While it is easy to get wooed by the Surrey heathland classics to the west, no golf trip to London is complete without a game 10 miles south at The Addington Golf Club. This course owes its unique character to its creator, J. F. Abercrombie—“Aber” for short.
Just as George Crump, Henry Fownes, and Willie Park Jr. put their hearts and souls into creating one-of-a-kind places like Pine Valley, Oakmont, and Huntercombe, Aber was more a visionary than an architect or club founder, and he devoted himself to The Addington. From finding the heavily wooded property, to carving two courses out of gravel hills and forest, to staying on as the club’s benevolent dictator, the man who once said “I am the suggestion box” deserves much credit for this daring masterpiece of inland golf.
Aber’s Old Course at The Addington has a par of 69 (no, we didn’t even need to adjust it for Andy) and six par 3s, including the first hole, which plays straight uphill. (Yikes! Especially in the absence of a driving range!) Routed through hills and across ravines, The Addington is as bold and daring as any inland course we know.
Aber himself was an outstanding player who reportedly carried a +6 handicap, and it shows in his work. He cut his teeth with a stellar design at Worplesdon—one of the famous three “Ws” of Surrey—before building two more courses in England, Coombe Hill and Knole Park. None, however, demand from golfers what The Addington does. While I’m not sure what the Golf Digest-y phrase “shot values” means, exactly, if I had to pick two courses in the world as exemplars of “shot values,” they would be Pine Valley and The Addington.
Several holes at The Addington were contenders for the Eclectic 18 UK. No. 6 is where the course really begins to reveal itself as something special. There, a drive leaked to the right leads to a shot over a 15-foot-deep flat-bottom bunker levitating in the mouth of a gnarly ravine. As you cross the bridge from the 6th green to the third par 3 in the first seven holes, you know the routing has entered a new phase. Nos. 8 and 9 are as exacting from tee to green as any holes in Europe, and No. 13, the monumental par 3, has drawn comparisons to Yale’s Biarritz.
(On a sadder note, by multiple accounts, No. 8 on The Addington’s New Course would have been a shoo-in for the Eclectic 18 UK. Apparently it was Aber’s best work. Tom Simpson, who was at one point a partner of Abercrombie and Herbert Fowler’s, selected the New’s 8th for the 4th hole of his “Ideal Course” in The Architectural Side of Golf. Today, however, a housing estate stands where the New Course once was.)
No. 12, our pick, is the craziest hole at The Addington. This very short par 5 can seem like a total crapshoot. The drive is blind: after the first 150 yards or so, the fairway plunges straight downhill. Where your ball ends up is a roll of the dice. If you are lucky, it will find one of the manmade benches in the terrain that offer the only level lies in the fairway. But if you crap out, you’re dealing with a hanging lie in one of the nastiest bits of rumpled heather you’ve ever seen. Wherever you end up, though, the thing to remember is that everyone has the same chances of finding a good lie or a horrible one; it is what you make of the next two shots that matters.
You will need to fight to get your ball on the green, which sits on top of a hill at the far side of an expanse of heather. Anything can happen on the way there, even from a good lie. A sliver of fairway, 15 yards wide at most, winds its way around the rugged bumps from right to left and up the steep approach. Back in the day, there was a massive kicker high left of the green that would have added another imaginative playing option.
Admittedly, No. 12 has no identifiable strategy. But what makes it great is that everyone has to find their own way through it, and your experience will be different every single time you tee it up.
We have heard rumors that the conditions at The Addington are on the path to improvement, and we hope that’s true. Battling overgrowth for many years, the course hasn’t seen its best playing surfaces since its heyday, when the club frequently hosted members of the royal family (apparently covered in peacocks—no joke). However, if you are more interested in architecture than velvety lies, you will be astonished by Aber’s work. If I ever win the lottery, The Addington will be the first course I buy. I’ll move to London, fix it up, and try to follow in Aber’s footsteps as the next “suggestion box.”