CHandler's Cross, Hertfordshire, UK
The Grove is a supreme, 5-star international golf resort destination near Watford on the outskirts of London. Today, it’s an amazing place - posh and trendy - a place to see and be seen - one of the Leading Hotels of the World. I worked on the planning of this project spanning four years ('96 -'99). But as it would turn out, the developer's direction for the golf course did an about-face, going the way of another architect's design and name. Sometimes, things just go that way.
Still though, I got to know the site like the back of my hand - even knew the resident sheepherder by name! I maintain contact with some of the planning team still today. And, oh my, that delicate, complicated planning! It's hard to imagine a more sensitive landscape. But for those four years, it was one hell of an unforgettable ride. I loved working in London.
We began our relationship with the client, Ralph Trustees, headed up by the Levy Brothers, in 1996. Brothers Daniel and Stuart are very successful hoteliers in London, including The Runnymede near Heathrow and the elegant Athenaeum on Piccadilly, in Central London’s theater district. The Levys were determined to convert the landmark Grove into a unique class of luxury. They capably amassed an impressive, talented project team to tackle the many challenges to come - to successfully develop a top resort hotel on a grand, historic estate.
Situated along the River Gade and the Grand Union Canal, The Grove had plenty of roots and personality, dating back to the 14th century. Once home to the Earls of Clarendon and frequently visited by Queen Victoria, there is even a hillside open space (along the charming River Gade) named "Charlotte's Vale". The Grove featured a magnificent Georgian Manor dating to 1720 and an elegant landscape planned by Sir Humphrey Repton, the last great English landscape designer of the 18th century. Hell, I studied his landscapes in college!! With all of its tradition, influence and great beauty, the 300-acre site was just as complicated. The designated 'English Heritage' estate was home to a series of archeological “follies” situated all about its grounds, dating to the Middle Bronze Age… unearthed relics from Saxon and Roman settlements, protected public walking trails, ancient trees, a protected badger set, and what seemed to be an unending set of rules and conditions. And to imagine that we were hired to arrange a golf course here?!!
As I said before, I truly relished the opportunity to be working in London. The project team was great. The accommodations were, well… special, thanks to the Levys! We ultimately developed dozens of routing alternatives, all sympathetic to the sensntive landscape and all the stringent planning requirements. But for unstated reasons (truthfully, I know why), the Levys released us from further duty prior to gaining full planning consent and brought in another architect to finish the task.
To their credit, Daniel and Stuart have been enormously successful with the product they produced - and I am thrilled for them. The Grove is indeed spectacular. I took so much from that experience - all of it unforgettable. Many thanks to Daniel and Stuart for that.