The London Golf Club is situated in rolling countryside close to Ash Green and the historic Brands Hatch motor racing circuit. The late Sir Denis Thatcher – husband of the former Prime Minister Margaret – opened the club in September 1993. But the official course opening took place in July 1994 and was marked by a Charity Challenge Skins Match on the Heritage. Jack Nicklaus – the Heritage course designer – battled with Seve Ballesteros and Tony Jacklin. Seve’s magical short game eventually helped him to edge Jack out with ten skins to eight. Tony was an also-ran.
The Heritage course is the realisation of the dream of businessman Masao Nagahara who felt that there was a need for a world-class golf club within close proximity of the capital. Nicklaus designed the Heritage with five sets of tees and if you can get a game on this private members course there is bound to be a tee for your ability. The sister course – called the International – is almost as good as the Heritage and it's more accessible, proving to be a popular corporate venue.
With wide generous fairways, the Heritage is a course that tempts you to reach for the driver on many tees, but the key to good scoring is in your approach play. The huge USGA greens are well protected by enormous irregularly shaped bunkers which wait to catch the wayward shot. Naturally, Nicklaus has used water as a feature on a number of holes and perhaps one of the best examples of a water hazard is on the par five 5th where a lake edged in stonework guards the green. There are two drop zones on the excellent par three 7th indicating that the lake is a serious problem and the custodian of hundreds of golf balls. But perhaps the best water hole of all comes at the short par four 13th which requires an iron off the tee and then a short iron approach across the lake to a narrow green that slopes away from you. It’s a cracker.
The Heritage course was the venue for the 2008 European Open, which saw England's Ross Fisher cruise to a stunning seven-shot victory. Frenchman and world number 449 Christian Cevaer was a shock one-shot winner of the 2009 European Open, which was again staged on the Heritage course. Tornament golf returned to the London Golf Club in 2014 in the shape of the World Matchplay Championship, but this flagship event was played on the International course rather than the Heritage, with Mikko Ilonen beating Henrik Stenson 3&1 to claim the title.
The International course is a very popular venue for golf days, but the Heritage course is reserved for members only and is considered to be a superior layout by most people. The two courses look very similar, and are routed over the same open downland with very similar design traits, but over 18 holes the Heritage provides a more consistent test with no weak holes. It just feels like a bit more thought and care went in to this course, it's a little more polished.
I've played here several times, but the most memorable occasion was the Monday morning after the European Open. It was fascinating to play a course set up to test the pros, with Sunday pin positions, narrow fairways, thick rough, and rock hard greens. I played out of my skin, but it was a day to leave the scorecard in your pocket!
Highlights for me are the holes involving water. The green of the par five 5th is fronted by a lake, a safe lay up leads to a tricky approach to a shallow green. However, a more aggressive lay up which flirts with the lake rewards you with an easier approach and opens up the full length of the green.
The 7th is an attractive par 3 across a lake. The temptation is to take an extra club, but the green is shallow and guarded by a cluster of bunkers over the back. Anything long leaves a nightmare bunker shot to a green sloping away from you down to the water. 12 is an interesting par 5 with a split fairway and 13 is an attractive short par 4 with an approach over water.
As always, conditioning is excellent, and a 36 hole golf day over both courses here is a great option.
A championship course having hosted the European Open on two different occasions. This course offers a good variety of holes, and if players are playing from the correct tees can be a fun course with good strategy throughout. Water and thick rough are the primary hazards on this course, especially on the par 5 5th that has water short and right of the green. In general, the greens are fairly flat with most of the trouble being from tee to green. 8 is another par 5, this time with a tree protecting the entrance to the green. The 11th is a beautiful downhill par 3, that is vaguely reminiscent of the downhill 13th at Holinwell , and 18 plays back towards the clubhouse with an elevated green. A pleasant place for a round, and could be a real challenge from the tips.
The members-only Heritage layout staged the European Open in 2008 and 2009 whilst the 2014 Volvo World Matchplay Championship was contested on the International course.
I recently enjoyed a full day here with a morning outing on the “International” followed by an afternoon round on the Jack Nicklaus Signature “Heritage”.
The Heritage carries the personal mark of the Golden Bear and is not dissimilar in style. However, in my opinion, and that of many others, it is the superior course with a little bit more character and challenge.
The drives ask a few more questions from the tee and the green complexes are simply more engaging – the greenside bunkers, in true Nicklaus fashion, are certainly more deadly and deeper.
The set of short holes on the Heritage is also a notch up and there is more strategy required throughout.
There is plenty of width on both courses but should one stray there is long, penal rough where losing a ball is more than a possibility. It’s interesting to note that a 5-year development plan is underway on the Heritage course to restore it back to its original design concept after a narrowing of the fairways over the years. The cost of hosting European Tour events I guess.
The London Golf Club doesn’t offer the type of golf that I seek on a regular basis but putting personal preferences aside both courses, especially the Heritage, are a match for virtually all other inland golf courses built since 1990 and do exactly what they were designed to do… and do it very well.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
A day at the London Club is a memorable experience with two excellent courses to test your skills. After a quick look around the impressive clubhouse our day began on the Heritage Course which is generally regarded as the superior layout. I wouldn't describe American style parkland as my favoured type of golf but the Heritage is certainly a quality layout with bold bunkering and superb greens. There is water to contend with on six holes adding plenty of excitement to what is already a stiff challenge. The two par-3's on the front nine are both very good, the 3rd being downhill with water on the left and the 7th, all carry over a lake with bunkers waiting behind. The four greens that are approached over lakes are impressive, all are raised well above the water and fronted by attractive stonework. The 5th and 8th are both good par 5's, the former is another protected by water and on the latter a tree in the middle of the fairway needs to be negotiated with your approach. The 9th is possibly the pick of the par-4's on the front nine as the raised green is protected by deep bunkers on both sides. On the back nine, the 12th is a good risk and reward par-5 where you must avoid the trees on the right before deciding whether to attack a green situated amongst a cluster of bunkers. My favourite hole on the back nine though is the picturesque 13th, less than 300 yards from the yellow tee but a great short par-4. A lay-up short of the water is necessary for all but the longest of hitters. The 18th provides a tough finish with another lake to be avoided from the tee, leaving a difficult approach to a well defended raised green. Well worth your time and money if you get the chance to play here. Brian W