Centurion Club: A look at Britain’s newest golf course3rd June, 2012 by Tania Longmire
Centurion Club near St Albans, which is currently being built, could be a modern success story that has deep links to the past.
The ancient town of Verulamium was once one of the most important towns in Roman Britain.
It was situated to the south west of St Albans in Hertfordshire and, as a major staging post on the main Roman road heading northwards, was the scene of the Battle in Watling Street in AD 60 or 61 in which an army led by Roman general, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, routed a force led by the Incenian rebel, Boudicca, thereby ending resistance to Roman rule in the southern portion of Britannia for almost 400 years.
The modern city of St Albans has never enjoyed such exalted status when it comes to the royal and ancient game of golf but that might well change next summer when Centurion Club opens for business on a rolling piece of land close to the city and on the road to Hemel Hempstead.
Centurion Club is a rare entity these days in that it is one of the few private clubs to be launched at a time when golf clubs all over the country are struggling to make ends meet.
“Some of our friends questioned our wisdom to build and launch an upmarket club in the middle of a recession but it is also a time of opportunity and we are convinced the finished product will attract a huge amount of interest,” said chairman, Graham Wildish, who will own and operate Centurion Club in partnership with managing director Scott Evans and two Dutch partners, Bert Pronk and André Hendriks.
“We believe the site has huge potential due to its location on the outskirts of north London,” he added.
“We’ve also got a gem of a golf course and it will be there for all to see when we open our sales office on the site this summer.”
“A detailed business plan sets Centurion apart from some modern clubs where investors have succumbed to the golfing equivalent of ‘football chairman’s syndrome’ and have seen their projects scuppered as a result,” said a spokesman for the club. “At Centurion there is no sign that sound business principles have been forfeited in search of an unrealistic dream. Nothing has been left to chance and nor will it be.”
“We’ve got one chance to get this right and that has certainly focussed our minds,” confirmed Wildish. “Our plan is to create a club that rivals the very best for its quality while offering flexibility for each member’s utilisation.
“Our aim is to focus on providing the very best facilities for our members and let the reputation and standing among the golfing fraternity evolve. The challenge is to create a quality product worthy of our location so close to central London and to be considered one of the finest available.”
There have been plans to develop the site as a golf course for a number of years but it was only when Wildish, Evans, Pronk and Henriks came on board that they started to come to fruition. Fifteen holes have already been constructed and the final three (which are the first three holes of the course) will be completed shortly, carving their way through an attractive area of pine woodland on the western edge of the site. A number of ancillary buildings (one of which will serve as the clubhouse in the short term) are already under construction and work on a permanent clubhouse behind the 18th green will commence as soon as the club is up and running.
Wildish, Pronk and Hendriks all have extensive business backgrounds working in the pharmaceutical, construction and manufacturing industries and their business acumen is reinforced by Evans who brings 25 years of experience working in golf club management at the likes of Troon Golf Club in Arizona, Dubai Creek, Loch Lomond, Bearwood Lakes, The London Club and most recently Troon Golf Management, where he worked on numerous European projects.
Their combined knowledge is evident in many of the decisions the directors have already made.
One of the first things they elected to do was to decline paying the inflated fees sought by many big name golf course architects in favour of signing Simon Gidman of Simon Gidman International Golf Course Architects, whose previous creations include the new course at Burhill Golf Club in Surrey, the Blue course at Frilford Heath near Oxford, the new course at Hösel Golf Club in Germany and Galgorm Castle in Northern Ireland.
“Simon has been a pleasure to work with and he has embraced our thoughts and vision for the site but more importantly he is an absolute gentleman and that we value,“ stated Wildish.
Gidman believes a golf course should be defined by the spirit of its landscape and at Centurion he has created a picturesque layout which meanders over spectacular rolling terrain and features four major water hazards and undulating bent grass greens. The course measures 7,200 yards from the back tees and features a fine set of diverse short holes. It also closes with a panoramic par five which will sit below the stunning clubhouse and is protected by a large lake to the right of the green.
That lake is bounded by a stone wall and it provides another vivid illustration of how the owners have combined a desire to produce a quality product whilst keeping a keen eye on all costs. The original plan called for the 18th lake to be bounded by a sandstone wall but that proved too costly. The plan was soon rewritten and local stone was used instead.
“There is little doubt the new golf course will quickly become regarded as one of the finest inland layouts in England and it is also blessed with a marvellous location close to the affluent conurbations of St Albans, Hemel Hempstead and Welwyn Garden City, and well under 30 minutes to central London,” stated the club spokesman.
Centurion Club does have a great deal going for it and its myriad of attractions are boosted by offering a wide range of membership categories suitable for all tastes. These include a limited number of ‘Founder’ or ‘Centurion’ memberships which is the only way to access the course seven days per week, plus there will be midweek openings in corporate and business categories. “The different membership categories will provide options offering greater flexibility to suit each member’s utilisation and busy lifestyle,” added the spokesman.
“It is our intention to create a modern club that is renowned for its friendly atmosphere and outstanding standard of service,” said Wildish. “We want to create a distinct ‘wow’ factor which ensures that once you’ve visited the club you’ll never forget it,” he added.
“It’s an ambitious goal but with hard work and attention to detail we’re convinced that we can succeed.”