The International course at the London Club is a high-class accompaniment to the Jack Nicklaus-designed Heritage course. The International is the layout that you can play here at the London Club and it’s well worth making the effort.
Designed by Ron Kirby under the Nicklaus Design banner, the International opened for play in 1993 and it represents a tough links-like challenge. The gently rolling Kent countryside provides sufficient elevation changes to make things interesting, and from the tips, which measure a little more than 7,000 yards, it’s a really tough challenge for all except the very best golfers.
A valley separates the outward nine from the inward half, giving the International a distinctly different feel and also some spectacular views. Four lakes make watery graves for numerous golf balls and they come into play on five holes. There are also plenty of sand traps in various shapes and sizes, from small pot bunkers to enormous expanses of sand.
“The best par 5 hole I have ever created” is how Ron Kirby describes the 532-yard 4th, which features a fairway that is split in half by a huge bunker, providing a risk and reward option for the bigger hitters. You can choose to play the hole the long way round the lake or you can try the shorter but riskier direct route across the huge lake. Are you up for the challenge?
I thoroughly enjoyed my round on the International course despite playing on one the summers wettest days! Regardless of the heavy rain the course remained unaffected and in great condition with no standing water, even the greens retained their pace, testament to the quality of the course and its maintenance. Don’t come to the London Club expecting an old style club atmosphere, the club house has the feel of a high end international hotel chain with top quality service (but mediocre food, I would dine elsewhere). Although the course is relatively new it doesn’t feel it, routed through the gently rolling Kent countryside on either side of a wide valley it has the character of a heathland/links layout, wide fairways surrounded by deep rough and well placed bunkers to punish loose shots. It is a tough course even with the generous fairways, while most of the par 4’s are quite straightforward (from the yellow tees at least) it’s the par 3’s and 5’s which offer the most fun and test, they bring the water hazards into play and have some gigantic bunkers ready to punish mistakes. On the blustery day I played ball striking needed to be of the highest quality to make the carries over water on the par 3’s, careless shots or club selection almost always found water, even the DZ’s require you to make substantial carries over the hazard, playing in a medal here could break you! The par 5’s are a chance to score albeit finding a bunker means its making par tough, the final par 5 18 is a brute if you’re unlucky to be playing into the wind like I did, 3 quality shots are needed find the green for most players. In common with most modern courses it was designed with buggy use as standard, there are some long walks between holes and steep inclines, nothing too extreme but your calves will remember you played the day after. The conditions meant the course was quiet so no pace of play problems although given the deep rough surrounding most fairways it wouldn’t take much for higher handicappers to end up with a 5 hour round. Overall the London Club oozes class and any visit is a pleasure, not cheap but it’s not difficult to see where your money goes with some of the best course conditioning you’ll find.
It’s an impressive clubhouse at the London GC. Green fees are a little high at times but this includes free balls on their grass range. It’s worth going early to make the most of that plus their chipping area and two putting greens.
Number 1 is a tough par 5 to start – to reach the green in two you have to put your ball on a downslope, thus bringing the greenside pond more into play. After a steep climb the rest of the nine is on fairly level ground, fairly open, to be honest I found it easier than expected but the greens are fast and of great quality. If you hit a good putt it will go in, although in the summer I presume they get devilishly quick.
The back nine has similar character but plays on the other side of the valley. There’s a decent mix of par 4s, plus you have the fun, water protected par 5 of the 13th. It’s a real risk-reward hole with a sloping fairway pulling you towards the drink. The par 3 12th is another water guarded hole with the potential to blot a card, but unfortunately it looks and plays very similar to the 8th
The course isn’t quite as ‘American’ as I expected; there’s a lot of gorse on show and only 4 water holes I think are partly there to help drainage. Instead much of The International reminds me of a couple of similar courses in the area, only a LOT better kept. One bad thing – it’s near Brands Hatch which even midweek can be noisy.
The London Golf Club can boast two courses that have both hosted European Tour events.
Each track is clearly cut from the same US-style piece of cloth and it is easy to see why the European Tour – who has a regional office on site – would find either venue suitable for top level professional golf.
The International is actually laid out over pure downland, plays a little firmer and is more exposed to the wind. It is, however, a touch more scoreable because it’s a bit shorter, more generous from the tee and the green complexes are not quite as punishing should you miss them.
Both courses are par 72 but the International – designed by Ron Kirby under the Jack Nicklaus label – has a more of a fun feel to it and I think this is largely because it has five short holes and five par threes, compared to four of each on the Heritage, and this just mixes it all up a bit more.
The most memorable holes on the International are the four that must cross water head-on. A very lake, which eats into the green, worryingly greets you when cresting the hill on the long opening hole. The key to the 13th- another par-five – is choosing which of the two routes to take to the green. Meanwhile, the eighth and 12th – both downhill short holes – are also fronted by water with little or no bail-out area.
Sadly, but as you would expect there are several long walks from green-to-tee and both courses are a tough walk. A buggy would be advised but these must (and do thanks to gps technology) stay on the cart paths.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.