The estate that is home to Stoke Park Country Club, Spa & Hotel is steeped in history, but despite its grandeur, everyone is welcome. Women & Golf's Alison Root reports.
Throughout the UK and Ireland there are established traditional style golf clubs, country clubs and larger resort-type venues, and then there is Stoke Park in Buckinghamshire that doesn’t fall into any one category as this hotel, spa, golf and country club offers every possible facility for today’s modern golfer, whether as a member or as a guest.
Just 35 minutes from London and 7 miles from Heathrow Airport, any built-up tension you may have will quickly disperse into thin air as you enter the sprawling 300 acres of mid-18th century Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown parkland in which the Stoke Park estate sits.
From one visit to the next, the sight of the dazzling white stone Georgian mansion that is situated at the heart of the estate never fails to impress. It has to be one of the most iconic clubhouses in the world and also bares a startling resemblance to Washington’s White House. Don’t get any ideas Mr Trump, as Stoke Park is taken!
For many years this venue has had close ties to the silver screen including the James Bond film Goldfinger, and more recently, the ‘mini break’ and rowing scenes from Bridget Jones’s Diary. I grant that it’s not a run-of-the-mill golf clubhouse and for some golfers, especially those that are new to the game, it might be a tad overwhelming, but believe me, Stoke Park knocks the stuffy out of stately homes.
The decor exudes grandeur with marble pillars, beautiful high ceilings, and antique chandeliers and furniture, but open fires and friendly staff and club members contribute to a warm and sociable atmosphere. As I ascended the sweeping staircase that leads to one of the 21 lavishly decorated bedrooms that are all named after a historical connection to Stoke Park, it allowed me to take a moment in time to imagine myself as a film star!
Not for long though, as I had golf to play. The 27-hole Harry Colt-designed course, which first opened in 1908, is halfway through a three-year, seven-figure sum facelift, to not only reconstruct all the bunkers by changing their size and shape, but also to build new tees and rework some of the water features.
The Colt course, holes 1-9, was completed last year, and at the time of my visit in November, work had begun on the Alison course, holes 10-18, and this is scheduled to open in April. This gave me an opportunity to play the Lane Jackson course, holes 19-27 (named after the creator of the Stoke Park Club), which lies around a long boating lake.
This is the newest of the three 9-hole loops and is third in the pecking order for an upgrade. Running parallel to the entry driveway, it’s not the friendliest 19th hole, as the lake lurks on the right-hand side of the fairway, so accuracy is required on this 351-yard par-4 in order to land safely on the green. The lake dominates the first four holes, making them aesthetically pleasing, especially the short par-3 21st over the water with a green that is reached by crossing the much-photographed Repton Bridge.
The remaining holes present a variety of challenges including the dogleg par-5 26th, which on this occasion had a brutal pin position on the right-hand side of the green that’s guarded by tall pines. Things went from bad to worse as I overshot the small green and my ball ended up in a hidden stream, which is probably why I found this hole most difficult!
In all its glory, the clubhouse provides a stunning backdrop to the final hole of this loop, although I didn’t spend too much time admiring the view, as I was keen to experience the remodelled Colt Course. From the par-5 1st tee it’s impossible not to notice the definition and shape of the bunkers, a consistency that has been applied throughout the course with built-up faces and immaculately manicured grass on top.
If these nine holes is anything to go by, its bunkers will define Stoke Park in the future, along with the fact that a round of golf is a pleasurable parkland walk. I don’t particularly like bunker shots, although I thought it would be rude not to sample the new sand! I didn’t give myself a lot of choice on the uphill par-3 3rd, which at 163 yards from the forward tees is penal enough, without a series of deep bunkers waiting to capture a wayward tee shot.
One of the many highlights of this course is another par-3, the 7th, which was the inspiration for the original 16th hole at Augusta National. Bunkers litter the par-4 8th and if you’re fortunate to find a sand-free spot on the fairway, best of luck with your blind approach shot to the green. If your game isn’t quite up to scratch or you’d like to learn to play, there’s a super golf academy and practice facilities.
But if golf really isn’t your thing, there are plenty of other activities to enjoy including tennis (indoor and outdoor), an indoor swimming pool, a fully equipped gym, a variety of fitness classes and a spa. These facilities along with an additional 28 bedrooms which mix classic furnishings with modern art for a more contemporary feel, can be found in the Pavilion, which is a short walk from the mansion.
The spa with an outdoor Scandinavian sauna appealed to me most. I always think there’s something uniquely calming about a fish tank and this spa has two, one in the reception area and one in the relaxation room, where you can unwind even further (if that’s possible) in one of the dome chairs, that are far more comfortable than they look!
There’s a range of beauty treatments on offer, or you might just fancy a manicure in the nail bar. When it comes to dining, there are three options including the Orangery with its all-day menu, the Italian brasserie San Marco, or the star of the show which is the award-winning 3 AA Rosettes Humphry’s restaurant that affords beautiful views of the estate and lake.
Head chef Chris Wheeler has been at Stoke Park for nine years and his menu that features modern British dishes is an experience that I would happily like to relive. A night-cap in the President’s bar is the perfect end to an evening, although whilst sitting in the classic lived-in Chesterfield furniture you cannot help but look around from one piece of art to the next. And that’s just it - ‘lived-in’ sums up Stoke Park.
It’s a luxurious country retreat, but it’s also family-friendly, extremely comfortable and a lot of fun!
For more information visit www.stokepark.com
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