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.
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.