London Golf Club’s 30th anniversary

By Emily Kay 3 weeks ago

London Golf Club celebrates its 30-year anniversary this summer having risen to prominence as one of the UK’s most prestigious venues.

A lot has changed since Wednesday July 10, 1994. Rewind the clock and Scottish soft rock band Wet Wet Wet’s cover of The Troggs’ hit Love Is All Around sat firmly atop the official UK singles chart for a ninth successive week; The Lion King and Forrest Gump were battling it out at the box office; and a fresh-faced, 24-year-old Ernie Els was celebrating having won the first of his four Major titles just a few weeks earlier at that year’s US Open, held at Oakmont Country Club.

Head across the Atlantic some 3,700 miles due east from Pittsburgh, three more multiple Major winners – Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros and Tony Jacklin – were gathering in the ‘Garden of England’ to play a special charity skins match to mark the official opening of an exciting 36-hole golf course development just outside the English capital.

The vision of Japanese businessman Masao Nagahara to create a first-class golf facility close to the city, London Golf Club in the secluded Kent countryside opened its doors 30 years ago this July.

Mr Nagahara, owner of London Golf Club until 2003, called upon the services of Nicklaus to orchestrate the design of both the club’s prospective courses under the Nicklaus Design banner. The 18-time Major winner would himself design one of the game’s finest courses, The Heritage – the setting of the star-studded match between the legends of the game which was won by Spaniard Ballesteros – while the late Ron Kirby was tasked with designing The International. What the duo managed to create was a pair of outstanding championship golf courses that would become respected DP World Tour hosts, woven beautifully into Kent’s rolling countryside. Its setting makes it easy to forget upon entering the 700-acre grounds that the hustle and bustle of the capital lies just 20 miles away. The Heritage course, exclusively for use by members and their guests, is dripping with drama. Over the years, the layout has welcomed prestigious events such as the European Open in 2008 and 2009. In 2021, the Cazoo Classic – formerly known as the English Open – was won by Scotland’s Calum Hill.

Meanwhile, The International remains a fine layout in its own right. In 2014, it hosted the Volvo World Match Play Championship, where Finland’s Mikko Ilonen beat 2016 Open champion Henrik Stenson in a tense finale. Risk-reward holes offer great excitement, while the dogleg 13th hole was described by Kirby as “the best par five I have ever created”.

This summer, the course will welcome the world’s best golfers with a disability for the inaugural London Golf Club G4D Shield – underlining the club’s commitment to making golf accessible to players of all backgrounds. As part of the preparation for the event, head PGA professional Paul Stuart – who has been an ever- present at the club for the past 30 years – received training from the EDGA team to enable him to offer locals with disabilities free golf lessons.

Having been at the club since the start, joining as a caddie and working several other roles including director of golf, nobody is better placed than Stuart to reflect on what has been an incredible three decades.

“Seeing the club evolve over the years has been wonderful,” Stuart said. “We always had aspirations to be recognised as one of England’s best golf venues, but I feel we have achieved that while maintaining a welcoming atmosphere that only comes through reputation and word of mouth. People love coming back here.” It’s that welcoming atmosphere Stuart mentions that may surprise golf novices; there is not a hint of the straight-faced stuffiness with which so many associate the sport. Everything is done with a smile, from your greeting at the gate to the team behind the bar, which counts a London Golf Club micro-brewed lager among its options.

The club has proudly maintained a family-friendly ethos since opening in 1994, and this extends not only to guests, but to the staff and local community. For three decades, the venue has built a reputation for its relationship with the loyal, largely local team it has built. They have taken this attitude even further with the recent addition of on-site staff accommodation, a refurbished cottage on the grounds.

London Golf Club is also hugely active in the community, with Kent-based children’s hospice Demelza the official charity for 2024, while it also regularly donates to the West Kingsdown Community Cupboard food bank.

Chief executive officer Stephen Follett has led the team at London Golf Club for the last eight years, placing an impetus on both staff wellbeing and community outreach. Follett said: “What London Golf Club has achieved over the last 30 years has been truly remarkable. From creating a strong membership community, to regularly welcoming the world’s best players for fantastic events, there is little we haven’t achieved. “The club will always be grateful to not only Mr Nagahara – who we sadly lost in the autumn – for his original vision and determination, but also to the incredible hard work of every staff member who has ensured all members and visitors to the club have received the best possible service and experience each and every day for three decades.

“While our first 30 years have witnessed a remarkable journey of growth and success, there is no doubt that the next 30 years are set to be incredibly special, thanks to continued investment and a drive to host golf’s biggest events once again. The future is looking extremely exciting for everyone here at the club.” With a glowing reputation, strong membership numbers, and visitor bookings as high as ever, the future for London Golf Club certainly looks brighter than ever.

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