Founded in 1905, Verulam Golf Club began operations with a 9-hole course laid out inside the Park of Sopwell House. Four years later, when a further 136 acres of land became available, the club called in James Braid to expand the layout to a full 18-hole course.
The newly extended course was officially opened on 27th April 1912 with an exhibition match between Braid and Harry Vardon, who had each won the Open five times at that point, though Vardon would go on to claim a record sixth victory in the event two years later.
The Club Captain at the time was successful businessman Samuel Ryder, who joined forces with his brother James a decade later in 1923 to promote the “Heath and Heather” professional tournament at Verulam, inviting forty-eight professionals to compete in a 36-hole medal competition with a prize fund of £500.
This led to more singles and pairs professional challenge matches taking place at the club over the following two years, before Ryder’s promotional efforts peaked with his sponsorship of the first biennial match between native golfers from Great Britain and the United States in 1927, by which time he again held the position of Club Captain.
The now famous Ryder Cup trophy which is so hotly contested by American and European professionals every second year actually made its first public appearance at Verulam when the Great Britain team called in to see its main benefactor before setting sail for the inaugural matches at Worcester Country Club, Massachusetts.
Today’s course retains much of Braid’s work (including old-fashioned crossover fairways at the 4th and 9th) but it’s also been substantially upgraded. A few years back, MJ Abbott installed a new irrigation system and John Greasley Ltd recently constructed additional bunkers, with the contractor also re-shaping and re-lining all the century-old sand hazards.
The course extends to 6,429 yards from the back tees and the tree-lined fairways are set out on a pleasantly undulating parkland landscape with a sufficient number of subtle elevation changes to keep things interesting. Unusually, a round here commences with seven straight par fours, the last of which, the long, uphill par four named “The Oak,” is rated stroke index 1.
Around the turn, there’s a mix of par threes and par fives at holes 8 to 11 before another sequence of five par fours kicks in, bringing the River Ver into play along the right hand side of the fairway at the 13th and 14th. The penultimate hole is a dainty little par three which leads onto the 574-yard 18th (“Ryder’s Finish”) and the home green in front of the clubhouse.
As a recently adopted Hertfordshire lad, metaphorically speaking, I was excited to finally play the home course of one Samuel Ryder which is situated in the heart of historic St Albans.
Home of the famed bi-annual contest between USA and until Europe, (previously just GB&I until the 22nd matches in 1977) in that past club captain Sam Ryder orchestrated the first matches played in 1927. A figure of Sam actually sits atop the famous trophy should you ever wonder who that is! The clubhouse itself is awash with Ryder Cup memorabilia and it was a warm welcome from the staff who served up a lovely golfers fry for breakfast.
We played the white tees (6430yards) on breezy mid-August morning opening with a gentile par 4 which was the first of a run of seven par 4’s! The Bedford to London St Pancras railway is very much in play off the 2nd tee as I found out for myself by donating a couple of TP5x’s over the wrong side of the internal fence protecting the train line.
The rest of the opening par 4 stretch highlights this traditional Braid design, not overly long but there is a multitude of well-placed bunkering that needs to be negotiated. Placement over power for sure and Braid asks you to shape your ball both ways off the tee, left to right on the fifth, right to left on the sixth – play front yardage to this approach! and again a little baby fade lemonade off the seventh tee on the index 1 hole.
The par 5 ninth is unique in that its fairway crosses with that of the fourth hole so be mindful of this, eyes left at about 280yards!
The eleventh hole is aptly named Abbey with the St Albans Abbey perched on the hill in the distance off the tee, it actually makes for a good target line off this tee.
Seventeen is the most talked about hole on this course and with good reason as you must hit over a road to a sloping back to front green. Playing 125yards on the day I flew the green and I can assure you when I next visit I will not make the same mistake. You simply cannot be above this pin!
Par 5 eighteen is worthy its place on any Ryder Cup course as it offers a testing risk and reward strategy, play 1W and avoid the many bunkers it offers a chance to go for the green in two and a grandstand finish.
Post round there is a relaxing spike bar and the overall facilities made for a day to remember. For any Braid or Ryder Cup fan I cannot recommend this club highly enough.
I've been fortunate to play Verulam with a family member a number of times, and enjoy it every time.
It's much what one would expect of an M25 area old golf course, but has variety in elevation changes, forced carries and hogsbacks in the old style, riverside holes and of course the Road Hole with a very nasty sloping green. A couple of the par 3's require a good hit and a steady nerve.
Good honest fun.
Anyone remotely interested in the Ryder Cup should visit Verulam Golf Club, home of Sam Ryder. I’ve played Verulam numerous times with a member, a certain Mr Peter K. There are so many mature parkland courses in North London and Verulam fits slap bang into the category.
Verulam is by no means the best park course in North London (Hadley Wood and Moor Park need not worry) but Verulam represents an enjoyable golfing experience away from the area’s busy hustle and bustle. Undoubtedly the most memorable hole is the 17th and it’s not called the Road Hole for nothing. Unlike its namesake at the Home of Golf, Verulam’s penultimate hole is a short par three, which requires only a mere flick with a wedge. However, you need to clear a back road that cuts across the hole, halfway between the tee and the green, which is protected by a high fence (the road is out of bounds). The inclination is to take one more club, but if you end up beyond the green a devilish up and down will lie in wait.
The rest of the course is pleasant parkland fare which doesn’t really get my pulse racing, but it’s a fair enough course that has always been in great condition when I’ve played here. It’s well worth visiting Verulam, birthplace of the famous Ryder Cup and for its quirky Road Hole.