Seve makes his mark in North London

Sean Dudley
By Sean Dudley

Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros's design firm has largely completed its first course in the UK. The Shire, in Barnet to the north of London, will open next spring, offering high-end pay and play golf (with a planned green fee of around £40 during the week), and a strong society pitch.

The Shire is a complete redesign of the former Bridgedown Golf Club.

Bridgedown, built during the early 1990s, was, according to developer Tony Menai Davis, a former fashion industry executive, a "pancake flat" course.Menai Davis, who has spent five years on the project, and who has another course planned with Trajectory, Ballesteros's company, at Hillingdon in west London, said: "Everyone will be guaranteed a warm welcome here. I was fed up of going to golf courses where all you saw were signs telling you what you couldn't do." Signature designer Ballesteros and project architect Gonzalo Lavine have designed a course with six par fives, six par threes and six par fours, that stretches to around 7,200 yards from the back markers. The formerly flat site has been dramatically recontoured by contractors J&E Ely, using spoil from the development of Wembley Stadium, and deploys water hazards on 12 of the holes, including the first four.

Seve's design work has not been without its critics – notably at Valderrama's 17th, which he redesigned, and where the green is routinely damned as being unfair. Here there is gimmickry – the S-shaped lake at the 18th adds wow factor for the visitor but is hardly a natural-looking feature – but there is also sound strategic golf. There has been much planting of young trees, but the design also makes clever use of some old oaks already on the property.

The ninth, for example, is a tough uphill par four with a copse of oak trees at the corner of the dogleg. The golfer who can place his tee shot close to the trees, without getting entangled in them, will be rewarded with an improved angle for his approach. At the par five 11th hole, a single oak in the middle of the fairway challenges the second shot. There is room for the tiger golfer – if he can find the left side of the fairway from the tee – to go past the tree and reach the green in two, but from anywhere else on the fairway this shot will be extremely difficult. For the shorter hitter, the oak poses a different problem – the second shot must be placed so the tree does not block off the approach. On the par four 15th, several diagonal bunkers down the right side of the fairway invite the golfer to consider how much to bite off in search of an easier second shot. And the thoughtfully-placed forward tee gives the society golfer a simpler version of the same shot, not only cutting the carry but also reducing the angle of the dogleg – while retaining the cape feel.

Menai Davis accepts that traditionalist golfers may not immediately take to The Shire. The course has several very different elements, with a parkland feel on some holes, others with bumpy fairways in the links style and substantial tree planting in another section that will eventually create a woodland setting.

A shorter nine hole course, a Sevebranded academy and gym facilities will complete the offering at The Shire. The complex is expected to open in April 2007.