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Play Away: London Calling

The Grove is just too genteel a name. In 2000, when Kyle Phillips was given three hundred acres in the former country estate of the Earls of Clarendon and claimed he wanted to "embrace the traditions of the great English designs of the early twentieth century," his project could have been given an American-style code name like "The Impossibility." Because who tries to re-create the magic of Harry Colt at Sunningdale, Wentworth or St. George's Hill?Who goes mano a mano with the legacy of, say, J.F. Abercromby's Addington?

Four years on, such concerns have been buried. The Impossibility is now a stunning reality. Put simply, Colt and Abercromby have a new partner in Phillips, beautifully carrying both their vision and his own into the twenty-first century.

Phillips, of course, is the architect who awed the linksland purists with Scotland's Kingsbarns—and the same praise surely awaits him at the Grove. It's located in the town of Hertfordshire, less than thirty minutes from London's Heathrow airport, and its condition, facilities and majestic scale have launched it into an elite division in and around London that's had precious few worthy entrants in recent years.

The exposed opening nine holes—the two finest being the long par-four third (where most players would happily take five, given the lake in front of the green) and the par-four eighth, with optical illusions from the tee to the green—are followed by a back nine that skirts the forest edges of the estate. Here, one good hole after another comes along like tube stops on the Piccadilly line. The eleventh and seventeenth are two par fives begging for the show-time power and precision of a Tour player, while the craftier and shortish par fours at fourteen and fifteen (which follow a tranquil forest walk over a lovely snaking wooden bridge) seem placed to restore one's faith in life before the trial of the tough finish ahead.

That the Grove doesn't look new but well-established and confidently mannered is testament to the way this whole venture—golf course, five-star hotel and spa complex—has been approached. The Grove has been a long time coming. And the wait has been well worth it.

Greens Fees: $117-$235. Tee Times: 011-44/1923-294-266 or visit thegrove.co.uk.

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