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 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.