The Stoke Park Club is located at Stoke Poges, a charming leafy town situated on the fringe of the Chiltern Hundreds. A Hundred is a traditional name for the division of an English county and the wooded Chiltern Hills (which separate Buckinghamshire from Berkshire) were once a notorious hiding place where robbers would wait in ambush. These days things are more genteel.
In Bernard Darwin’s 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, he wrote: “Stoke Park is a beautiful spot, and there is very good golf to be played there; the club is an interesting one, moreover, as being one of the first and the most ambitious attempts in England at what is called in America a Country Club.”
Capability Brown originally landscaped the historic parkland in the late 18th century. Harry Colt then came along and designed a 27-hole golf course, which opened for play in 1908. The signature hole, the 7th, the inspiration for Augusta National’s 16th, is considered to be one of Colt’s finest holes. The recently remodelled 7th now features a lake and a waterfall. By 1922, the club boasted forty-five Harry Colt-designed holes, but sadly, by the time the Second World War was over, only eighteen holes remained.
Stoke Park is surely one of the finest parkland golf courses in the South of England. There is no heather here (which is unusual for the location); the main line of defence is the abundance of huge stately trees and Colt’s clever design. The fairways appear wide and generous from the tees, but it's important to get the line and distance right, otherwise you will face challenging second shots.
More famous than the majestic parkland golf course is the 18th century mansion designed by James Wyatt (architect to George III), housing the clubhouse, hotel and restaurant. “The clubhouse is a gorgeous palace,” wrote Darwin, “a dazzling vision of white stone, of steps and terraces and cupolas, with a lake in front and imposing trees in every direction.”
Stoke Poges was also used as the setting for the golf scenes in the 1964 James Bond movie Goldfinger, in which 007 had his famous match with Goldfinger. The film featured the scene whereby Harold Sakata, as Oddjob, spun his steel-rimmed bowler hat at Sean Connery. It missed 007 but beheaded a statue! The clubhouse also featured in the later Bond movie, Tomorrow Never Dies.
In 1996, after long negotiations with adjoining landowners, the club reacquired 70 acres of parkland and restored the original nine lost Colt holes. In 1999, the new loop, named Lane Jackson, opened for play. Today, the Colt and Alison nine combine to form the main 18-hole layout, but the Lane Jackson circuit is hardly inferior.
In 2015, the Stoke Park Club commenced a bunker repositioning and renovation programme using the specialist golf course construction company, John Greasley Ltd. Reconstruction work was completed on the Colt nine in 2016 and modifications to the Alison loop finished in spring 2017. The third nine (Lane Jackson) will be completed during the winter of 2017/18.
Stoke Park is one of our Top 100 Golf Resorts of the World
I played early on a wonderful Spring morning in April 2018 and was treated to a wonderful layout and scrupulous course conditions. The fairways are rather generous and the average length of hole is not too demanding for the reasonably accomplished golfer. This results in a very relaxing and enjoyable experience for the recreational (i.e. non-elite) player. Having said this, there are many challenging approach shots and tricky greens at Stoke Park. The famous par 3 seventh hole, often compared to the sixteenth at Augusta National, is a good (but by no means exclusive) example of the precision often required at Stoke Park. Even aside from the Goldfinger connection, this course is a "must play" for golfers visiting the greater London area. The staff is very welcoming as well.
Overall impression of Stoke Park was very favourable. The staff were incredibly helpful, from the starters to the pros, to those working in the halfway house – very accommodating and welcoming. I wanted to play the Colt and Alison 9s but unfortunately the Alison 9 is currently closed as they complete bunker remodelling which should be done by the end of April in time for the summer months. I should point out the bunkers did look fabulous.
That left me with playing the Johnson 9, followed by the Colt 9. The Johnson 9 is clearly the easier measuring in at 2864 yards vs the Colt’s 3255, and this is mostly seen throughout the par 4s which in the mid summer months most of which would be eminently driveable for the longer hitters. The first 3 holes and the last two of the Johnson 9 are what make it a memorable experience. The first 3 holes, which encompass two short par 4s and a par 3 are set in stunning scenery surrounded by a lake – visually very impressive and when windy (as today was) club selection has to be spot on to prevent the balls being lost to the water. The middle holes are ok but largely forgettable until you get to the 8th and 9th when you have to employ your ‘golfing brain’. The 8th is a dog leg right par 5 that keeps going right … A good drive is required before a strategically placed second shot so that you can reach the green in 3. The green is very shallow so a premium is on club selection and distance control. The 9th is a short par 4 up the hill, protected by 2 large trees and lots of bunkers short of the green. The brave man takes a driver but you have to be accurate or you will be in trouble; the sensible option is to take a hybrid / long iron and then pitch in … but who of us are that!
One word for me summarises the Colt 9 - bunkers. You can tell the difference immediately just by looking down the first, where all you can see are bunkers and this is a theme throughout the 9 holes. On all the driving holes there were bunkers placed around 220-250 yards on either side of the fairway and if there was not a bunker it was because it was replaced by a tree. The first hole is a long par 5 which takes you away from the iconic Stoke Park. It is then followed by a clever par 4 where you have to navigate bunkers and trees off the drive and then on the approach carefully. The 3rd is a long uphill par 3 which looks very challenging from the back tees and requires an excellent long iron to get close. The 4th is a long and challenging par 4 – get out of place off the tee and you will struggle to make a 5. The green is protected by a cavernous bunker which this reviewer managed to unfortunately find. The 5th is a reachable in 2 par 5 which again has bunkers placed at all the awkward distances – whether you are laying up or going for the green. The 6th is another hole that from the tee looks more like a sandpit than a golfing hole but a good drive rewards you with an uphill pitch and a chance to score.
The money hole is the 7th and is well known for being the inspiration for the 16th hole at Augusta. It is a 150 yard par 3 over water, with a stream running along the right hand side of the green. Very very good looking hole and well worth the admission fee. Only slight down side was the condition of the green – clearly it has been very wet here and there was a lot of mud on the green and to say my ball plugged would be a huge understatement. The round finishes off with the 8th hole being short uphill par 4 followed by the 9th - a long uphill par 4 with a blind tee shot.
Overall, the course is a visually very pleasurable and caters to all skills levels. The best ‘golfing’ holes were clearly on the Colt course and this is the more mature of the 9s, with personal favourites being the 4th and the 7th. The course conditions were a little wet underfoot due to recent weather and the greens were still quite ‘wintery’ but this is definitely a course I would recommend and one I am pleased to have got ticked off my bucket list. To me it will be a must to return in the summer once the Alison 9 is open too.
Style over substance. The clubhouse is magnificent, enhanced by the James Bond connection, the food and service excellent. The course is beautifully looked after, and the drive in as you wind past the lake to the clubhouse is wonderful. But that’s it for me: the actual course itself is nothing special. Colt was a genius but he could only do so much with the land he had. It’s a lovely place for a day out and ideal for societies, but I wouldn’t pay the premium green fees and I’m surprised to see the course in the top 100 for England.
Have played Stoke Park for years and always thought of it as a nice, but not extraordinary course. Now the first 9 have been remodeled during the winter of 15/16. Bunkers much more challenging, giving the holes a fantastic optical impression and making the course a joy to play. For example 8th was a short par 4 average hole, now you are on the tee and seem to see only bunkers everywhere making this a fantastic hole. Of course 7th Par 3 is Augusta like. Renovation has moved course up a couple of notches, once the second 9 are remodeled winter of 16/17 it should be a wonderful course.
Course and greens generally in very good condition.