The legendary Harry Shapland Colt designed 27 magnificent holes at Stoke Park Club in Stoke Poges, England, on a revered piece of land, once owned by the family of William Penn, which has a recorded history dating more than 1,000 years.
Queen Elizabeth I owned Stoke Park from 1581-1603 before it was taken over by Sir Edward Cooke, who coined the phrase, “An Englishman’s home is his castle.”
In 1998, Stoke Park brought back nine holes which had been dormant since the land was used to grow potatoes during the lean days of World War II, recreating Colt’s original 27-hole design.
Unlike most 27-hole facilities, where each nine is numbered 1-through-9, the holes at Stoke Park are numbered 1-through-27.
Colt also designed the revered courses at Muirfield, Sunningdale, Royal Portrush, Wentworth and Pine Valley, considered by many to be the best golf course in the United States.
Movie buffs might recognize Stoke Park from the golf scenes in the 1964 James Bond film, “Goldfinger,” especially the car park in front of the distinctive white domed clubhouse.
Bond, played by Sean Connery, was driving his souped-up Aston Martin, which was auctioned off in a charity event at Stoke Park several years ago.
Oddjob, Goldfinger’s caddie, threatens Bond by throwing his steel-lined bowler like a discus and knocking the head off a plaster statue. The statue is still there because the film’s producers created a duplicate for the beheading in the movie.
Connery, an avid golfer, hit his own golf shots in the sequence.
Stand on the seventh tee at Stoke Park Club, where Stuart Collier is director of golf, and you get the feeling you might be thousands of miles away. Like on the famed 12th hole at Augusta National Golf Club, one-third of dreaded “Amen Corner,” so-named by Herbert Warren Wind of Sports Illustrated in 1958.
That’s because when Colt designed what was then called Stoke Poges Club (which opened in 1908), Alister MacKenzie was his assistant. When MacKenzie was commissioned by Bobby Jones to design Augusta National in 1933, he had a similar plot of land so he simply borrowed the design.
No. 7 is part of Stoke Park’s own “Amen Corner,” a fearsome foursome that can stack up with any similar stretch of holes in the world.
First is the par-4, 422-yard fourth hole, a slight dogleg right, followed by the par-5 fifth, a 525-yard test that sweeps left through a row of trees, and then the uphill, 408-yard sixth hole.
Only when you finish those challenges do you reach the treacherous seventh.
There are other reminders of Augusta at Stoke Park, especially when the azaleas and rhododendrons are in bloom, most notably on the picturesque 156-yard 11th hole, where the tee shot through a grove of trees must carry a large pond.
The last two holes for the first 18 are typically strong Colt par-4s, at 418 and 407 yards, which were the setting for the finish of the Goldfinger-Bond match. Goldfinger miraculously “finds” his ball in the rough on No. 17, after Oddjob drops a new one out of a hole in his pocket, and wins the hole. However, Bond turns the tables on No. 18 below the famous Stoke Park dome.
Stoke Park, located outside London on the outskirts of Windsor and Eaton about seven miles from Heathrow Airport, is near some other shrines of British golf–including the Wentworth Club and its famed West Course in Virginia Water; Sunningdale Golf Club in Sunningdale; the Belfry Golf Club in Sutton Coldfield, Europe’s most prominent Ryder Cup venue; and Royal Birkdale Golf Club near Southport, which has hosted the Open Championship nine times, the last when Padraig Harrington won in 2008.
The Women’s British Open is being played at Birkdale this week.
Also in the area are Lambourne Club in Burnham, the Marriott Forest of Arden Hotel and Country Club in Warwickshire, Woburn Golf Club in Milton Keynes and Foxhills Golf Club in Ottershaw–which is considered the most American-like club in England.
They will treat you like a queen or king at the five-star Stoke Park Hotel, which in 1999 became a charter member of Leading Small Hotels of the World, and offers 20 bedrooms filled with priceless antiques and original paintings and prints.
Stoke Park Mansion, which houses the hotel, clubhouse, restaurants and conference rooms, is said to have influenced the architects of the White House since the dome is similar and both edifices have an oval office.
Not far is the luxurious Cliveden Hotel, the former Astor estate, in Taplow. Also close are the Bull Hotel, a 17th century coach stop in Gerrards Cross; Burnham Beeches Hotel, a magnificent structure of Georgian architecture on 10 landscaped acres in Burnam; Grovefield House Hotel, a charming Edwardian country house in Windsor; the Christopher Hotel, the only hotel in Eton; the Castle Hotel in Windsor, a two-minute walk from the front gate at Windsor Castle, and Sir Christopher Wren’s House Hotel on the banks of the Thames River in Windsor.
ON THE WEB: www.stokeparkclub.com.