It’s a miracle that Luton Hoo Hotel, Spa & Golf Resort is open at all. The magnificent Grade I-listed mansion, which was built by the Earl of Bute in the 1850s, was left to go to ruin after the family that owned it in the early 1990s got into financial difficulties.
Thankfully, Elite Hotels bought the run-down property in 1999, and over the next 10 years pumped over £60 million into its renovation, employing skilled craftsmen to painstakingly restore many of the original features and furnishings to bring it back to the quality befitting a five-star establishment.
The hotel, which was modeled on The Ritz in London, was finally opened in 2008, and today offers guests the chance to take a step back in history, to a time when the house entertained royalty and the political elite. The interiors of the Grace I listed mansion are spectacular, with triple-height ceilings, huge tapestries and paintings, and ornate staircases. The dining room features entire walls made of marble, while three huge cut-glass chandeliers provide a feeling of timeless elegance. The food is impressive as the setting, with executive chef Kevin Clark producing a fine dining menu that offers a stunning combination of traditional British classics made from locally-sourced ingredients and more adventurous dishes drawn from further afield.
The 39 bedrooms within the main house feature four-poster beds, huge sitting rooms boasting many original features, and fantastic views over the estate. There are 144 other rooms in separate annexes, including above the clubhouse, which is a five-minute walk from the house in a converted stable block (although most guests avail themselves of the hotel’s own fleet of black cabs).
While a number of golf courses have been built in historic parks, the process is not straightforward, as the parks are often designated as protected landscapes. So Luton Hoo’s golf course, built partly in the Capability Brown-designed park, was built under quite heavy constraints, with little in the way of earth moving – and nothing in the way of bunkers – allowed on the opening and closing stretch.
Playing a course without bunkers – they decided not to put any on the new land for the sake of continuity – is something of a refreshing change, but clearly won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. For starters, without these obviously visual cues it’s often hard to see where the fairway goes, especially on some of the flatter holes on the outward nine. This clearly isn’t a problem for members, but for first-time visitors it can create a degree of uncertainty when standing on the tee. While there is no sand to contend with, there are plenty of trees to block your route to the green, as is evident on the first hole, a brutal 440-yard par four, which the card has it as the most difficult on the course. And so it proved, with two lusty blows required just to get with wedge distance of the angled green, which is protected by trees and a hollow in the front left.
The dogleg left par-four third is another hole that will prove taxing for first-time players. With the course’s main irrigation lake on the left, and another pond biting into the fairway from the right a little further on, the drive looks extremely threatening. In fact, the big lake on the left should not really be in play, and the ideal line is to the outside of the dogleg. A tee shot placed close to the pond on the right will give the best line into, and visibility of, the angled green.
Backtracking a little, Luton Hoo’s five par-five holes are a strong collection. The 11th, the last of a series of holes playing back and forth over the row of ponds at the lowest point of the site, is a clever three-shotter. Water threatens in front of the green, and although getting home in two is a feasible challenge, finding a good place to lay up offers less mighty hitters an interesting problem too. The 17th is an elegant hole in the historic park with a terrific green. Long, narrow and set on a slight plateau, anyone trying to hit it in two will require a fine strike. Undoubtedly the hole that attracts the most attention is the 13th. Nominally a par three, it plays a punishing 261 yards from the back tee, and an equally scary 245 yards from the yellow tees. To make par here requires a phenomenal tee shot, or a fine up and down.
After your round, a rub down in the spa or a swim in the 18-metre swimming pool might be considered essential for some, but a pint and a sandwich in the clubhouse was more my thing.
Away from the golf, there is tennis, cycling, clay pigeon shooting, and miles of walks around the estate, though a walk round the formal gardens and down through the rock garden to the ha-ha was enough for me – especially after my zig-zagging round of Golf.
So if you’re looking for a short golf break away with friends or family, but don’t want to stray too far from the beaten track, Luton Hoo ticks all the right boxes. I’d never thought I’d put ‘luxury’ and ‘Luton’ in the same sentence, but there’s always a first for everything!
BOOK YOUR GOLF BREAK
Golf breaks start from £129pp, including 36 holes of golf; dinner in Adam’s Brasserie; accommodation in a Parkland or Flower Garden Deluxe room; Full English Breakfast; use of the Country Club facilities. Prices based on Sunday night stay with two people sharing a twin or double room up until April 30. Prices from Mon-Sat is £149 or £179 from May 1-Oct 31.
For further information call 01582 734437 or visit www.elitehotels.co.uk/lutonhoo