I already knew that The Grove had an excellent golf course. I’ve been lucky enough to play it several times over the past decade, at various times of the year, and am yet to find it presented in anything less than immaculate condition.
I have interviewed its creator, Kyle Phillips, on how he turned a modest site, in golfing terms, into such a varied course. It has that championship vibe yet is incredibly well set up for the bulk of its traffic, which is the city golfer looking for some downtime and those lucky enough to be invited to a high-level corporate day.
It takes some doing, but while The Grove appears to have lots of long grass, which you can often see swaying in the breeze, it’s invariably well away from play.
The most difficult section of the course comes during the stretch from the 3rd to the 5th, where you will indeed do well to avoid water, but thereafter the course is kind to errant tee shots and the real challenge comes close to and on the greens, which are slick, large and undulating.
In short, you feel like a tour player but it’s never less than enjoyable.
“The location was good,” said Phillips back in 2014. “It had some history with the old estate, and the grand union canal coming through it. And it had all the issues that you would expect around here – there are a lot of historic preservation, tree issues, historic landscape kind of things, and a lot of archaeology.
“We wanted it to feel like a traditional parkland golf course, but at the same time, mix that old with the new element because The Grove itself really has that whole theme of old with new. So you drive up to a brick building and it looks traditional, yet there are a lot of modern touches, a lot of quirky, fun things, taken all the way through the hotel and outside. We wanted the golf course to be the same – still a very traditional kind of character but also with modern touches.
“Ultimately, it has to play well,” said Phillips, who also created Kingsbarns.
And it certainly does. I was reminded of Phillips’s words when eating in the all-new Glasshouse restaurant. Still gleaming from its makeover, it symbolises The Grove’s ethic of constant improvement and reinvention.
The Glasshouse is very much the epicentre of the hotel, where guests enjoy both breakfast and dinner.
I have long contended that no other golf resort does breakfast better than The Grove (OK, on consideration, Gleneagles does) with its fuss-free buffet service and a quite exceptional array of fresh produce. Nowhere, I would argue, is it more appealing to start your day in healthy fashion such is the profusion of fruit, fish, cereal and porridge.
You can be in and out in 15 minutes if your schedule demands it or, in my case, if your children take full advantage of the food waiting for them by piling up and rapidly demolishing implausible combinations of sweet and savoury food on the same plate.
I’m pretty sure it would be preferable to take your time – and the same is certainly true in the evenings when it can seem impossible to make a decision from the international buffet that can be overwhelming on first sight. Italian, Asian, French, British – it’s all there tempting you at The Grove.
The great thing is that the grown-ups can choose sophisticated and delicate dishes if they prefer while the kids will never struggle to find something a little plainer.
And, needless to say, there is a dessert for everyone.
Fortunately, then, spending time at The Grove generally involves plenty of activities. As good as the golf course is, I invariably have to tear myself away from the exemplary practice facilities. It is still so rare in this country to have the chance to work on your long and short games alike hitting off turf and using premium balls.
Until my latest visit, I am ashamed to say that my perception of the Walled Garden was of somewhere to rush to for an après-golf barbecue.
I now know that it has dozens of child-friendly activities, from an outdoor pool to a giant chess board, and an arts and crafts room to an indoor pool complete with floats and armbands.
As every parent knows, you don’t need much more on a holiday then a decent swimming pool and The Grove has two of them. We comfortably averaged more than one visit per day.
During one extended frolic, my wife was able to slip away to the Sequoia Spa, which offers, I am told, a total escape from the joys of entertaining small children in a pool and being solely responsible for their safety.
The spa is located behind the Stables, which serves as the golf clubhouse, and is effectively an adults-only space complete with a stunning pool. It’s a neat solution to the varying needs of The Grove’s guests and ensures that everyone can enjoy some pool-time that suits their needs.
This being a family break, we took full advantage of being so close to London to enjoy a day of sightseeing. It’s five minutes to Watford and from there half an hour into Euston.
But as educationally valuable as our visit to the British Museum to learn about Ancient Egypt proved to be, the truth was that our kids would have been much happier back at The Grove.
Could the golf ball be rolled back for everyone?