Historical restoration of old golf courses is not a trend that has taken off in the UK. There have been attempts to put courses back to something more akin to what they looked like 50 or 100 years ago, but none of them have really, truly taken the bull by the horns. Most such projects, when you look closely, involve a fair degree of change: whenever you hear phrases like, ‘What the original architect would have done today’ or anything similar, you know that the ‘restoration’ architect cannot resist putting his own stamp on the course.
Why this should be is not immediately obvious. Historical restoration has, over the last twenty years or so, become extremely popular in America, to the extent that there are architects whose entire business is focused on restorative projects on courses (mostly, to be fair, designed by Donald Ross). In Britain, though, we continue to believe, in general, that today we know better than Harry Colt, Alister MacKenzie or Willie Park.
Part of the problem lies in golf club governance. It has proved extremely difficult to get clubs to buy in to the restorative process. Committees have a reputation for designing camels when trying to produce horses, and it is true that getting the sort of support from a committee – and from the membership as a whole – has proved extremely difficult in Britain. It’s also true that British golf operates on a much tighter budgetary model than the game in America, so persuading them to invest significant sums in anything is tough.
Golf architects and committees are not always the best of bedfellows. The architect Donald Harradine famously said that a committee should have an odd number of members, and three is too many.
Back in its heyday of the 1920s, The Addington was regarded as one of the best inland courses in Britain. It was designed by JF Abercromby, with Harry Colt as his consultant. It is unclear who did what, indeed, there is at least one contemporary newspaper article that describes it as a Colt design, with no mention of Abercromby, who was involved with the syndicate that owned the club. It is said that, when asked by a member where to find the suggestion box, Aber retorted ‘I am the suggestion box’. The most obvious answer to the conundrum would be that Colt routed the course and left Aber to handle the details of the holes, but architect Frank Pont, part of the team from the Clayton, DeVries & Pont firm that is leading the restoration, believes this is not so. His argument, which is compelling, is that Colt, who was known for using par-three holes to cross difficult or broken ground, would automatically have routed such a hole across the ravine that crosses the ninth, at the top of the site.
But we are getting ahead of ourselves. The Addington is unusual among classic British courses in that it has always been privately owned. For many years, it was owned by Moira Fabes, an eccentric woman whose father had acquired all the shares in the original syndicate. She died in 2002, and in 2006 the course was bought by local businessman Ron Noades, famous as the chairman and owner of football clubs Wimbledon, Crystal Palace and Brentford (he also managed Brentford for a time, with some success). Noades, a self-made man and passionate golfer, also owned several other courses in the area, collectively known as the Altonwood Group; his youngest son Ryan, who now runs the course, says his father bought The Addington at least in part because he had been unable to play there as a young man, and it was to him a symbol of how far he had come.
Ron died in 2013 and eventually Ryan took over as managing director of the club. As such, he closely approximates Don Harradine’s ideal. Doubtless he consults on important decisions with the other co-owners of the club in his family, but essentially, he is the committee!
Like his father, Ryan is a passionate golfer. He is very well-travelled, has seen a lot of great golf, and is an enthusiast for golf course architecture. As such, it wasn’t hard to see what lay underneath a hundred years of tree growth and mismanagement at The Addington, and he resolved to try to put it back.
After opening, The Addington was so successful that a second course was built on the other side of Shirley Church Road. The New course was taken over by the military during the Second World War and was compulsorily purchased for housing by Croydon Council after (users of the historical aerials function on Google Earth can go back and see the hole corridors filling up with houses in the late 40s). Because of the construction of the New course, the originally planned clubhouse site, higher up the hill, was abandoned, and a house built at the very bottom, next to the road, so it could serve both courses; this explains The Addington’s rather unsatisfactory start, with a severely uphill par three.
That clubhouse burnt down in the 1950s – taking with it the club’s historical records – and what was built in its place is now starting to wear out and will soon be in need of replacement. Ryan and his advisors see this as an opportunity to put the new clubhouse in the position that was originally intended for it – which would see the course played in its planned routing, with the fifth hole becoming the first. He points out that the fourth, a long, tough par four, is a classic closer, and that the fifth, a four of similar length but without too much in the way of complexity, is a classic Colt opening hole.
Ryan Noades hired Clayton, DeVries & Pont to lead the restoration, and all three of the firm’s widely spread partners are deeply involved. Naturally, Frank Pont has been most often on site, but Mike Clayton, who spends a lot of time in the UK, is there regularly, and Mike DeVries has visited several times and has built a new short-game facility.
The most dramatic part of the restoration has already been carried out, in the form of massive tree clearance. To anyone who had seen The Addington before the work, it is quite remarkable how much it has changed, with holes that were choked by tree growth now having a wide and airy feel. The whole course shows this, but there are several holes where it is most notable: the eighth, where some of the huge tree removal actually took place (by agreement) on the property of the neighbouring Addington Palace course, has opened up the hillside on the left; the unique twelfth, which, when finished, will be around 150 yards wide; the famous par-three thirteenth, which Henry Longhurst called, apart from the fifth at Pine Valley (which was designed by Colt within weeks of The Addington being planned) the greatest inland one-shot hole in the world; and the stunning downhill par-five sixteenth, which was formerly a double dogleg because of trees but now offers a much clearer view.
The Addington, on the highest ground in the area, has always been a course of long views, but now it is very obvious; the ideal aiming point on the fourteenth is the Shard skyscraper in central London.
There is one other tree removal point we should make. Clearance to the left of the twelfth hole has revealed a lost green site, behind and to the right of the existing ninth hole’s putting surface, that must have been taken out of play quite shortly after the course opened. Next year, Mike DeVries will come to London to put this green back, and it will provide exciting options for Ryan Noades; it would most probably be played as a par three from near the ninth green and could be used as a bye hole, or as a spare hole should maintenance mean taking one out of play.
Enormous amounts of green surface have been lost over the years and are starting to be recaptured. Most dramatic is the par-three seventh, where the green originally extended perhaps 20 yards further back, creating a spectacular ‘double punchbowl’, and at the seventeenth, where, several yards to the right of where the green now ends are to be found a range of obviously man made mounds that must have been intended to protect a pin position; when the green is extended back to its original size, the hole will be transformed.
The reconstruction of the course’s bunkers has already begun, and will have a very dramatic impact on how it both looks and plays. In short, The Addington is being transformed. Ryan Noades is careful when asked about his hopes for his golf course, but it isn’t hard to see his excitement. In the 1920s, Addington was the place where London’s elite played their golf, with the car park populated almost entirely by Rolls-Royces. Perhaps those days may never return, but in a few years time, I think The Addington will once again be spoken of as one of Britain’s very finest inland courses.
This article first appeared in the January 2023 issue of Golf Course Architecture. For a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page.