Stoke Park (above)
Stoke Park is surely one of the country's finest stay-and-play venues. To be frank, you'll struggle to find better: steeped in history, it boasts 27 holes of quality Harry Colt parkland golf (Colt, Alison & Lane Jackson nines), luxury accommodation in the incredible Palladian manor house – which doubles up as the best clubhouse around – and The Pavilion, an award-winning spa, the finest of dining options and more besides. On-course major changes are taking place with Stoke Park investing a seven-figure sum in rebuilding every single bunker on its 27 holes, starting with the Colt (holes 1-9) with minor design changes being made to their shape and size. Director of Golf Stuart Collier explains: "We are very fortunate to have three nines of outstanding quality which enables us to close one for a brief period while maintaining 18 championship holes for members and visitors.”
Proud home of three stunning 18-hole courses (Marquess', Duke's and Duchess') and which made a welcome return to the big time last year by staging the British Masters on the modern classic Marquess'. The British Masters has been held at Woburn 17 times with the vast majority on the Duke's. Created in 1974 this was Woburn's first course, with the shorter but equally delightful Duchess' joining it five years later. Although the longer, wonderfully winding Marquess' is widely
considered the main attraction these days, many members and visitors prefer the charm and challenge of the two senior layouts. With excellent practice facilities and a smashing fairly recently refurbished clubhouse, Woburn provides the
ultimate day out and, if you're lucky, you might even spot Ian Poulter who represents the club on Tour. The only thing missing is the lack of on-site accommodation though there are plenty of options nearby.
If you're looking for a magical place to stay and play, treat yourself to a visit to Luton Hoo, conveniently located close to Luton airport and the M1. The modern par-73 USGA-spec course is maturing nicely and has a fine variety of holes with the pick involving an outstanding parkland The courses stretch on the back nine, frighteningly featuring a monster 261-yard par-3! But the good news is that, being plotted on protected land, at least you don’t have any bunkers to worry about. However, the real star of the show is the glorious luxury 18th-century mansion house hotel which has entertained royalty and prime ministers alike and overlooks a superb landscape created by legendary garden designer, Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. The impressive clubhouse is part of a former stables courtyard which also features a splendid spa, pro shop and relaxed dining in Adam’s Brasserie. It’s a short walk from the main house/hotel though you can hitch a free ride aboard one of a fleet of London Cabs if you prefer
The pride of Bedfordshire is undoubtedly John O'Gaunt on Sandy Heath. The club offers two contrasting 18-hole layouts; the longer John O'Gaunt is a serious examination of parkland golf thanks to mature treelined fairways, severe rough and small greens while the Carthagena is shorter and has much larger greens. The magnificent clubhouse, built in 1859 and overlooking the last green of John O'Gaunt, is a great place to unwind afterwards. Club pro by the way is Lee Scarbrow who set Ian Poulter on the way to superstardom.
Another Bedfordshire star is Leighton Buzzard where Poulter learnt his trade as an aspiring young assistant pro. It's a wonderful mixture of parkland/heathland golf, Woburnesque in places, with mature timber framing many fairways – with the
stunning par-3 11th being the most memorable hole.