Situated close to Brentwood, with convenient connections to both the M11 and M25 motorways, the course at Bentley Golf Club is one of the premier golf venues in Essex, hosting a number of prestigious amateur events in recent years, such as the Essex County Championship.
Established in 1972, the club engaged architect Alex Swan, founder of the successful international firm Swan Golf Designs, to fashion an 18-hole course for the members and he set out the fairways across gently undulating terrain, with several small ponds and ditches occasionally brought into play.
The lightly bunkered course now extends to 6,703 yards from the back markers, playing to a par of 72, configured as two returning nines. It’s well respected locally as a testing track and golfers who can shape their shots right or left, as required, will prosper as they play the tree-lined holes on this challenging course.
Notable holes on the outward half include the long par three 2nd, played to one of the few heavily sand-protected greens on the course, and the short par four 7th, which veers sharply left past a small pond to the green, with out of bounds lurking all along the left side of the fairway.
On the back nine, the 419-yard 11th is rated stroke index 1 on the card and another small pond has to be negotiated en route to a bunkerless green. The signature hole arrives late in the round at the 392-yard 16th, where the fairway veers right towards a green which is fronted by yet another water hazard.
Bentley Golf Club is owned by the members (purchased in 2004) so profits are ploughed back into the club to improve the facilities, evidenced by the recent installation of new drainage and paths around the course, enhancing the playing experience for members and visitors alike.
I played Bentley this summer and was very impressed, much more than I expected to be – around 30 years since last visit and difficult to remember too much about the course from then. The opening hole is a 389 yard par-4 with a decision to make on the tee as a ditch runs across at 215 yards – as this is first shot of the day, the sensible play is to play short, this does leave a big approach though. The 2nd is a par-3 and a hole I remembered from my last game back in the 80’s – it is much improved; at 206 yards with four perfectly placed bunkers this is a great hole. The 3rd is a short par-5 dog-legging to the left but this hole has no protection at the green at all; greens on holes of this length must have strong bunkering in my opinion. The 4th hole at 427 yards is very difficult and there is such a high premium of hitting the perfect tee-shot – the hole is about an 80 degree dog-leg left after 220 yards and anything shorter than that will be blocked-out preventing any direct shots to the green. The uphill approach to the green is tough too and plays longer than the yardage says.
The dog-leg theme is back at the 6th hole, this one turns to the right crossing a bridleway and at 450 yards and SI-2 is a bogey hole for most. The 7th is a ‘smile on your face ‘ hole – only 336 yards with another big turn (to the left) with a pond in play – shot choice when I played was 6-iron, 8-iron, which did the trick; I am sure the big hitters play it differently though.
The front-nine ends with a decent par-5 at 530 yards with the lay-up the most important shot; there are five brilliantly placed bunkers from 100 yards out to the green preventing the obvious route.
The tee shot on the par-5 10th needs extra care; crossing the bridleway and also another ditch is plenty to think about but the trees left and right at around 200 yards are too dense and encroach into the fairway making this shot a touch unfair in my opinion. The 11th hole has the SI-1 tag and without a doubt is a toughie at 420 yards, there is however a fairway crossing ditch (which is a theme at Bentley) at 220 yards; this again means that the full blooded tee shot has to be reined in, not ideal for such a strong par-4. I like the short 12th it is a great looking par-3, with water affecting three sides and sand short. The raised green at the par-4 15th is a strong feature; the green-side bunkering on this hole looks good too.
A favourite hole for many will come at the 16th – here is a 390 yard hole that turns a little to the right with an uphill approach that is required to carry water 50 yards short of the green – I am sure this would make it into a 18 best holes of the county. The final par-3 is at the 17th, a hole that I believe was re-designed about five years ago – at around 200 yards, poor shots will get no reward at all – part of the changes included brilliant bunkering short and to the left – along with the 2nd, the pick of the one shot holes for me.
If you need a par at the last, you will be working hard for it – 443 yards, out of bounds all way on the right and some decent tree protection down the left-side give the course such strong ending.
I think that Bentley Golf Club flies a under the radar and deserves a little more recognition than it probably gets. This is a decent parkland course and a strong test in places - there are a couple of issues with some weak bunkers but nothing that cannot be addressed in the coming years.
Enjoyed Bentley a lot and if you can avoid the many fairway crossing ditches, even better.
Off the course, there is some serious clubhouse upgrade work taking place which should really help with the après golf, pre and post round.