Not only did JF Abercromby design The Addington, he also ran it for 25 years until his death in 1939. The contrast between this approach and that of modern ‘celebrity’ architects, some of whom barely get round to visiting a site let alone administering it, could hardly be more striking. ‘Aber’, as he was known, was involved with only a small number of courses, no more than 12, but most of them are exceptional. This, along with nearby Worplesdon, can be considered his finest achievement, and certainly his most imaginative.
The Addington, not far from Croydon in south London, is a heathland course like no other. Like no other, that is, since the 1930s when the so-called New course here was turned into a housing estate.
If you were compiling a list of criteria as to what makes for an outstanding golfing experience, this course would satisfy most of them.
There is character in abundance; several holes not easily (if ever) forgotten; a number of truly great holes; variety; character; the occasional birdie chance; fast-running fairways; and holes that offer the chance of doing something heroic but with an alternative route that is safer and less potentially ruinous.
The Addington’s trademark is a series of heather-filled ravines traversed by rickety bridges – presuming your ball has been safely dispatched to the other side.
Compared to the other great Surrey courses, The Addington is more eccentric, more memorable, more individual. Set apart from the others, and just 10 miles from central London, many would rank it behind only Walton Heath in terms of courses within the M25.
The topography makes for a series of unusual, if not unique, holes. Their length and character is determined by the terrain, so it is no place for those who like their golf compartmentalised.
‘Aber’ was not constrained by par – the concept of which did not exist in the early part of the 20th century – so do not read too much into our later attempts to do so.
It is true The Addington is not the best place for anyone less than familiar with its esoteric features to try to put together a medal round.
There are nominal par 3s here where four is a good score and similarly the longest holes are either near-impossible par 4s or generous par 5s, depending on your outlook.
The prime example is the famous 12th, a dogleg that tumbles down a series of heather-clad steps then climbs back up to a bunkerless green.
For the better player, at 485 yards it is within reach in two – in theory. But use your driver and hit it over the brow and you are as likely to finish in a clump of heather as on one of the flat steps of fairway. No-one said golf had to be fair – and with a card in your hand it may be a better idea to lay up at the top of the hill and treat it as a three-shotter.
The other par 5s on the card are not entirely dissimilar, though less severe. The 2nd tempts you to drive aggressively but there is nothing to stop a slight hook bounding downhill across the fairway and out of bounds, while at the 16th you are downhill all the way but a snaking fairway and the narrowest of entrances to a shelf green mean that long shots must be accurate. Many would say that is just as it should be.
The Addington has six short holes; at least half are exceptional. The 1st is a stern opener, calling for a long iron or wood up the hill. Two are over 200 yards, the 3rd and the 13th, the latter of which is surely the course’s finest moment.
At this stunning, point-to-point par 3, you must send your ball over the valley and safely on to the green. No less an authority than Henry Longhurst declared it the finest inland par 3 in Britain.
In the circumstances, both the 7th and the 17th can be taken for granted but on many other courses would be the pick of the bunch. It is true The Addington is not the best place for anyone less than familiar with its esoteric features to try to put together a medal round.
Unless you are either very good or lucky, you will come to grief at various points. But as a golfing experience to savour, it scores very highly indeed.
In Episode One, Dan and Steve chat with Ryan Noades, managing director at The Addington, to get some insight into the huge changes under way at the Croydon layout.
You can listen to the podcast in the player below, or on your preferred podcast platform.