Seve Ballesteros (1957-2011) was golf’s artist and its warrior.
The Spaniard was arguably the most creative and daring player to ever tee up a ball. His mark on golf’s history will never fade.
He thrilled galleries with shots that nobody else could play or even attempt – and so it is no surprise that his lone golf course design in the UK was created as the ultimate risk and reward golf course.
On the outskirts of Barnet, North London, is The Shire London, a course that Seve built and which stands as a monument to the great man’s spirit and his approach to playing the game.
In 2001, ten years before Seve lost his fight with cancer, planning permission was granted for a new golf course on the outskirts of London.
Only 72 hours later, Seve decided this would be his first course design on UK soil.
Prolific Course Designer
Ballesteros was a prolific course designer, especially in his native Spain, where he built and remodelled large numbers of courses, including Buenavista Golf on Tenerife and Golf Novo Sancti Petri near Cadiz, Andalucia.
He also famously redesigned the par-five 17th hole at Valderrama which remains one of the most feared holes on the European Tour and in all of world golf.
Soil from iconic sporting venues
Built with soil excavated from Wembley, The Emirates Stadium and Wimbledon, The Shire opened in 2007 with its owners promising excitement, drama and fun.
Offering a slightly unusual layout of six par 3’s, six par 4’s and six par 5’s (only the Red course at the Berkshire offers the same challenge in the UK) and measuring just over 7000 yards off the Emerald tees, The Shire is set up to test every club in the bag and the full range of a golfer’s shot making abilities.
Mid to high handicappers would be well advised to play off the more manageable Diamond tees at 6500 yards.
The opening hole offers a clue as to what lies in store.
At only 154 yards the hole sounds like an easy way to open your round with a par, but not when you factor in water, short, long and right of this narrow green.
The risk reward theme of the course becomes apparent on both the 2nd and 3rd tees also.
A well struck drive leaves you well positioned for a birdie, anything less than perfect and you will find your ball swimming in one of the many water hazards on this course.
Having navigated you way through the opening 4 holes, the 5th provides your first respite from water.
Links tribute to Seve’s Open victories
This long par five is the first of a series of links styled holes on the course which must be a tribute to Seve’s Open Championship victories at Royal Lytham St Anne’s and St Andrews.
The hole is littered with a series of strategically placed bunkers to catch you out.
The short 7th offers a good birdie opportunity to those who are handy with short irons, but as with the first anything short or right will require a reload.
Moving to the back 9, the par five 11th is another excellent example of rewarding a long accurate tee shot, although those going for the green in two will have to navigate past a large tree in the middle of the fairway.
‘S’ Lake – Seve’s Ego or the Shire’s Logo?
Moving to the 18th hole, a solid drive will leave you a mid iron to a green surrounded by an ‘S’ shaped lake.
Some might say this is Seve’s vainglorious signature, his ego at play – similar to the way he used his silhouette from the 18th green at the 1984 Open at St Andrews – as his personal brand and had it tattooed on his forearm.
Others will say it is a bold statement, a fascinating reminder of the man’s greatness in a golf course, others might say it is simply the logo of The Shire: London.
Whichever it is, the lake is a talking point and a memorable conclusion to the golf course.
Such is the size of the green that those not in position off the tee would be advised to lay up rather than risk taking a double bogey by hitting the water.
Taking a look at the course planner, and indeed from reading this review you may get the impression this course is a monster that takes no prisoners.
This is far from the truth and Seve has managed to design a course the offers rewards for those hitting quality shots, yet giving playable alternatives for those to enjoy the course without the need to hit it 250+ yards off the tee.
Considering the course was opened only five years ago it plays way beyond its years.
Its layout is well defined and it has huge potential to grow into a special golf course.
It is worth a visit right now certainly and is worth a visit to see how it matures over the years, a little like watching its architect play golf, The Shire London is unmissable.