Highgate Golf Club has the closest 18-hole course to central London. You can’t see any of the latter from the property since the views out are to the north or else frequently of the plethora of cranes which are involved in the renovation of already salubrious properties in the Hampstead/Highgate area on a pretty much endless basis, digging down to build swimming pools, snooker rooms or whatever.  

This is not a long course. From the back markers, the whites, it measures 6,015 yards, compared to 5,735 from the yellows. The par is only 69, the sole par-five coming at the 7th, a dogleg left of 518 yards (all the yardages I’m quoting are off the whites) played from an elevated tee – one of the nicest holes.

The tee shot on the 185-yard 11th, which plays downhill and almost shares a green with the 8th beyond

The course was first laid out on farmland owned by the Church Commissioners, the original plan being modified by a gentleman who went by the grand name of Cuthbert Butchart. He became the club’s first pro in 1904, the year it opened, and six years later he designed West Hill in the Surrey sand belt. I’m a member at Highgate and am happy playing there, but Highgate is no West Hill.

Part of that is down to the fact that it’s built on clay-based soil and there’s no getting away from the reservoir. (Well there is on some holes, but you’ll get my point.) In 1928 the Metropolitan Water Board compulsorily purchased 40% of the land to put in an underground reservoir, which is principally in play on the 413-yard 9th, where the tee shot has to carry around 200 yards or else your ball will roll some of the way back towards you. Peter Alliss apparently called it the ugliest hole in London. Still, as Oscar Wilde said, there’s only one thing worse than being talked about; not being talked about…

To a lesser extent, the reservoir also affects the 10th, 13th and 15th. Among the doglegs the sharpest is on the first, a 276-yarder which plays downhill from the tee before turning left and then moving uphill to the green. In a way it’s emblematic of Highgate. The longer holes give you a generous amount of room in which to play; the shorter ones can be quite tricky to negotiate.

A view of the 18th green, end of the road on the 317-yard closing hole, taken from the clubhouse terrace

Immodesty prevents me for not mentioning the fact that the 11th, which is pictured here, is one of two par-threes of the four in total on which I have not had a hole-in-one. (I’m also working on the 17th.) Both on the short holes and in general, the abundance of trees make for some attractive scenery and a sense of seclusion, notably outside of the winter months, even though the course is surrounded by houses around its perimeter. You are definitely in London but sometimes the city seems far away.

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