U.S. MEETING AND INCENTIVE GROUPS have a long-standing love affair with London. But until a few months ago, a major drawback for planners who wanted to include golf in their programs was the limited number of meeting-oriented golf resorts near the city.
Introducing The Grove, which opened last September just 35 minutes from London's West End. The former home of the earls of Clarendon, The Grove was built in the 18th century and has been transformed into a luxurious country estate/golf resort. Set on 300 acres of meadowlands in Hertfordshire, the resort has a 227-room hotel, 23 meeting rooms, an 18-hole golf course, a 30,000-square-foot spa, three restaurants, three swimming pools, tennis courts, nature trails, and, of course, a croquet lawn.
On a recent visit, I came away thinking I had enjoyed the ultimate London experience. On my first day, I ventured from the resort and shopped at Harrod's and Marks & Spencer, browsed for books at Waterstone's, and attended the musical “Mama Mia” at the Prince Edward Theatre on Old Compton Street. The next morning, I teed off at 9 on The Grove's golf course, still humming Abba tunes.
Stretching 7,170 yards from the back tees, The Grove course was designed by Californian Kyle Phillips, who also designed Kingsbarns near St. Andrews, Scotland, universally regarded as one of Europe's best courses built in the past 10 years. Phillips describes The Grove's layout as “a classic parkland layout with the tradition of great English designs of the early 20th century and the strategy and dimensions of the modern game.”
The course perfectly combines aesthetic beauty, playability, and challenge. The rolling terrain is interrupted by flat fairways framed by meadowlands, which almost give you the feeling of strolling in an English park. From a logistics standpoint, The Grove has 40 motorized golf carts, a rare amenity on European courses.
Rooms with a View
While I didn't remotely challenge the course record (unless you count the record for most 5-foot putts missed), I certainly soothed my frustrations back at my exquisitely appointed room. All of The Grove's guest rooms feature wall-mounted plasma TV screens, writing desks with data ports, and high-speed Internet access. All have original artwork and polished wooden floors with plush area rugs; many have balconies, and some have working fireplaces.
The resort's meeting facilities and amenities are exceptional for a property of its size. All the meeting rooms have windows opening onto formal gardens. Indoor meal functions are possible for up to 500 guests. My favorite venue was the walled garden, a magnificent outdoor space with flower and herb gardens that can accommodate up to 1,000 people for an elegant reception.
After meetings, golf, and perhaps a spa treatment, attendees can dine at Colette's, a chic gourmet restaurant with views of the surrounding parkland; The Glasshouse, which is known for its wine cellar; or The Stables, an informal restaurant with an open kitchen and wood-burning oven.