Boyce Hill had its origins in nearby Leigh Park Golf Club, which existed during the Great War and for a few years thereafter. A number of the members were unhappy with the playing conditions and when they got word that their course was about to be lost through local council compulsory purchase, they decided to look elsewhere for an alternative piece of land.
Once they identified Boyce Hill Farm as a suitable site, the 120-acre tract was acquired and local professional Joe Steel from Rochford Hundred Golf Club engaged to set out a new course. Incredibly, within thirty days of securing a lease on the property, a 9-hole layout was brought into play on the 1st of October 1922.
By the end of that year, another nine holes were added to form an 18-hole layout measuring 5,355 yards with a bogey of 71. James Braid then visited in January 1925 to improve the newly established golfing set-up and this resulted in him lengthening the course and tightly bunkering the par three holes, while retaining only six of the original holes (5 – 8, 10 and 11).
When the remodelling work was completed by the construction firm of Hawtree & Taylor Ltd, Braid then took part in a couple of exhibition matches (along with Percy Alliss of Wanstead Golf Club, J.H. Taylor from Mid-Surrey Golf Club and club professional Ernie Barker) to mark the opening of the revised layout on 2nd October, 1925.
During World War II, the course was used as a training facility and a small resident army unit was based at the club, equipped with anti-aircraft weapons and searchlights. The clubhouse took a direct hit, but the bomb failed to explode. Unfortunately, the building was destroyed the year after in a fire but it was rebuilt in 1956 with help from the War Damage Commission.
The club then gained a reputation for staging well-organised pro-am competitions, with big prize money on offer thanks to sponsorship deals with local companies, and at one of these events in the mid-1970s, Brian Barnes was a late withdrawal. His replacement turned out to be an unknown young Spaniard who didn’t speak much English but he could certainly play – his name was Seve Ballesteros.
The course today extends to just over 6,000 yards, playing to a par of 68, but don’t let a lack of length fool you into thinking this parkland track is a pushover – the standard scratch score rating of 70 tells its own tale in that regard. As its name implies, Boyce Hill is one of the hilliest courses in Essex, presenting players with plenty of awkward stances and fine vistas.
Highlight holes on the layout include back-to-back short par fours at the 6th and 7th on the front nine, and the long, downhill 14th on the inward half. Testing uphill par fours at the 13th and 16th demand respect before the round ends in somewhat unconventional fashion with a lovely short par three finishing hole, which plays to a home green nestled close to the clubhouse.
County course rankings have definitely coincided with clubs taking more time and investing more effort to get the very best of their course, Boyce Hill is a great example of this. Just over five years since my last game here and a strong step-up is obvious. The club have always had a dedicated greens’ team and now with some strong improvement plans coming from the management, Boyce Hill is now well worth playing.
There are places on the course where the land has been used extremely well; if you are looking for a course with little elevation change and a set of holes that are run of the mill, then Boyce Hill is not for you. A second game here for me has made me appreciate the course so much than just the one previous visit back in 2015. Add in a very strong move towards presentation and attention to detail and I am very happy to report that the course and the club have moved forward.
The opening five holes are as tougher start that I can think of on any Essex course; stroke index’s of 9,5,3,7 and 1 with two par-4’s of 450+ yards and a 210 yard par-3 – if you play to handicap or even close on this opening stretch, the foundation is there for a very good score.
The middle section of the course gives opportunities to pick up your score – it is here where you have the higher SI’s and the shorter par-4’s; I like the 6th a lot – 315 yards which really should be played with a mid-iron and short iron to play over a ditch to a right to left sloping green. The course has five par-3’s and the 11th is the best for me; 140 yards, slightly uphill to a long green and great fun to play.
The par-4’s at the 14th and 16th are big holes; the former at 459 yards actually plays shorter than the 16th at 412 yards – with the 14th having a big downhill drive – both are exceptional holes and a test for anyone of any standard.
Driving at the 336 yards 17th hole is all about position, keep left and then keep left a little more – this fairway moves severely to the right and you do not want a blind shot if blocked out by the trees on the right-side. A lovely green-site on this hole too – with plenty of colour at the rear.
It is a par-3 finish here and a decent hole – just under 160 yards with bunker protection front and right but it is the green that offers up the toughest challenge, so many pin-position options and so many undulations. 60% of scores on this hole are bogey or worse, which indicates its degree of difficulty. The final green is in the perfect position just under the beautiful new terrace, so be aware that you will have an audience as you putt out.
Pleased for all at Boyce Hill now, as they are making a positive impact on and off the course.
A really good course on some tricky ground. A difficult walk for some but I really enjoyed it and there was a great mix of holes.
Standout ones being the short par 4 6th where you need to leave the driver In the bag to ensure you have the right angle to attack the flag on your second and the long downhill par 4 14th, a jaw-droppingly gorgeous hole where you can really let loose with the driver.