The Addington

Aber's Secret Garden

By: Robert Sidorsky

Appeared in January/February 1998 LINKS

Only 13 miles south of London center, Addington Golf Club is truly golf’s secret garden—a hidden world of delights where there are often more peacocks on the course than golfers.

The Addington was laid out in 1914, but with the coming of the World War I the course remained pristine and virtually unplayed for five years. During that time it was the private golf preserve of its founder, creator and long-time major-domo, J.F. Abercromby, and the handful of men who backed him in building the course.

The originality of Addington is a testament to the design skills of Abercromby, always referred to as “Aber.” When a visitor once had the audacity to ask where he could find the suggestion box, Aber famously replied: “I am the suggestion box.”

Lunchtime conversation at the club is often punctuated by the piercing cries of the peacocks that parade around the putting green and picnic tables, displaying their iridescent plumage against the backdrop of rhododendrons.

The clubhouse was originally used to house soldiers during World War I. The main army barraks were at the nearby Crystal Palace, the great exhibition hall of glass built by Queen Victoria that was destroyed by fire in 1936. The original clubhouse burned down in 1952, taking with it all the club’s records, which explains why all the wooden plaques listing the club champions begin in 1952.

Like many great courses, Addington has the advantage of an ideal site, which was selected by Aber. The course is laid out on the high ground of a natural forest of silver birch, English oak, beech and cedar, sweet chestnut and orange-tinged mountain ash. The soil is acidic and gravelly, perfect for growing the fast-running turf and heather that is framed by the woods. Indeed, Addington’s forest preserve can be traced all the way back to the 13th century, when King John granted the estate to the Aguillon family.

Aber liked short holes, and there are six par 3s, beginning with the uphill opening hole. The heart of the course begins on the 6th, with a downhill drive over one of the many ravines bristling with lush ferns and bracken. Near the green there is a yawning pit on the right side traversed by one of the wooden bridges that enhance the sense of an excursion through the English forest.

The 8th presents a blind, uphill drive, with a monument to the Archbishops of Canterbury to the left of the fairway. In days past, the Archbishops would spend the night at the nearby Addington Palace after stopping to change horses en route from Canterbury to London.

The 13th, probably the most famous hole, is a 225-yard par 3 over a vale of tears to a green ringed by birch, mountain ash and clusters of rhododendron.   The 17th, the last of the par 3s, is a 185-yard shot over another ravine crossed by a long trestle bridge.

In 1933 Aber laid out a second course at Addington. By all accounts, the new course was every bit as good and perhaps even better than the original. Bernard Darwin described the 8th hole as “embodying the spirit of modern architecture.” Sadly, the new course was taken over for a housing estate after the World War II.

Fortunately, old Aber’s original secret garden endures, as enchanting and alluring to golfers today as ever.


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