st 2013 was a surprising event. Very few private clubs have opened during recent tough economic times and there is no shortage of golf clubs in this saturated golfing area to the north of London.
Simon Gidman, formerly an assistant of the Hawtree design team, was chosen by the Centurion owners to fashion the exclusive golf course. The Centurion management decided not to pay the design fees associated with a big named architect and chose instead a relatively unknown designer with a modest portfolio.
The Centurion Club is located to the west of St Albans in rural Hertfordshire countryside and we were invited to play the course shortly after its official opening.
With woodland flanking the first five holes, there’s a feeling of maturity from the off and there’s more than a passing resemblance on these early holes to those located at nearby Brocket Hall and a few miles further north at Woburn. There’s an open country feel at 6 and 8 though 13 (reminiscent of the London Club) and from 14 to 18 you are transported to Grove-like holes.
Donald Ross thought that “variety is the spice of golf, just as it is in life” and so, if you seek variation and you have a few spare pounds in your pocket, then the Centurion Club may be for you. However, if you want to experience an exciting new golf course but don’t want to join, you’d better start looking right away for a friendly Centurion member to sign you in.
The inaugural Golf Sixes event concluded with Denmark winning the final against Australia on the closing green. It remains to be seen whether or not this particular format will become golf’s equivalent of cricket’s Twenty20, but it was an encouraging start and an exciting respite from the usual strokeplay humdrum.
I was lucky to play here as a guest of a member, and will hopefully return as its a wonderful place to play golf.
If you get the chance to play, do it..! From the outside people will disregard it as a new modern course with a private/exclusive membership, but I can easily say I've never felt so welcome at a golf club before. No silly dress codes or rules, an incredibly relaxed atmosphere and members who are passionate about their club. Many places can learn from Centurion on how to run a club in the modern day.
As for the course itself, it starts with 5 holes through the trees which are really high quality. The 1st and 4th are reachable par 5's (with 2 very good hits), the second is a delightful par 3 with an interesting green providing tiers and undulation. The course opens up from the 6th hole and mixes some great vistas, nice driving holes and some fantastic second shot approaches.
After 13, it's back briefly into the trees for a stunning par 3 (favourite short hole on the course) and a great finish with some tough holes. The 18th is a cracking par 5 to finish in front of the modern clubhouse.
There are not many places in the UK that have the mix which Centurion does, a top class course and facilities, almost hotel like service and a welcoming and relaxing atmosphere. Bearwood Lakes, The Wisley and The Grove provide obvious comparisons and it is great to see that not all top100 courses need history and lunch with a tweed jacket.
The Centurion has been open around six years and this week I had my fourth visit. Like most courses, they need time to mature, develop and bed-in and that growing period is very much on track here. In the early years, observations were that the course was a bit of a mix between a tight tree-lined style and a more open set of holes from the 6th onwards. Things are changing on this front as the 37,000 trees that have been planted on the course grow and make the open holes that much more intimate now – this is really good on the eye.
As you would expect, condition and presentation (not always that high in ranking importance) is of a high standard, tees, fairways and the greens all a pleasure to play from. I do think that comparisons will be made with The Grove which is only seven miles away – another ‘new’ course (2003) and The Grove has set the bar very high for this style of course. In time, in my opinion probably due to a better piece of land, The Centurion could challenge The Grove in the rankings.
The first five holes, as mentioned in many places are ‘Woburn’ like – which is never a bad thing as a comparison, with the dog-legging par-4 3rd my pick of these. The par-5 9th hole is developing into a very strong hole; a double fairway, water on the left at landing point from the tee, six bunkers and a slight uphill approach to the green all combine to make this a very strategic hole indeed.
The par-3’s on the course are really enjoyable to play with the 14th the longest and toughest but I do have one suggestion (and I have mentioned it to key people at the club). The 17th is the shortest of these holes but I would still like the water hazard that is left of the green to be seen from the tee – not sure of the very best way to make this happen but it would add to the excitement of the hole no doubt.
Getting the chance to play The Centurion may not be as easy as playing at The Grove (very private v very public) but if you can get on, I think you’ll enjoy this strong modern course.
I’m a member but this is a really good golf course. The opening holes through the trees might give a false impression of the remainder, opens out after the 5th before returning briefly, but always in immaculate condition and relaxing place to play. Likely to improve as it matures but already a great place to play.
Found everyone there friendly and food in clubhouse is excellent.
I’ve been umming and ahhing over this review for some time. It’s not easy to be objective about a course that isn’t your cup of tea.
My feeling is that Simon Gidman has done a good job with land that has plenty of interesting movement. The routing is actually very clever – it’s effectively out-and-back, in anything but a straight line. Eight holes occupy two completely separate parcels of ground, linked by two connector holes at #5 and #14.
The more compelling holes, through the pines (which crop up in most photographs), occur at the start of the round. These would be better suited to appear at the end of round, but the location of the clubhouse is a constraining factor. The closing holes are not bad, but they just don’t compare favourably with the opening holes. So instead of finishing on a crescendo you come home on a diminuendo.
As I already said, the closing holes are decent enough, but they’re not holes that will stick in the mind for very long, except perhaps for the exciting water-protected closer.
I enjoyed my day here on a blustery sunny day last summer, but left feeling underwhelmed. The wind direction on the day was blowing the adjacent M1 traffic noise constantly across the course and the bent grass greens (that were part of the club’s early marketing promotion) are not quite as pure as I’m sure they were when the course first opened for play.
Clearly the club is pitching at wealthier clientele, and I can absolutely see why the upwardly mobile might choose to be members here, but it’s not to my taste.
Perfect Corporate Venue. Whilst the course is very pleasing and the first 6 holes are absolutely stunning opening holes, the back 9 loses the links with the firs and with that loses a little bit of character. the course is built to be played off the back tees, some of the holes off the forward tees lose all character whilst off the backs it is a completely different look and feel.
The food in the clubhouse is absolutely gorgeous and the wine selection is far beyond the wine you would get at most clubs. I'm thoroughly looking forward to returning when the "Summer" weather returns.
Ultimately, this isn't in the same league as the Surrey Sand belt clubs, but feels much more welcoming and focused on the experience rather than just the course.
New and brash, but soulless. Certainly worth playing once so you can say you been there but I wouldn't return unless in receipt of a member's invite and, even then, I would choose other courses if I could. The course has settled down well and it is in great condition, similar to The Grove. The first few holes are a bit like Woburn but after that, it becomes a bit of a slog to be honest and I hit a decent ball lengthwise. After 15, the Clubhouse is in sight and I was ready to call it a day but, at least, the 16th is a great par 4 (Stroke 1). 17 and 18 are a bit disappointing. The new clubhouse is very smart but classy it ain't!! The car park is full of white Range Rovers with black wheels - says it all, really. Sorry, it's a Miss for me.
On a recent visit the golf course at The Centurion Club was every inch playable, and indeed highly enjoyable, although there is still very much a work in progress feel to the entire experience. This will clearly change over the coming months as the project approaches its conclusion and there is no doubt that the finished article will be hugely impressive.
The most unusual thing about this big and bold modern inland layout, near Hemel Hempstead just north of London, is that there are more par fives than par fours! All told there are seven three-shotters and whilst none of them, with perhaps the exception of the 543-yard last, are overly taxing in terms of length there’s probably four too many of them for my liking!
This is not a criticism of the par 74 Centurion Club specifically. It’s just that it appears that no modern golf course ever seems to have a par less than 72, certainly never fewer than 71, and as a result tend to have at least four par fives; arguably the most uninteresting type of hole in golf, especially when consumed regularly. As a side note few new builds have one of the most fun types of hole; a driveable par four. The uphill 357-yard tenth is the closest we get at Centurion… so that rules most of us out unless your name’s Bubba.
What was pleasing compared to other newbies, and really noticeable here, is that you don’t return to the clubhouse until you finish on the 18th. Having recently played several layouts built since the turn of the millenium it was refreshing to be taken on more of a journey here and not return to the clubhouse halfway through your round.
It should be noted that from the silver competition tees the course, which strongly favours the aerial game, plays a very manageable 6,756-yards so it’s far from a slog and you could argue that bigger hitters will have a plethora of birdie chances which may increase satisfaction levels. Perhaps it’s just a ploy to please the members! A good one at that.
NB: The course plays as a par 72 from the ‘black’ championship tees although these don’t feature on the regular scorecard.
The course, designed by Simon Gidman, meanders over spectacular topography, features almost 100 bunkers and has four major water features. There are two specific parts of the layout which are linked by stunning short holes at the fifth and 14th.
The strength of the course is arguably the par fours though. There’s only half a dozen of them but the third, seventh, 12th and 16th are four of the strongest holes on the course, each one featuring a dog-leg to the right but all very individual in appearance.
Centurion is certainly atypical to a traditional English private members golf club, however, it is clear that the owners are developing a place, a community if you like, where their members are the lifeblood and where they can enjoy the finer aspects of life alongside good quality golf.
It’s not personally the type of club I’d seek to join but then again I’m not an ex-Premier League footballer or multi-millionaire.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I played this course in late November and had an outstanding day. The condition of the course, welcome at the club, together with the challenge and variety of the course will make this course one of the very best. The first five holes are played through mature pine trees and are reminiscent of Woburn, particularly the Duke's course. It is a tough start, especially the dogleg par four 3rd, which requires a long straight drive to get to the corner followed by a long iron uphill to a well bunkered, two-tier green with false front. A four is a great score here. The 6th and 7th run alongside woodland and these two visually stunning and challenging holes complete an extremely strong start to the course, surpassing even the first six holes on Woburn Duke's. The course then turns away from the woods from 8th-13th and the challenge becomes strategic bunkering, elevation changes and magnificent views. The bunkering down the right hand side of the 9th is excellent, just on the line you want to hit down, whilst on the par five 13th three large bunkers goad you into trying to hit over them from an elevated tee to enable the green to be reached in two. Finally the course comes back through the pines (14th) and through to a lovely finish of risk-reward holes: 15th, 17th and 18th all represent decent birdie opportunities if the weather and pins allow. The conditioning of the course is outstanding despite its tender age and will undoubtedly surpass Woburn and the Grove in this regard when it matures. The variety of holes - only once are there two consecutive holes of the same par - is similar to the Berkshire (Red) and keeps the interest levels up throughout the round. I stood on the 17th tee feeling slightly beaten up by the course yet disappointed the round would be ending soon. I see this course squarely in the Top100 in Britain in the next few years and pushing the Top 50. If you get a chance, play it.