Into The Grove

Business Golfer

With a course designed by the renowned Kyle Phillips and a hotel based on traditional values, The Grove is an irresistible mixture. Alison Root visits the perfect place to combine business with pleasure.

The style and character of the championship golf course underlines Kyle Phillips’ attention to detail. The layout follows a route that’s over rolling tree-lined landscape and owes much to the value Phillips is renowned for throughout the clubhouses of the world.

The American, who learned his trade as an employee of Robert Trent Jones, Jr. is best known for his work at Kingsbarns Golf Links, close to St Andrews. Kingsbarns is an admirable addition to the Fife coast and one that has earned Phillips international plaudits, particularly from the world’s leading tournament golfers.

Originally from Northern California, Phillips sums up his style as this: “I like to create courses that look and feel old even though they are new,” he says. “A good design should help players experience the course with all of their senses. They should feel they are walking on a natural landscape and they should feel a little intimidation mixed with a little triumph,” he adds.

To this end, Phillips has allowed The Grove’s course to emerge from the landscape rather than have a template design imposed upon it. Having been left alone for almost two years to bed-in and mature, its condition is impeccable. “Building a golf course is like peeling an onion,” Phillips continues. “There are layers of detail, but it’s the subtle detail that separates the great courses from the others.”

Phillips’ concern with natural land forms is a departure from the design concept that has dominated golf since the Sixties – the bulldozer – which resulted in flat and featureless courses. Phillips’ ethos is to create the most natural courses possible; even a cursory glance at The Grove’s course confirms his theory.

Each individually-named hole, from tee to green, presents a unique challenge and unmistakable character. Having designed more than 35 courses while still working with Jones, Phillips knows a thing or two about how to massage a decent score from low- to high-handicappers. His work rewards the golfer with moments when the sight of a green or a fairway, set against centuries-old woodlands, presents an inviting temptation to stop and stare than simply play the ball.

The essence of the course is one in which the player sets his own tasks within his own limits and is then rewarded accordingly. The greater the risk and subsequent success, the bigger the reward. It’s a principle that many in the corporate world will recognise.

In golfing terms, it owes much to the strategic school of thought in which a player must think his way round the course without falling into the trap of trying to overpower it. The Hoggery (the 450 yard, par-four 3 rd hole) is a case in point. It follows a slightly downhill route with danger on the left and water threatening the approach shot. This places the emphasis on a perfectly-struck tee shot in order to find the right position on the fairway for a safe approach to the green.

The 4th, a 208-yard, par-three called the Boathouse fulfills all the conditions of a perfect short hole. The green is menaced by the Grand Union Canal to the right, while a stream at the front then humps and hollows behind leave few options to achieve perfect par.

Phillips’ customary foresight is seen at its best on the 11th – the Greenhouse. The fairway of this long par-5 (545 yards) sweeps left against a background of ancient trees, while the outer edge is challenged by a series of mounds. Again, accuracy from the tee is paramount to ensure your second shot is more than just a salvage pitch, taking you back to the safety of the fairway to start again.

Overall, it’s an engrossing course with a benign element – there is always an escape route as Phillips sticks to his doctrine of providing enjoyment for whoever plays and to whatever standard.

In effect, the demands on all those who play the course and the subsequent sense of achievement provide a complete escape – and that, after all, is the hallmark of The Grove.


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