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The Inspiration Club: Many hands make links work

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Routed by one architect, earthmoving largely overseen by the client, and greens and bunkers designed by another architect.

The recipe for The Inspiration Club’s new layout in west London, little more than five miles from Heathrow Airport, is not, in truth, all that inspiring. Building a golf course unarguably takes a village, but general wisdom holds that, of that village, one vision must drive the project forward. Given that, to find that the Inspiration is really rather good is a very pleasant surprise.

The course has been developed by the Bridgedown Group, headed by former fashion industry entrepreneur Tony Menai-Davis. He also built The Shire in north London, which opened in 2007, and is also currently working on The Legacy Club, formerly known as the Dye London before the deaths of father and son Pete and Perry Dye. The group also owns the West London Golf Centre, a driving range, nine-hole course and adventure golf complex, across the Ruislip Road from the Inspiration. Menai-Davis, a cheerful, charming and pleasant man, is far from the stereotypical image of a British ‘golf guy’, and the success of his various ventures – The Shire has been profitable throughout its life – suggests that this is probably a good thing.

The single most remarkable thing about the Inspiration is its site. Located just to the south of the A40 Western Avenue, opposite RAF Northolt and the memorial to the Polish airmen who died in the Second World War, it is no more than 12 miles from Charing Cross, classically viewed as the centre of London. Yet it is really rather peaceful. There is inevitably some road noise, though a lot less than one might imagine, and when a plane takes off from Northolt it is in clear view from just about the whole course, but overall, the Inspiration will be a relaxing place to play golf. It doesn’t feel suburban; especially at the far end of the course, the feeling is genuinely one of being out in nature. It is quite remarkable that a property like this has survived undeveloped – it used to be farmland – for all this time.

The Menai-Davis family has been working on the project for a long time. The golf course was routed in 2005 by Trajectory, the design firm owned and headed by Seve Ballesteros, which also designed The Shire, and the planning consent dates back more than a decade. Trajectory ceased to exist after Seve’s death in 2011, so Menai-Davis had to find a new design solution for the property.

Initially, he found it close to home. Very close to home, in fact. On assessing the site and its challenges, Menai-Davis concluded that a links-like theme for the golf course was the best option. As former farmland, the site was relatively short on feature: essentially it was a tilted table sloping down towards the A40. Extensive tree planting was disallowed because of the proximity to Northolt, and the construction of significant lakes was also ruled out, so the links theme was a natural selection. Over a period from 2015, working with shaper Nigel Ely, Menai-Davis oversaw the reshaping of the ground to fit the Trajectory routing plan. They did a good job. Perhaps there are a few too many holes that follow the model of valleyed fairway with higher ground at the sides, but this is hardly an uncommon theme, even on real links. The out of play ‘dunes’ are well done, not too high or too steep, as is so often the case on such courses, and there is plenty of interest in the ground contour.

Knowing your limits is an important skill in life generally, and it is to Menai-Davis’s credit that he did not try to do the entire course himself, but recognised he needed a professional golf architect to design greens, bunkers and tees. It was at this point that the firm of Mackenzie & Ebert became involved, with partner Tom Mackenzie taking the lead. Coming into a project where the routing and the earthmoving were largely complete cannot have been easy for Mackenzie, but he remained flexible, and made some subtle changes to the plan.

“When we first visited, the course had already been seeded, but we came with an open mind,” says Mackenzie. “We really like the shapes that had been developed by Nigel Ely and the Menai-Davis family. We agreed that Tony’s links inspired concept seemed to fit the site well. We were able to refine the layout with the adjustment of the twelfth into a par four and the par-three thirteenth over the ditch, which we believe has produced a better overall routing. We were also able to adjust some angles through the movement of green positions and tee locations, such as shortening the seventh at the green, which allowed the fifth to extend at the tee. The pars of the seventeenth and eighteenth were also reversed to leave an exciting par five finish. We tried to get links-inspired greens to fit each individual green site where possible.”

The thirteenth hole, as mentioned by Mackenzie, is a fun par three, quite short at 148 yards from the back tee, playing over a diagonal ‘creek’ feature that protects the front and right side of the green; the left side is defended by a deep bunker. The back of the green is raised, offering the possibility that a tee ball hit slightly long might run back down into prime position. If I were caddying at the Inspiration, I should advise my player to take an extra club here!

One of my favourite holes on the course was the par-three sixth, which plays just over 150 yards to a long, left-to-right green that slopes significantly away from the player. It would take a pretty bad shot, if the pin was located near the bottom, to leave a ball right at the top, but as a golfer who is perfectly capable of that, I would not fancy the resulting putt one little bit! I also liked the sixteenth, an uphill dogleg right par four of just over 400 yards at the far end of the property. The hole turns almost ninety degrees around a woodland, and there is a significant reward for a tee shot hit right to the corner of the dogleg. Leave the tee ball a little short, and you will have a shot to the green, but it will be over broken ground, and the view will not be that clear: 20 or 30 yards extra on your drive will give a much more appealing approach.

The Inspiration’s bunkers are revetted using the EcoBunker method, and built by that firm’s head of construction, Llewelyn Matthews. As is usual for Matthews’s work, they are beautifully done, and will absolutely be one of the defining features of the course. Some are extremely deep and threatening: I stood in one and estimated the height of the revetted wall to be at least five feet. Given the intended market, this is a brave decision on the part of the owner, but it is a deliberate one. Mackenzie says of the bunkers: “Tony was keen to have a controversial and demanding course setup, which the bunkers, we believe, help to achieve.” He’s not wrong.

When the Inspiration opens in the summer, it will be priced at around £90 for a weekend round. Given its location, this must be seen as a bargain. Menai-Davis may not be planning to switch careers and become a golf architect but, given his role in the creation of this course, perhaps he should!

This article first appeared in the April 2024 issue of Golf Course ArchitectureFor a printed subscription or free digital edition, please visit our subscriptions page


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