Shirley Park Golf Club is a golf course that can be historically traced back to the birth of the London golf course at the turn of the twentieth century. The early part of the last century was a period of huge growth of London’s suburbia, aided significantly by the expansion of railway infrastructure, the affluent and successful took advantage of the newly built communities that ringed the capital and moved to more rural areas. Free from the grime and pollution of the city and surrounded by open countryside, it’s no coincidence that this was also a period of terrific development for the game of golf as a number of courses in the counties surrounding London were constructed at this time.
Since that era, London has turned into a monster that’s continued to grow and gradually consume what were once new village communities, the vestiges of which remain in the form of high streets, churches and the village golf club. Shirley Park Golf Club is a London golf course which dates back to the golden age in British golf course design and is a window into a time when being a member of the local golf course was still central to community life.
Perhaps it was no surprise that my first impressions of Shirley Park Golf Club were that it’s a rather traditional suburban members club. The club house itself dominates the entrance to the facility. Constructed in 1913 when the course was laid out by the architects Tom Simpson and Herbert Fowler , the design cunningly exploits the lay of the land to tremendous effect. For visitors familiar with the traditional Surrey parkland style course Shirley Park will not disappoint however, this is a course that has its own idiosyncrasies that make it unique.
Noticeably Shirley Park Golf Clubplays like two very different nine hole courses neatly spliced together. The front nine is very tight and oozes tradition while the back nine is more open and has a more modern persona. I have to say the first nine holes are an absolute treat for any golfer, after a rather straightforward start this course grows in character as you play your way around it.
While this is a course of average length (5909 off the yellow tees) it’s quite technical, the fairways wind their way through a series of challenges that build from hole to hole. This course really starts to come into its own from the seventh, a devilish little par three that’s tight an utterly unforgiving. The eight provides a similarly imposing tee shot with a tight and well defended green just about visible through a narrow gap in the trees. The next hole is a superb five hundred yard par five that majestically sweeps around a dogleg left to leave you with one of the toughest approach shots you’ll play in London, possibly the whole of England. The seventh, eighth and ninth, it’s genuinely worth playing this course just to play these three holes alone, South London’s very own mini Amen Corner.
Shirley Park Golf Club is a South London golf course of tremendous heritage and character, the very narrow tree-lined fairways combined with a mix of elevated tees and greens are a treat to play. I honestly think I used most of the clubs in my bag as I went around this course, you’ll need to be fully committed your distance to take on some of the greens. While the back nine isn’t as spectacular as outward holes, more open and less distinct, this doesn’t mean they are inferior to the journey out from the clubhouse, far from it.
The par threes are possibly some of the best on any London golf course, however this is a course with some excellent long driving holes pot marked by some deep and thoughtfully placed bunkers. It’s also worth mentioning that as you complete the front nine there is an excellent halfway house from which the siren sent of hot bacon sandwiches tempts you in from a cold and crisp morning.
The greens and fairways at Shirley Park Golf Club were superb on the day of play, despite a frosty start and a few days of rain which had made them a bit soft they ran extremely well, I’m sure on a warm summer day the greens would speed up considerably and the firmness would catch many a player out; I was pleased that they were so receptive. On the late autumnal day I played it was also great to see the grounds and green keepers out with the leaf blowers, the course is expertly maintained.
All in all Shirley Park Golf Club is a golf course that’s distinguished by its traditional design that is both challenging and aesthetically pleasing. I’ve little doubt that you’ll have to play the full range of shots in your repertoire as you work your way around this wonderfully engaging golf course.