With its high chimneys and classical neo-gothic façade, Foxhills looks every inch the stately home it once was. Now a luxury golf resort in the heart of Surrey’s commuter belt, Peter Ellegard felt like lord of the manor when he stayed there.
England is blessed with numerous stately homes that have been reborn as golf resorts in recent decades. Sadly, the golf courses are often poorly-maintained tracks that become quagmires after rain with painfully slow greens, while the lovely old mansions have in many instances been converted into conference or wedding venues, the accommodation in basic, purpose-built blocks. The thinly disguised decay highlights lack of investment.
I am delighted to report that Foxhills is not just a cut above the rest, it is a veritable diamond in the Surrey commuter belt. A 400-acre oasis of serenity that feels far from the madding crowds of the city, it is easily accessible from the nearby M25 and is close to Windsor and Ascot.
Having recently celebrated its 40th anniversary as a golf club, Foxhills is a classy resort offering 70 well-appointed rooms, a £5 million “healthspa”, 11 tennis courts, four squash courts, four swimming pools and three restaurants including its award-winning Manor restaurant – not to mention two 18-hole championship golf courses plus a par-3 course.
PLAYBOY. Named after a colourful, 18th-century playboy politician, Charles James Fox, who lived in the area with his mistress, it became part of an estate upon which acclaimed architect George Basevi – a cousin to Benjamin Disraeli whose work also included London’s Belgrave Square and Ely Cathedral – was commissioned to design the elegant, early 19th-century manor house at its core.
Foxhills operated as a family-run estate and farm for a century and a half, before it went into decline and was sold in the 1970s. Under the stewardship of current owners the Hayton family for over 30 years, the resort forms part of the Foxhills Collection that also includes the Farleigh Club & Restaurant, offering 27 holes of championship golf on the North Surrey Downs.
What makes Foxhills stand out is that it is a family-friendly hotel that caters for all ages; couples there for a peaceful escape or business groups using the IT suite and conference facilities would hardly know there are children around. A dedicated Children’s Clubhouse caters for tots right through to teenagers with a den featuring electronic and table-top games, a teen gym, youth club, study, soft play area, arts and crafts room, nursery, outdoor heated pool, indoor family pool and supervised activities.
HAVEN FOR ADULTS. The main pool in the spa centre is a haven for adults as it is strictly for over-16s. The health spa is a celebration of the British seaside. The swimming pool changing rooms feature themed decor and lockers named after seaside resorts (there was even one emblazoned with Leigh-on-Sea, my childhood stamping ground), while the seven treatment rooms also bear the names of seaside towns. There’s a fitness room and thermal area with hammam, ice fountain and rasul chamber for mud treatments. The spa therapies, in conjunction with Elemis, include a selection aimed specifically at men, among them a deep tissue massage perfect for post-golf, gentlemen’s manicure and pedicure treatments and an Elemis Urban Cleanse facial.
The rooms are tastefully decorated and beautifully furnished, some with modern decor and others more traditional. My junior suite was positively gargantuan and felt very homely and welcoming. It overlooked gardens and tennis courts, with a table and chairs to sit outside and enjoy the sounds of the estate’s thickly wooded grounds in warmer weather.
Suites are even bigger, some offering four-poster beds, as are the family rooms that offer two interconnected bedrooms. Even the standard and executive rooms are spacious. All rooms include a desk, armchair, coffee table, towelling robes and slippers, and a large, flat-screen TV with Sky Sports channels as well as Freeview – a nice touch for sports fans who like to follow the action while they are away.
IMPECCABLE SERVICE. Golf aside, the highlight of the stay was dinner under the vaulted ceiling of the Manor restaurant. The service was impeccable, the food divine and the wines like nectar, while the atmosphere of the restaurant was relaxed but refined.
At first glance, the two menu options seemed quite spartan. The Market Menu, costing a reasonable £28 for two courses or £36 for three courses, offered soup and two other starters, and a choice of braised short rib beef, roasted ling or beetroot risotto as main courses.
My dining companion and I opted for the Seasonal Menu, priced at £46 for two courses or £58 for three courses. From the five starters, I chose the Dorset crab and raw oyster with mayonnaise, garnished with samphire and sea parsley while my partner went for the langoustine with pickled watermelon and pork crackling. Tasty though mine was, I definitely picked the wrong dish.
Prior to the starters we were served an amuse-bouche of smoked salmon, from the hotel’s own smokehouse. The selection of breads was accompanied by regular salted butter and beef butter, which I wasn’t struck by.
The mains of beef rib with peppered pastrami and duck with sweet potato, peanuts, sweetcorn and sea lettuce, again from just five choices, lived up to their promise and the honours were shared. However, I picked the winning dessert with my Foxhills’ honey soufflé, honey cake and whiskey ice cream, compared with my companion’s “Snickers” choice, comprising hazelnut toffee, milk chocolate delice and peanut butter ice cream. Then again, I don’t like chocolate. We both loved the little pre-dessert dish of panna cotta and corn flakes. Since my visit, the seasonal menu and market menu have been discontinued in favour of a six-course tasting menu or the a la carte menu which gives a choice of one, two or three courses.
The wines, as recommended by Manor’s knowledgeable maître d’, Callum Heap, were a perfect accompaniment to the food: a very smooth 2011 Rioja Reserva Ramon Bilbao Edicion Limitada with a rich Elysium black muscat from Andrew Quady as the dessert wine.
A TRUE TEST. Thankfully, I had worked up an appetite playing golf on the Bernard Hunt Course earlier in the day. It is named after Foxhills’ former head professional, who played in the Ryder Cup 10 times, twice as captain. The course is a true test that has bettered me twice before and once again gave my game a thorough going over. There are some truly delightful holes as it weaves up and down the hilly landscape, the fairways guarded by majestic trees.
Perhaps the two standout holes are the 445-yard, par-4 10th and the par-4 18th, measuring just a yard longer. Both are doglegs with downhill tee shots followed by brutish uphill approach shots – a blind one in the case of the 18th.
The Longcross Course has echoes of Sunningdale’s Old Course. Its 536-yard, par-5 14th was recently voted one of the greatest holes ever played by BBC Radio 5 Live listeners. Other standout holes include the tough, uphill par-4 9th, and the finishing hole, another daunting uphill challenge that ends with a double green.
Don’t dismiss the nine-hole Manor Course. Designed by Bernard Hunt and set delightfully in front of the hotel, it has hosted the finals of the PGA Junior Championships and was where Paul Casey started out.
I envy the golf club members who can play at Foxhills all year. But the next best thing is to enjoy a golf break there, playing a round or two and delighting in the resort’s outstanding leisure and dining facilities.
Good to know
Stays at Foxhills cost from £140 per room, bed and breakfast. To book, call the resort on 01932 704500, email email@example.com or visit www.foxhills.co.uk.
Until 31 October, 2016, visitor green fees cost £90 per person Monday to Thursday or £100 per person Friday to Sunday. Foxhills members and visitors can reserve tee times up to 15 days in advance. To book, call the Pro Shop on 01932 704465. Tee times are available seven days a week; some weekend restrictions apply for visitors. For more details on green fees, visit: www.foxhills.co.uk/golf