The course at Stanmore Golf Club was officially brought into play a year after it was first laid out within Stanmore Park when founder Fredrick Gordon and his associate Thomas Blackwell (of the Crosse & Blackwell food production company) invited thirty-six of the country’s top golfers to participate in a 36-hole Open competition in June 1894.
“It was said to be the largest professional tournament that had so far taken place south of the Tweed,” wrote Bernard Darwin, and it attracted many of the game’s biggest names, including James Braid and J. H. Taylor. Incredibly, the Stanmore professional, a Scotsman named John Cuthbert, shot the lowest score over two rounds to claim the £50 first prize.
The original Stanmore layout extended to twenty-seven holes, comprising a full length, 18-hole Gentlemen’s course and a shorter, 9-hole Ladies’ course, which was largely laid out on land where holes 9 to 11 are situated on the modern day course. A water hazard on the 3rd hole on the old main course is still in play between the current 15th and 16th holes.
Shortly after the end of World War I, Alister MacKenzie was engaged to upgrade the course and today’s 18-hole configuration of two returning nines on a 103-acre parcel of land is all his work. Very little else has changed in almost century since he redesigned the layout, though ongoing work continues to manage the growth of trees around the property and new drainage lines are currently being installed on every green.
Measuring a modest 6,025 yards from the back markers, Stanmore isn’t the longest of layouts but its relatively tight playing corridors place a premium on accuracy off the tee and with the approach shot. It’s one of the most challenging and picturesque courses in the area, with impressive stands of mature trees offering almost total seclusion from the outside world.
Notable holes include delightful short par fours at the right doglegged 1st and left doglegged 14th. Three of the five short holes are played on the front nine and the pick of these is probably the 122-yard 6th, played to the only green on the course that lacks bunker protection. This little gem is then followed by the signature 7th hole, where the views across Middlesex from the elevated tee box are a real highlight of any round here.
Stanmore is a course that places a premium on strategy rather than how long one hits the ball. At 6000 yards and with tree lined fairways you have to be accurate off the tee but the real defence is the undulating and false front greens. Designed by Mr. Augusta himself, Alister MacKenzie, his work is evident here and design parallels can be seen with Augusta and in particular, Hadley Wood in this respect. Over the last few years, the club has undergone a lot of on-course work to beef up the "playability" and boost speed of play. Thus some of the tree lined fairways have been cut back slightly and some of the ground cover in trees cleared, making the course more visually appealing and scoreable for all standards. The front 9 is the shorter and the standout holes have to be 2,7,8. The 2nd is a long par 4 up to a very slopey elongated green, with emphasis on the 2nd shot accuracy as drop areas either side of the green leave a tricky up and down. The 7th is the signature hole without a doubt. A Short Par 4 which plays just over 300 yards given the elevation, great views and the tee shot is paramount to score well here. The following 8th hole is a 175yard par3 which a large false front. Getting the ball to the top level is key to this hole but anyone walking away with par would be happy. The back 9 is longer with 2 pars 5's, 2 par 3's and the rest par 4's. Most of the par 4's are long, other than the drivable 14th. Personal favourites on this 9 are the 15th up the hill, slight dog leg right with another false front green and the very scoreable par 5 18th where birdie is always the target. Overall the course is well conditioned, however the tee boxes do need some TLC. Club members are friendly and welcoming, a far cry from 20 years ago perhaps. This is well worth a visit and certainly top 4 in Middlesex given how good the greens are through the Spring and Summer.
I normally play Stanmore once a year, and always enjoy it: it is well looked after, the greens usually run nice and true, and are generally receptive. The overall length of the course – just about touching 6,000 yards from the tips – shows that it is not a long course, and it is not the most challenging. However, it has a number of tough long uphill par 4’s: coming at 2, 5, 13 and 15, which require a well struck long iron or hybrid to reach the green in regulation.
To compensate for these longer, tougher holes, there are a number of very short holes: 4, 6 and 10 are par 3’s which only require a wedge off the tee, 7 and 14 are both driveable par 4’s, and the finishing hole is a short par 5 which is easily reachable in 2 if you get a good drive away. It’s a great feeling to step off the 18th green with a birdie, or even an eagle as I did on my last visit.
Some of the tee shots can appear a little intimidating as you drive through a funnel of trees, but the fairways are generous and the rough is kept so short there is no punishment for missing a fairway unless you stray really wide into the trees. Stanmore is definitely not a championship course, but if you’re looking for a gentle test where you can score well but still face some challenging holes, then it is ideal.
The golfing county of Middlesex is not blessed with many standout courses but Stanmore is well worth a visit – it is good and very good in places and the current position of #9 is a little low. I have played most of the ranked county courses and a Top 5 slot for Stanmore would not look out of place.
The opening hole needs close attention; a short par-4 at only 320 yards but a severe dog-leg right after about 210 yards means a big tee shot is not required. The first par-3 comes at the 4th hole and is a good looking hole; only 130 yards long but strong bunkering short and right, probably says hit half a club more. The 5th is a strong uphill par-4, just under 400 yards but being uphill increases the difficulty. The next four holes are all great and one of the strongest parts of the course; the 6th hole is another short par-3, this only around 125 yards, a little uphill and a superb green-site and with no bunkers but quality run-offs – got to hit the green here. After the uphill holes at the 5th and 6th, the 7th is a big downhill par-4 with the tee-shot being key (do favour the left-side) – this is the highest point on the course with some decent views to the east across the north-west London. The 8th is the 3rd par-3 on the front nine and the longest, around 175 yards with a great step in the green – the hole is surrounded by trees and has a bit of a Woburn look, which is no bad thing at all. The 9th hole is my favourite par-4 on the opening nine, just under 400 yards with a slight right to left feel, there is out of bounds to the right and a brook running the length of the hole on the left.
The first par-5 on the course is at the 11th; 515 yards and key for me are the bunkers at lay-up point for the second shot and also the great false front at the green. The 12th is an attractive par-4 that looks shorter than the 420 yards, maybe the brook that crosses the fairway at about 80 yards out has something to do with this. The 13th is the toughest par-4 on the course, close to 425 yards and uphill to a raised green; no problem with this being SI-1 at all.
After three more par-4s in the middle of the back nine, you reach the last par-3 at the 17th, this is the longest at just under 200 yards and probably plays a touch longer than the yardage. The home hole is only the second par-5 on the course and if you can get your drive away, this should be a straight forward to score well on.
Greens quality throughout is of a high standard and some ongoing clubhouse/terrace improvements are helping with the Stanmore reputation now. Club and course recommended in an area not really known for top courses.