|The Bernard Hunt Course is longer of the two championship layouts at Foxhills Golf Club. (Courtesy of Foxhills G.C.)|
OTTERSHAW, England -- They aren't going to start running up the Stars and Stripes alongside the Union Jack any time soon, but Foxhills Golf Club might be more like an American club than any other in the United Kingdom.
It's not just that the three courses at Foxhills look and play very much like courses in the United States, it's the membership.
"About 20 percent of our members are Americans," said Marc Hayton, director at Foxhills. "There are a lot of big firms in and around London who bring executives and their families over here for several years at a time. Also, there are several good American schools within 20 minutes of Foxhills.
"The majority of Americans who come here seem to know about Foxhills from word-of-mouth. It's so quiet and relaxed here, it has an American country club feel. When our American members go home after three years or so, they keep in touch. Then they come back on holiday and stay with us."
Foxhills is popular with Americans and Britons alike because of its family atmosphere. More than 1,000 of the 5,400 members at Foxhills are under 18 and its Wee Wonders program has grown into a nationwide competition.
Unlike many of the traditional clubs in the United Kingdom, including the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews and the Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers, Foxhills not only permits women, it encourages them.
In fact, Anita Orlog was recently named captain at Foxhills, possibly the first woman to hold such a position in the United Kingdom.
"Other clubs may want to learn from Foxhills or they may not," Orlog said. "We are not looking to preach. If they like what they see here, great.
"Sexism and elitism still exist in golf, but I think it will gradually disappear. One day, perhaps ladies and men at all clubs can play together and enjoy the sort of arrangement we have here."
Foxhills Golf Club has two championship parkland courses: the 6,892-yard Bernard Hunt Course and the 6,743-yard Longcross Course and also the Manor Course, a par-three, nine-hole layout where the Wee Wonders was founded.
Bernard Hunt, honored as a Member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth, was the first head professional at Foxhills when the club opened in 1975 and served for 25 years. Hunt still teaches a few days a week at the club while playing the Senior European PGA Tour.
Hunt, who won 30 times on the European PGA Tour and led the tour's Order of Merit (money list) in 1961 and 1963, played a key role in one of England's greatest golf victories in the 1957 Ryder Cup at Lindrick Golf Club in Yorkshire, ending a 24-year hold on the cup by the U.S.
One of eight pros to hold lifetime membership in the British PGA and former captain of the organization, Hunt participated in eight Ryder Cups, including twice as captain.
"People ask which course is better, the Hunt or the Longcross," said Alasdair Good, head professional at Foxhills, who came from the famed Royal Troon Golf Club in Scotland. "I think it's a question for the golfer to answer after he has played both.
"They were built six months apart just over 25 years ago and provide good tests. The Hunt Course is longer but is more wide open and forgiving. Every hole on the Longcross is through the trees. It is narrow and slightly shorter.
"There isn't a lot of elevation around here but on certain days you can actually see Canary Wharf in London from the 10th tee of the Bernard Hunt Course. The joke is, why would you want to."
The aforementioned 10th hole is a daunting 445-yard par four that plays downhill to a valley and then uphill to a green that is protected by two bunkers in front and overhanging trees on the right. It is the most difficult hole on the backside.
Keep the tee shot to the left to have the best angle into a green that slopes dramatically from back right to front left.
"It's our signature hole and it's very challenging," Good said. "It's demanding off the tee. You have to put your ball in position to have a chance to hit the green, which is very narrow and can be very tricky."
Another real test can be found on the dogleg left, 446-yard 18th, which is considered one of the most difficult finishing holes in English golf. The tee shot must carry more than 200 yards to reach the narrow sloping fairway. The approach shot is partially blind up the hill to a spacious double green that it shares with No. 18 on Foxhills Golf Club's Longcross Course.
"It's a narrow tee shot but rewards the player who can move the ball from right to left," Hayton said. "Your second shot will be off the upslope. A lot of people struggle on that hole, even the members who play here all the time. They call it Cardiac Hill but it's a great finishing hole. It can be a very satisfying way to finish if you can make a good score there."
The 560-yard ninth, the No. 1 handicap hole, also can be a heart-tugger. It plays slightly downhill off the tee, with a pond in the fairway waiting to swallow any second shots that are mis-hit. The opening to the green is narrow because of trees on the left and a bunker on the right.
"That's just a great golf hole," Hayton said. "Our courses are a combination of parkland and heathland, and No. 9 is a great example of that."
On Foxhills Golf Club's Longcross Course, the uphill, 430-yard ninth is the most difficult hole, requiring a tee shot of more than 200 yards to clear a bunker on the left side and creating the best chance to hit the green in two.
The Longcross, which winds through scots pine, beech and sliver birch trees, finishes with another uphill hole, 531 yards, with a large tree on the left narrowing the fairway for the second shot. Again, the approach shot is partially blind to the large, double green.
"The two 18s are similar in that way, even though one is a par five and the other a par four," Hayton said.
The course even lives up to its name, with foxes often spotted by golfers, along with deer, rabbits and other wildlife.
Like any well-rounded world-class club, there are plenty of other activities including tennis, swimming, squash, racquetball, billiards, shooting, softball, soccer, cycling and jogging. Foxhills has a full-service spa, weight rooms and exercise studios. There are also seven conference rooms for those looking to mix business with pleasure.
Located 20 minutes from Heathrow Airport, the 400-acre Foxhills estate offers a 40-suite four-star hotel in the 19th-century manor house and its new Foxhills Mews a development of 12 apartments situated next to the 14th tee on the Bernard Hunt Course.
Fine dining is available at the two-rosette Manor Restaurant, the Orangery and a brasserie. Stop by the Fox Bar for a drink after holing out on 18.
Off the property, try Sasio's for French fare in Weybridge, Chiquito's for Mexican food in Virginia Water, the Colony for Chinese food in Weybridge, Terrazza for Italian food in Ashford and the House on the Bridge for English cuisine in Windsor.
For pub food, there is the Otter in Ottershaw, Thames Court in Shepperton, the Pelican in Addlestone and the Bel and the Dragon in Cookham.
"We're only 45 minutes from London, so it's a great weekend getaway," Hayton said. "We're well located and it's easy to get here."
For tourists, Foxhills is not far from Windsor Castle, Hampton Court (favorite home of Henry VIII), Royal Ascot Racecourse, the original Legoland and Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill.
For golfers looking for more, Foxhills Golf Club is about 10 minutes from two treasures of English golf, the Wentworth Club in Virginia Water and Sunningdale Golf Club, home of the European PGA Tour.
"Ernie Els and some of the other pros stay here during the World Match Play Championships at Wentworth," Hayton said. "Everyone here is discreet and nobody bothers them."
Foxhills also has developed some pretty fair golfers of its own. Anthony Wall has already won on the PGA European Tour, and Paul Casey is back home and making his mark on the tour after coming to the U.S. and winning three Pacific 10 Conference Championships for Arizona State, where he broke records held by Phil Mickelson.
So the Foxhills-American connection goes both ways.
July 23, 2002
Tom LaMarre has been a sportswriter and copy editor in California for parts of five decades, including 15 years with the Oakland Tribune and 22 with the Los Angeles Times.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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