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.
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.