The following edited extracts are from The History of Highgate Golf Club 1904-2004 by John Chaumeton:
“According to a notice above the bar, Highgate Golf Club was founded in January 1904. But that does not tell the whole story. The 1904/1905 edition of The Golfer’s Annual refers to the ‘Highgate and East Finchley Golf Club’ – instituted in 1904. It was only in 1906 that ‘East Finchley’ was dropped from the club’s title.
Golf Illustrated magazine of 26 February 1904 reported as follows: ‘A new club, to be called the Highgate and East Finchley Golf Club, has been formed to acquire a lease of 80 acres of very suitable land for an 18-hole course adjoining the Bishops Wood at Highgate. W.M. Winton, the well-known Acton professional, and authority on inland greens, is laying out the course.’
The Highgate Golf Club brochure, published in 1927, mentions that the course was ‘laid out by Billy Winton, who, at that time, was the professional to the (now defunct) Acton Golf Club’. Winton was no stranger to north London, having been the East Finchley pro from 1897 to 1900.
However, the curriculum vitae of Cuthbert S. Butchart, a golf pro and course designer, refers to the fact that he ‘remodelled’ the Highgate course in the period 1904/05. It is possible he acted as an adviser to Winton. Butchart was born in Carnoustie and was the professional at many clubs, including Berlin (1911-1914) and Baltimore (1921).
He ended his career in the USA but only after an unwelcome stay in Germany. At the outbreak of the war in 1914 he was, unfortunately for him, in Berlin, designing a course, and was interned by the German authorities for two years.
Since the end of the 19th century, and the rapid expansion of the population of London, the Metropolitan Water Board had sought sites for reservoirs in order to provide ever-increasing amounts of water to an unquenchable capital. In London, part of the Highgate golf course was one of the sits selected (there were others in Highgate Village and in Dartmouth Park Hill).
During the period of construction, the club lost a number of holes, and once building was finished, the layout of the course had to be changed to take into account the new topographical feature. When construction work was completed (1929), the Water Board agreed to put down a layer of earth and to grass over the whole structure. A new layout was brought into play and this more or less retained the first nine holes.
During the Second World War, the 7th and 9th fairways were ploughed for the growing of cereals, and this land was not leased back to the club until 1949/50. In September 1966, the course was re-measured, establishing an overall length of 6,005 yards. As a consequence, all handicaps were increased by one. Over the years, the course has been constantly improved. For example, in 2001 major reconstruction of bunkers on the 11th and 17th greens were carried out, and in 2003, the 1st, 5th and 18th tees were rebuilt.”.
The course at Highgate, North London is not that well known outside of the area. It is a fantastic club with a decent course and one that visitors should seek out to play. For those non-locals, this area is a very affluent part of London and also in a fairly congested golf course location - plenty of courses in Middlesex and around the south of Hertfordshire are not that far away at all.
There is plenty to like about Highgate; presentation of this parkland course is really good; Derek Mason and his green-keeping team certainly love the course. The course by any standards let alone modern ones, is not on a lot of land – under 90 acres for 18 holes could not and would not be allowed to be built today. If length is what you want in a course, then Highgate is not going to deliver – 6015 yards at it’s maximum. If charm, quality of greens and tees, a great club atmosphere, and strong club beliefs are important, then here is your club/course.
Highgate starts with some short par-4s; 284 yards at the first and 335 yards at the second – so a good scoring start is not a major challenge. The third hole is strong; 376 yards to a left to right fairway and then an approach across the valley. At 117 yards the fourth is the shortest hole and very pretty. The stroke index #1 hole comes at the sixth and rightly so, this is a big par-4 at 462 yards but the bunkering needs to be a lot sharper – there are some that are misplaced and a little weak. I think we have to remember that poor bunkering (position and quality) is a big no no and all clubs need to have this high on their priority list.
Playing the par-4’s at the 9th and 10th are unique as they play above, yes above the hidden Metropolitan Water Board reservoir that has been there for nearly 100 years serving London – when you first see these holes you can be forgiven for thinking they look a little odd but once you understand that there is valid reason, then all is well.
With the space restrictions on the course there is not a real practice area, so the position between the par-4s at the 13th and 14th is used for hitting a few balls and whilst understandable, really is not that great.
The next two holes are the longest and strongest of the par-4’s – the 15th is 440 yards and uphill to the green and the 16th at 468 yards – a small suggestion would be to make one of these a par-5 – two reasons; the percentage of golfers reaching either hole in two shots is very very low and also as there only one par-5 on the course – just would help with the balance I think.
Lots to enjoy about Highgate and one of the better courses in the area.
These reviews look like they have been written by Highgate members! It certainly isn't 10 minutes from Central London and it certainly isn't the best course in Middlesex/North London. For me, nearby Muswell Hill and Finchley are better courses and better experiences thanks to their excellent clubhouses. Another reviewer compares this with The Shire, calling the Barnet venue is an 'easy, wide Disneyland resort-style course', but The Shire is an equally stern test with modern irrigation systems which enable it to keep all greens and tees open throughout the year. Highgate by contrast becomes a boggy pit in Winter. It's challenging with some good holes, but no way no. 1.
Great course - and as was stated in a recent review in Golf Monthly magazine....."few courses live up to being such a hidden gem as Highgate..." Although overall quite short, there are 4 par 4s over 450 yards that will have even very long hitters reaching for their 3 irons for their second shots (and coming up short), so you won't leave feeling like you've been playing an easy course. Each hole is full of character with many mature trees, and many changes of elevation and if you're not straight and steady off the tee, you'll be in deep trouble. An easy, wide Disneyland resort-style course like The Shire this certainly is not, you need to think your way around here, and often where to miss is the best option unless you've got complete control of your game since the fairways can be tight and the greens small. The members and staff are the most friendly we've ever come across, despite this being a posh private member's club course with very posh members, that apparently includes all sort of public figures and celebrities.