I have been lucky to work with some great people in the golf industry, one of whom was Chris Kennedy, who was the Estates Manager at Wentworth for many years. He had been poached from Haggs Castle in Glasgow by the European Tour, who were not happy with the West Course’s condition and needed someone who could take it up to the demanding standards required by the Tour and their members. They were looking at potentially taking the PGA Championship away to a different venue, so it was suggested to Willy Bauer, the then CEO of The Wentworth Group that Chris was the right guy for the job, and the rest is history.
Chris taught me so much about agronomy and presentation of courses, especially for tournaments, and I will always be indebted to him. So when I met Colin Chapman the CEO of Coombe Hill, I was interested in finding that the Course Manager Russell Abernethy, had previously been at Wentworth as deputy head greenkeeper on the West Course, so I was hoping that some of Chris’s magic would have rubbed off on him.
I hadn’t visited Coombe Hill for many years but had always felt in the past that it was a good track that was let down by never being in the best condition. So when I arrived and waited on the terrace for Colin, I could immediately see that the attention to detail and the condition of the putting green that surrounds the clubhouse was first class. You could also tell that Colin had been a military man, as everything in the clubhouse was spick and span, and it had a lovely feel to it.
Knut Wylde, the GM from The Berkeley Hotel, was my guest today taking on the” Round with Niall challenge ” and whilst Knut warmed up, Colin highlighted that he and the Club took the Top 100 very seriously. Unfortunately, due to the location of the course, set amongst some stunning Surrey real estate and overlooking London, it cannot be lengthened. However, the Club has engaged McKenzie & Ebert (who do seem to be getting a lot of work with the top 100 courses) to develop a 5-year plan, which Colin was pleased to tell me, had been approved by the Board.
The investment is considerable but is necessary for a Club of this stature to maintain the improvements already made. Over 1200 tonnes of sand have been put onto the fairway this year, and starting next month, a drainage programme will see over 5 kilometres of drainage pipes being installed on the 15th fairway that has been affected by the increased rainfall over the last few years.
In addition, other subtle aspects of the course will be re-designed, to give more definition and highlight some of the water hazards and run-off areas, especially on the par 3 12th hole, which I think will be a great addition.
Knut is always a tough negotiator, and he managed to convince me that he should have 11 shots, so I had a feeling that I might be in trouble. And so it proved, being 5 down after 6 holes!! As you may know, I like to come up with names for my blog reports, and I was thinking this could be “The Castration at Coombe!”
As we played the front nine, I could see Chris’s influence, from the cut lines on the fairways and neatness of the approaches to the greens running pure and at a constantly quick speed – the standard was extremely high. The course set-up had that tournament presentation feel to it, which I love and helped to bring this fine Parkland course to life. With so many good Links and Heathland courses in England, it’s hard for the Parkland courses to get a look in, but Coombe Hill should certainly make a dent in the rankings, in my opinion.
I managed to get my driver a little more under control, and despite Knut still playing some good golf, I managed to get a couple of holes back by the turn. If you have followed my blog, you will know that I was lucky enough to go behind the scenes of The Berkeley recently, and as we started the back nine, Knut highlighted that due to the pandemic and the lack of international visitors, occupancy levels were still low in London, especially in mid-week. The need for American and middle eastern travellers to return is very much needed to support the London hotel scene.
Knut used his shots well, and as I managed to miss my par putt on the last, he jumped to the top of the “A Round with Niall Challenge” leader board, by finishing 4 up. Colin met us after the round. It turned out that he and Knut had a lot in common, as both had helped their respective communities during the pandemic by providing food services and pick-up points for members. In addition, both organisations had kept their staff on throughout the lockdowns.
They are also big foodies, so when the menu came over, Colin suggested a pizza to share, as the Club had invested in a pizza oven. It turned out to be an inspired choice and almost as good as the pizzas at Castiglion Del Bosco, which I can tell you is high praise indeed.
Apart from being heavily beaten by Knut and learning that Colin was an Arsenal supporter, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Coombe Hill. The determination to continue to improve the course and the Club has to be commended. The terrace on a Friday afternoon was full of members enjoying the surroundings and some great food. Chris would be very proud of Russell, you could not fault the presentation, and I can’t wait to see the improvements that will be made over the coming months.
In addition, the opportunity to introduce Knut to Colin, who I know will meet up again, will have benefits for both the members of Coombe Hill and the guests at The Berkeley. It does go to show that sometimes life can be more about who you know rather than what you know.
You to can enjoy the delights of The Berkeley Spa Weekend and Coombe Hill by entering the competition to win – https://niallflanagan.com/luxury-weekend-stay-at-the-berkeley/
Until next time