Just over three years on from officially opening; a temporary clubhouse (albeit a very adequate one) is still in operation, the car park didn't quite resemble a building site but there was a lot of construction work ongoing and various machinery surrounded what has the makings of being a luxury halfway house.
Aside from all that, and absolutely the main thing for me, was that the golf course is ready to go. The fact that the car-park, clubhouse, driving range, putting green and first tee are all situated in the correct sequence also pleased me greatly. You may consider this a small thing but it's amazing how many golf clubs get this spectacularly wrong. Everything flows well at Centurion Club.
The most unusual thing about this big and bold modern inland layout, near Hemel Hempstead just north of London, is that there are more par fives than par fours! All told there are seven three-shotters and whilst none of them, with perhaps the exception of the 543-yard last, are overly taxing in terms of length there’s probably four too many of them for my liking!
This is not a criticism of the par 74 Centurion Club specifically. It’s just that it appears that no modern golf course ever seems to have a par less than 72, certainly never fewer than 71, and as a result tend to have at least four par fives; arguably the most uninteresting type of hole in golf, especially when consumed regularly. As a side note few new builds have one of the most fun types of hole; a driveable par four. The uphill 357-yard tenth is the closest we get at Centurion… so that rules most of us out unless your name’s Bubba.
What was pleasing compared to other newbies, and really noticeable here, is that you don’t return to the clubhouse until you finish on the 18th. Having recently played several layouts built since the turn of the millenium it was refreshing to be taken on more of a journey here and not return to the clubhouse halfway through your round.
It should be noted that from the silver competition tees the course, which strongly favours the aerial game, plays a very manageable 6,756-yards so it’s far from a slog and you could argue that bigger hitters will have a plethora of birdie chances which may increase satisfaction levels. Perhaps it’s just a ploy to please the members! A good one at that.
NB: The course plays as a par 72 from the ‘black’ championship tees although these don’t feature on the regular scorecard.
The course, designed by Simon Gidman, meanders over spectacular topography, features almost 100 bunkers and has four major water features. There are two specific parts of the layout which are linked by stunning short holes at the fifth and 14th.
The strength of the course is arguably the par fours though. There’s only half a dozen of them but the third, seventh, 12th and 16th are four of the strongest holes on the course, each one featuring a dog-leg to the right but all very individual in appearance.
Visually the course is succulent although some ugly pylons do spoil the view from the high part of the property near the eighth and tenth tees. The course takes on a number of personas during the round. The first few holes have an intimate Woburn-esque feel to them as they cut a path through towering pines before the course becomes much more open from around the fourth hole and certainly from the sixth where you enter rural Hertfordshire and long fescue grass defines many of the fairways that are sculptured to have a gathering, almost valley-like, effect.
The bunkering is bold and striking as well as being extremely deceptive. The hazards frame many of the holes superbly and the bunkering between 50 to 100 yards short of the green is when it’s at its best. The greenside traps also sit well in their environment and the chances are you’ll find at least one during your round.
I’m not convinced that the water hazard between the 16th and 17th really works from a strategic point of view but the pond down the left side of the ninth must certainly be considered and the one directly in front of the 12th has no alternative route except to go over it. This downhill approach is actually a thrilling shot if you get your drive away but if not you may be forced to hit a short lay-up to get into position or alternatively take on a very risky second. I personally thought this approach would actually have made a really nice short par three.
In my opinion the greens are just about right for this type of course. There is plenty of interest in them without spoiling the party. I must admit that after the first two or three holes I thought this may not be the case - after seeing some significant and unnatural looking movement – but they settled down nicely for the rest of the round and as they say were a joy to putt on.
Due to the exclusivity of the venue I suspect that the course gets relatively minimal play and as such, and as you would expect, was in excellent condition in the height of summer although the bent grass greens - which ran perfectly smoothly - were spiking up noticeably throughout the day. I’m reliably informed that it remains particularly well maintained for 12 months of the year and I don’t doubt this for one moment.
Centurion is certainly atypical to a traditional English private members golf club, however, it is clear that the owners are developing a place, a community if you like, where their members are the lifeblood and where they can enjoy the finer aspects of life alongside good quality golf.
It’s not personally the type of club I’d seek to join but then again I’m not an ex-Premier League footballer or multi-millionaire.