Bishop’s Stortford Golf Club dates back to 1910 but the exact origins of the course are a little sketchy because a contemporaneous article in Golf Illustrated makes reference to a golf course which existed three years before that date, one that was laid out by professional Douglas Rolland, who was twice a runner-up in the Open.
We know that reseeding of greens and tees took place before the course was brought into play and James Braid, who was a cousin of Rolland, paid a visit to check on the course a full year before its grand opening on 11th June 1910. What (if any) changes were recommended by Braid is anybody’s guess.
The 18-hole layout and the clubhouse were reputed to have cost around £20,000 to build, which was an enormous sum of money in those days but such a huge price would not have been a problem for the Gilbey family who owned the property and produced the well-known brand of gin.
Another Open Champion, Frenchman Arnaud Massy, joined the Great Triumvirate of Vardon, Braid and Taylor in an exhibition match to mark the official opening of the course on 11th June 1910. A prize of £100 was at stake (more than Open champion Braid would receive a month later) but we don’t know who won this purse.
A report in Nisbet at the time stated: “the course is situated on high, open ground to the east of the town on a clay soil, which has been thoroughly drained… the course was laid out by Braid and Mr. HS Colt has made some valuable alterations.” What’s really interesting here is the recorded involvement of Harry Colt in the course design.
A corroborating account in Golf Illustrated also mentions: “evidence of the work of Mr. HS Colt in bunker and hazard designing is seen at several of the holes.” So – even though there’s no current reference to Colt working on the Bishop’s Stortford course in the Colt Association website – it certainly looks like the master architect had a hand in its formation.
Less than six months after the course opened, a station named Hockerill Halt was opened on the railway line that ran through the layout, dividing it into two nines, and this local train stop was used by both golfers and members of the public until it closed in the early 1950s.
Another transportation link to have an effect on the club was the M11 motorway, which opened in the late 1970s. The impact of this road construction could have been a lot worse but its routing merely skirted the south east corner of the property, with the loss of only one tee and one green.
Set within an expansive, gently undulating 140-acre estate, the course at Bishop’s Stortford has matured over the last hundred years into one of the county’s underrated parkland gems, where fairways are lined with a rich variety of specimen trees and flowering shrubs.
Feature holes include a couple of very strong par fours: the 425-yard 5th plays to a green that slopes from front to back with a lone pine tree protecting the right side of the putting surface and the tight 459-yard 16th leads to a well-bunkered green which tilts front right to back left.
All of the par threes are fine short holes but the best of these is the 167-yard 8th, played from an elevated tee position to a green that sits behind an attractive little pond – golfers are advised not to over-hit their tee shot to avoid the water as they’ll end up with a very slippery downhill putt towards the hole.
Played Bishops Stortford as a 3 ball in late September. The course is a fairly typical James Braid design with elevated tees and greens. More modern changes have diminished the original lay out with the 1st, 9th and 18th having awkward dog legs through gaps in the tree line which don't look right. We thought the par 3s to be excellent, in particular the 8th and 17th being typical Braid. All in all a fair course that could be improved by returning to the best parts of the original design and by removing many trees. We were disappointed by the unfriendly unsmiling staff in the pro shop and bar despite the website proclaiming 'a welcoming atmosphere' and being 'friendly'. Not on our visit!
A pretty good course and a very good club in a very congested Herts, Essex, North London market and probably a little low in the county rankings. First and foremost this a members club with visitors very welcome. The course by modern standards is not that long at 6400 yards but there is a nice mix of holes with some that stand-out. The club have a bunker upgrade program in place and the completed holes are now much better for this (the 2nd is a perfect example). The 5th hole is strong; a par-4 at 425 yards and only a very good drive will allow an attack on the green. The 6th hole is frustrating to me – here is a short par-5 at 506 yards, very straight and through a natural dip at about 300 yards. The issue I have is that there is nowhere near enough protection anywhere – the only bunker on the hole is beyond the green and cannot be seen until you get to it. A bunker (or two) at landing point and another short and right of the green must be considered. There is a great par-3 at the 8th – 167 yards over a pond to a two tiered green – a good looking hole. The 11th is a big par-4 at 441 yards, turning a little right and then a narrow, slightly raised green awaits. The very next hole however is a weak par-5, it is 480 yards and as mentioned about the 6th, there is not enough bunker protection (just one to the right of the green) – it is not that difficult to hit the green in two as the second half of the fairway is a little downhill – I would like to think that the bunker program includes a serious look at the 12th. The course ends on a high, the par-3 17th with a good looking teeing area and at around 200 yards is the toughest of the short holes. The closing hole is a par-4 over 400 yards and the tee shot is key – it needs to be long and towards the right side of the fairway to have any real chance to hit the green, which is a little hidden especially when the trees about a 100 yards out are in full bloom. Glad to see the course in the county rankings now and definitely scope to improve position next time I think as the new bunkering is completed.
It has been a fair while since I played Bishop’s Stortford, but I can remember the last time very clearly. It was a rotten summer’s day, pouring with rain and a stiff breeze. I had been invited as a society guest and I played with my host Colin. The course was in excellent condition and I was impressed by the greens which are nicely contoured and very tricky to read for the uninitiated.
The par five 6th really grabbed my attention and I was genuinely surprised by the elevation changes and the rolling topography. The one-shot 8th is a strong downhill hole across a pond to a truly tricky green that cants significantly at the back half, which was where the pin was cut that day – unfortunately I three putted from less than 20 feet.
A score is to be made going out as the two par fives (#3 and #6) are reachable, I found the back nine to be much tougher, despite another short par five at #12. #14 is a tempting 250-yard par four that enticed me into having a crack at the green only to find one of the greenside bunkers which protect the front. From here to the last (two par threes and two par fours) it’s one good hole after another where the brutal par four 16th is followed by what I thought was a card wrecking par three (I took five). I carded a four on the last as the rain began to ease.
The reason I remember this round so clearly is because my score was good enough to win the society’s guest prize. After dinner I collected the biggest and most hideous plastic golf trophy imaginable. I do beleive it has pride of place in a box in the garage.
There are a good number of decent parkland courses on the northern outreaches of London and Bishop’s Stortford is one of them. The proximity to the M11 and Stansted Airport is not ideal but nobody could complain about accessibility. Keith Baxter