The Addington Golf Club
What do National Golf Links of America, Royal County Down and Royal Melbourne West have in common? How about Merion,Pacific Dunes and The Old Course at St. Andrews? Or Sand Hills, Pine Valley and Royal St. George’s? Oakmont, Friar’s Head and Riviera? They are all great golf courses, the designs of which share several similar tenets. However, beyond that, the courses couldn’t be more different from one another or from the group or for that matter from any other course in the world. This sense of uniqueness, of being one of a kind may indeed be thesingle key attribute that world class courses possess that very good courses do not. And one of the most unique of all golf courses is found just ten miles south of London in Croydon. What makes The Addington unique? Ultimately, of course, it is the course’s collection of golf holes. More in general though, the property itself is truly one-of-a-kind. Originally gravel hills, the rugged property features several ravines throughout and though it has become wooded in nature over time, the property to this day resists being classified as heathland or moorland or parkland or links -it’s simple is what it is. The man who picked the property was the founder of the Club and its architect as well, John Frederick Abercromby. In picking this site, Abercromby left no doubt that his intent from the start was to build a challenging course. The second reason that the course reminds the golfer of none other is that Abercromby himself designed only a few other courses. Just as the singular visions of the driving forces of Pine Valley, Oakmont, and Royal St. George’s help make those courses feel unique, the same can be said of The Addington. The course that was considered Abercromby’s second best – The New Course at The Addington which was across the street from this one – no longer exists. Only Knole Park, Coombe Hill and his first design at Worplesdon give the golf architecture student much insight into Abercromby. With big name modern architects building well more than 100 courses, the golfer eventually feels like he has seen the work before – and in fact he has. Repetition does not creep into the work of the less prolific architect firms like Flynn & Toomey, Thomas & Belland Coore & Crenshaw, who never had any desire to build more than 50 courses.
As at Pine Valley Golf Club, the great Harry Colt was a consultant but unlike at Pine Valley, the founder of The Addington stayed alive and Abercromby ran the club and course as a benevolent dictator for more than twenty years after it opened. Continually tinkering with it, there is no doubt that the lion’s share of design credit belongs to Abercromby. Though not much is known of him, he was the first man to coin the phrase, ‘I am the suggestion book!’ According to Henry Longhurst, Aberwas often found at The Addington wearing a green velour porkpie hat and carrying an ancient wooden putter. The most ready conclusion that one can draw from his work is that he thrived on building hazards that were natural in appearance. Though Willie Park had started doing the same several years prior, many architects in the United Kingdom were still building simplistic,geometric designs when Abercromby first built Worplesdon in 1908 and Coombe Hill in 1909. The Addington’s design in 1912 left no doubt that Abercromby was ‘one of the outstanding architects in all of golf’ according to Longhurst. Though he later joined the design firm of Fowler and Simpson after World War I, Abercromby’s greatest achievement was The Addington, as we see below. Holesto Note 1st hole,165 yards; The only criticism of the uphill one shot opener is that it does not make one wish to play golf. Ala the 1st at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, it is a solid, tough hole but is the only hole on the course that is likely not to resonant with the golfer. Nonetheless, it sets the golfer up for a superlative run of seventeen holes.
2nd hole, 565 yards; An unbelievably long three shotter for a course that was built in 1912, the key is carrying the crest of the hill that is 410 yards from the tee with one’s second shot. If the drive has gone awry, then carrying the broken ground around the crest of the hill becomes problematic and the third shot might well be blind. Another point to consider is that the fairway beyond the crest slopes right to left, making for a difficult target after a bail-out tee shot down the right away from the trees and bunker.
3rd hole, 210 yards; In addition to being a great admirer of the 13th, Henry Longhurst was a fan of this tough one shotter as well. Abercromby moved only enough dirt to build up the 3rd green and bench it into the hillside. As with the 1st hole, Abercromby had no compunction about using a one shotter to get the golfer to higher ground. Though a fade fits the eye as the green is bunkered right, one member suggests that a draw is the best shot as it leaves the easiest recovery (i.e. anywhere left of the green). A tee ball from a missed fade is often kicked ten to twenty yards away from the green by the sloping left to right terrain.
4th hole, 445 yards; Ralph Livingston’s Feature Interview on this site specifically deals with equipment in and around the mid-1920s. In 1912 when The Addington opened, it measured over 6,200 yards, which is within 100 yards of its distance today. This speaks as to the degree of difficulty of the course: in the days of hickory shafts and before the balls got ‘hot’ in the mid-1920s, wood shots were likely required to reach the 3rd through the 5th greens in regulation. To ask the same today of top amateur players requires an architect to build consecutive holes of ~250y-510y-510y, and if he did, golfers would cry foul. Abercromby used the portion of the property with conventional parkland features (i.e. the 1st-5th holes, and the 18th) to build solid, stout holes.
5th hole, 440 yards; Played in the opposite direction as the 4th but across the same side slope, the golfer’s ball is now above his feet for his approach shot.The author would dearly love to know when the bunker was built thirty yards short of the green- when the course opened or closer to Abercromby’s death in 1934 after years of refining his masterpiece? Too many people get caught up in the look of bunkers but placement is far more important and this one is as perfectly positioned as any bunker one can name. Even to this day, the bunker dominates play as many golfers try to have their long approach shots carry just over it and run onto the green. The important thing, of course,is that Abercromby did build the bunker but if it was built early on, it solidifies in many people’s opinion that Abercromby understood design like few others.
6th hole, 380 yards; The first fives holes are parkland in character and though an excellent example of sidehill architecture as they traverse up the hill,there is no single feature that can’t be found on other parkland courses around the world. And standing on the 6th tee, the first time golfer assumes the 6th follows in the same vein. The view from the tee is to a wide fairway that gently bends to the left. Only when the golfer gets within 70 yards of the green does he appreciate the crater bunker well below the fairway/green level and the first of five bridges that helps the golfer traverse what now becomes rugged landscape.
7th hole, 150 yards; The third one shotter in the first seven holes is the shortest one so far and is the first forced carry on the course. No ground game options are practical given the terrain but, at this distance, the golfer doesn’t mind. By minimizing the amount of lengthy forced carries, Abercromby ensured that the members with their hickory shafts and Haskell balls could have fun getting around the severe property – a masterful job of routing to be sure.
8th hole, 425 yards; A card wrecker of a hole, this two shotter starts with a blind drive that would beat home on a wild tumbling links course. The crest of the hill is the highest point on the property and the fairway is set along a spine that falls sharply away to the left and right into ravines. As the ravines are obscured by tree growth, the immediate terror of this hole may not become evident until one mishits a shot.
9th hole, 380 yards; Two ravines must be crossed to reach the 9th green. In as much as the 9th fairway is thus an island, when coupled with the scale of the forthcoming holes and the general rugged characteristics of the property, general comparisons are often made between a round at The Addington and one at the famed Pine Valley Golf Club in New Jersey. And similarly to that New Jersey design, The Addington is more strategic than penal in nature. The course offers plenty of width and in this case, the closer one drives it near the worse trouble (the ravines on the left and ahead), the easier and shorter the approach. The golfer’s willingness to flirt with such interesting hazards in order to gain a strategic advantage gives The Addington much of its enduring appeal.