Chelmsford Golf Club was founded in 1893 and in those days the club operated cheek by jowl with horse racing at Galleywood Common. Tom Dunn designed the original 9-hole course and it was set just a few hundred yards to the south of the present course. The only stipulation was that no golf was allowed on race days.
The club existed at Galleywood until 1910 when land became available at Widford, its present site. James Braid confirmed that the ground was suitable for golf and turf nurseryman James MacDonald from Harpenden laid out the parkland course in 1911, from where golfers still enjoy delightful views across the county estate of Hylands Park.
“That course, which was bisected by the London to Ipswich railway line, is not what you see today because various land deals down the years has led to changes culminating in the current compact layout,” wrote David Hamilton in The Golfers Guide to East Anglia. “Additional land in 1924 saw famous golf architect Harry Colt remodel the course and much of his handiwork exists today although a further land purchase in 1931 enabled much of the present layout to take shape with the four holes on the other side of the railway being sold.”
“The October 1987 hurricane that cut a swathe through so many clubs in the south and east of England also left its mark on Chelmsford,” continues David Hamilton. “Many trees were brought down but it was to prove a blessing in disguise. It opened everything up, provided greater air movement and consequently the course became drier. So much so that the quality has elevated Chelmsford among the best maintained courses in Essex.”
“In 1993 the club celebrated its centenary when Michael Williams, the much lamented golf correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, took over as captain for the second time, having also held office in 1968.”
“Today’s course is laid out across a valley, which comes into play on both nines, and don’t be fooled by the overall length of just under 6,000 yards or the par of 68. You won’t take it apart because it is well protected… Although there is only one par five, Chelmsford’s test comes with its many par fours, seven of which are 400 yards or more, and its five short holes, two being across the valley.”
There are a number of fine golf holes at Chelmsford, but the members consider the par three 4th as the club’s signature hole. It may only measure 128 yards from the medal tees but the greensite is set in a glade once known as Thrift Wood, and the surface slopes severely to the left. Aim for the right half of the dance floor and hope the golfing gods are with you.
The spire of St Mary’s Church is in full view from the 1st tee and 18th fairway, and some might suggest it is perfectly situated for those looking for ‘divine intervention’ at the start of a round, or for ‘forgiveness of their sins’ at the end.
Architects Mackenzie & Ebert devised a master plan for design changes in 2009 and they returned a decade later to oversee the proposed bunker and drainage work by contractor MJ Abbott. The upgrading of greenside bunkers on nine holes was completed at the start of 2020, along with new fairway bunkers on the 5th and 11th holes.
Now, having not played many courses in Essex it is difficult to rank it in the realms of its esteemed colleagues but if do find yourself preparing for a round at Chelmsford then you are in for a treat.
The course starts with a tricky par 4 that plays slightly uphill, with a slight dog leg right and the green slopes heavily front to back. Walk off with a 5 here and you can pat yourself firmly on the back.
The 2nd gives the long hitters a chance to open their shoulders and have a go for the green in two. The average hitters can still get close as the ball runs well on the watered and manicured fairways, which I must say were in stunning condition (Mid September).
Other notable holes on the front nine include the 7th that is a straightforward par 4 but with remnants of forest like layouts such as The Berkshire or Swinley Forest.
The greens deserve a special mention, it was the time of year where maintenance had recently occurred but they ran true and very fast, top marks to the green keeper team.
On a lot of the par 4's there are shortcuts over trees and some are more obvious than others, a course planner is therefore a good investment, use it wisely!
I am not a fan of par 3 finishing holes and the 18th at Chelmsford was a short, straightforward little number that we played in semi darkness. A disappointing end to an otherwise superb layout. If you get the opportunity, then give Chelmsford a few hours of your time, I will certainly be happy to visit again.
Arguably a close second to Thorndon in the Essex rankings, Chelmsford offers a short but sweet 18 through its misleading overall appearance of shortness. At a Par 68 and 5889 yards, with only one par 5 (that's reachable in 2 for most!), it's tough to score your handicap around, as there are few holes to claim back shots on. The course is riddled with long par 4s that take some of your best shots to get to in two. With the majority of holes being tree lined and winding round corners, accuracy off the tee is key here. A few highlights for me:
Front 9 - the risk reward of the 3rd gives you the chance to take on a downhill green at around 270 yards, but equally a nice strike down the left side opens up a long green that gives you a very getable approach. Trouble comes on the 3rd - SI 1 and a 465 yard dog leg left which forces a layup short of a ditch off the tee unless you’re a long draw hitter. A layup leaves you around a 225 yard approach with a green that is tough to hold onto even if you hit it, as it’s all sloping away from you. You should be proud of a par here! The 7th is a lengthy par 4 - a drive uphill to a bunker leaves you around 190 into a tough green with three bunkers short. This hole has a really pretty approach, with pine trees dwarfing the green from all sides. Using the right to left fairway slope just short can help you keep it on the front half of the green or fly it all the way to the right half.
Back 9 - i've always liked the 10th, as you can really open up the shoulders to try and take out the dogleg left over some trees. A tricky green makes this a really interesting hole. The par 5 11th offers a similar option of taking out a left to right corner with a big drive - this is reachable if you knock it right, so make the most of it! I personally think the 14th should be SI 1, as this is a beast to reach in 2. Always into wind and uphill, you need a booming drive to give yourself a chance to score here. The par 3 15th is all downhill and is just a pleasure to watch once you've hit your shot. Tough to judge this at 170 yards and severely downhill and wind afflicted, but it's nice to see it land safely if you get it right. Finally, the 18th with the clubhouse directly behind the green - don't go long.
A bacon bap at the halfway house never goes amiss either - a great track that I'd recommend to all in the area!
Good solid course. Very hilly and lots of variety without being outstanding. Par 3 4th and the par 4 7th are my favourite holes being amongst the pine trees. Disappointing final hole but worth a visit if you’re in the area.
Just like most Essex courses, Chelmsford is very ordinary. A few good holes but not enough
I enjoyed an excellent afternoon of foursomes at Chelmsford. The course was in excellent condition, but a series of long par fours made scoring difficult. A very friendly welcome from the clubhouse staff and the course Marshall.