Formerly known as Hatfield London Golf & Country Club, the Old course at the re-branded Essendon Country Club dates back to 1976. Fred W. Hawtree originally laid it out in Bedwell Park, which is set near the little village of Essendon in delightful, rural Hertfordshire countryside.
Part of the imposing red-bricked Bedwell House (once owned by the London brewer, Samual Whitbread) was the grand clubhouse that served the Old course, but following the sale of the manor house in 2002, both the Old and New courses now operate from a restored 16th century barn located to the north of the property.
Although the Old course routing remains the same, the move to the new clubhouse required a change to the hole numbering – for example the old 1st is now the 4th.
Measuring 6,808 yards from the back tees, Essendon Old course can throw down a challenging gauntlet, but with four tees on each hole this undulating parkland layout is very enjoyable for most handicap levels.
The five one-shot holes are particularly strong on the Old course, with no fewer than four of these measuring more than 200 yards from the tips. The pick of the par threes is perhaps the 15th, where a pond must be negotiated en route to a sloping, heart-shaped green.
From the regular tees, each of the five par fives offer up genuine birdie opportunities but you will need to keep it on the straight and narrow, avoiding the many mature trees that line the fairways. Talking of mature trees, you’ll need a precise tee shot on the challenging par four 16th which doglegs to the right. Trees do not only flank this hole, but there’s a huge, sentry oak in the middle of the fairway at around 250 yards. Our advice is not to hit and hope on this hole or you are sure to card a bogey or worse.
Essendon’s Old course is certainly one of Hertfordshire’s most attractive parkland courses. Its rolling topography and quiet yet accessible location combine to make Essendon Country Club a very popular golfing venue that is well worth playing more than once.
Having just written a review of the New Course, I felt I had to add one about the Old. I've played here many times, but the holes were renumbered in 2021, so bear with me...
Compared to the New, the Old feels a bit more compact, but this is more due to the mature trees rather than length, as the Old can stretch to almost 6,900 yards from the very back tees (although some of these are not used any more). It certainly has more character than its younger sibling, and much better green complexes. The stand out for me is the hugely entertaining multi-tiered double green shared by two par 5's. This was originally the 9th and 18th greens, when the mansion was the clubhouse, then for a long time was the 3rd and 12th, but this has changed again. It's tremendous fun trying out some roller coaster putts on this green - worth the green fee on its own!
The course has a set of very tough par 3's, although quite long they mostly have elevated tees which I always find a great feature in a par 3. The flipside is that the par 5's are quite short, four of them are reachable for many golfers, although there is significant risk/reward to make you think about it.
The downside of the Old is drainage, this is not a course to play in winter. Also, it is home to a ridiculously fake looking pond in front of the 15th green (just use bunkers - this is already a challenging long par 3), and the marmite par 4 16th with an oak tree in the middle of the fairway (I still haven't worked out how to play this hole).
Overall, this is a fun place to play in summer, plenty of opportunity to score but no pushover.
Essendon Country Club is a well maintained and presented golf complex that caters for all standards of golfer. There is something quintessentially British about the drive up to the converted barn clubhouse and past the imposing red brick Manor House that used to act as the home of the club in days gone by.
We played both courses on a perfect summers day in 2021. My preferred layout of the two was the Old course (not that old as it was opened in 1976), as I felt it was a more coherent test of golf across the 18 holes in comparison to the New course.
Themes that I took away from my round here were firstly that the par 3’s offer a stern test both in yardage and green topography. The 5 one shot holes measured 946 yards combined from the white tees (where we played it from) and bar the 17th, you felt that you were hustling for pars rather than pushing for birdies.
A memorable feature is the wildly contoured shared green between the pair of par 5’s (3 and 11). Particularly on the 11th side, this boomerang shaped green site folds into multiple tiers and makes distance control the primary focus on your approach shot.
The standout hole in terms of difficulty has to be the 7th and unsurprisingly features as the SI1. The difficulty all comes from the tee shot where strategy is key. The hole doglegs slightly to the right and in the landing zone is a hugely charismatic mature tree. The brave will look to take the tree and dogleg on up the right side to leave a short wedge in; a high tariff shot indeed. If you are feeling less brave, the key is to leave yourself somewhere where you can still make it to the green unhindered by the tree for your second.
Overall, this course is a pleasure to play and enjoys good conditions, in particular the greens, which were in splendid fettle when we visited. My two points of caution would be that the course is reasonably tight and the trees that line the fairways are both tall and well bunched. This can give a feeling of being a tad claustrophobic on a number of the holes and can result in a lot of chipping out if your game is a little offline. Secondly, the course routing has been rehashed in recent times (as my GPS’s lack of awareness of the holes will testify). The walk between the 9th green and 10th tee is a long one and disrupts the flow of the which is a tad inconvenient more than anything. That aside, this is a solid offering and a course I would happily play again in the future.
Played both courses yesterday after a day or two of heavy rain.
The Old course was very wet underfoot and appeared to have more two days growth in most areas.
An interesting course but it somehow didn’t live up to the high expectations I had of it before playing.
Quite a few GUR bunkers and various partly completed works going on.
The bunkers in play had a lot of quite large stones in them.
The SI 1 dog leg right past a huge tree 7th was probably the pick of the holes on the front nine.
Huge walk from 9th green to 10th tee, which involved asking directions at one point. 3rd and 11th share an interestingly contoured large double green.
The 18th is an interesting short par five.
Personal 321st course in England and 462nd worldwide.
I played the Old Course at Essendon on the Sunday just passed and I was left with very mixed emotions and some regret. Having read previous reviews it was a course that I was looking forward to playing and following a toss up between the Old or the New course, I booked a round on the Old with a friend who lives in the area, based on its superior ranking relative to the New. Said friend is a member at Hartsbourne Country Club where I have also played several times, and so I was looking forward to making comparisons between the two. Having coughed up a £60 green fee, we made the short journey and arrived at the course. It is set amongst an impressive estate and alongside the Old and New courses there is a short course that would suit anyone wishing to learn the game. As you continue down the drive towards the car park you pass holes on either side, without any clue as to which course they belong to - this is a moot point however it did pique our interest, and so we unpacked and went to the first tee in anticipation. I am not sure how the layout of the course was previously, but we had been told that the order of some of the holes had been changed and so the course routing may be different to how it was described on the website. The first hole was played uphill to the right and it is a fairly tricky start. For your second you cannot see the base of the pin and as we approached the green, it was evident that the course was in serious need of some love and care. The fringe grass was bare and dying and the bunkers were full of weeds and in need of 10 times more sand. Unfortunately this was a theme that was present from holes 1-6 and it left a slightly sour taste. Was this due to a lack of green-keepers due to the COVID pandemic? Who knows, but we weren't told to expect anything other than a well presented golf course. Conditioning aside, the first 6 holes felt very squashed in and out of place. You essentially play up and down the side of the same hill 6 times, without much variety or feature. A disappointing start. When we arrived at the 7th hole (the signature, index 1 hole), it felt as though we were beginning a round at a completely different course. Although not my favourite hole due to the large oak tree in the middle of the fairway, the course felt like it opened up a little here and we found ourselves surrounded by pleasant tall pines. The oak tree itself frustrated me as you essentially have a gap of barely 10 yards either side to hit an approach shot to the green, however I can see that to some it might be a unique and fun feature on a golf course - though it won't yield any architectural merit from me on this occasion. Holes 8-11 are relatively bland and non-descript, but the stretch from 12-18 is actually very good and here it feels as though you could be playing a completely different course yet again. My playing partner and I likened this stretch to Forest Pines in Lincolnshire and it was a stretch of holes that was we found particularly pretty. For me the best hole on the course was the 17th - a par 3 of about 145 yards played across a valley from an elevated tee to a green sat below tall pines. It was visually very pleasing and a par 3 was not easy work. The 18th is a short par 5 that we both played without very much difficulty or trouble - a simple closing hole to finish off the day. Walking off we weren't too sure how to feel - a poor start, a mixed bag in the middle 3rd and a good back 6. How could I put it in to a review? Its taken a few days of reflecting but on the whole I would have to say that we were very disappointed, especially having heard good things about Essendon. The £60 green fee is extortionate for the overall quality of the course and I wouldn't return to play it at the same cost. My friend could have signed me in at Hartsbourne just down the road, on a guest fee for £30 and on reflection I'd have been far happier doing this - I have played on the Willows course there on a number of occasions and it is always well presented. Similar to Essendon it is a Country Club by name but for me it offers better value for money. I feel that Essendon perhaps feels it is a better course than it truly is. Maybe we caught it on a bad day, but we won't be rushing back.
I’m Paul Densham the General Manager here at Essendon. We appreciate you coming down and are pleased to hear you enjoyed aspects of our Old Course. Thanks also for taking the time to review – we’re always keen to hear customer feedback. Regarding the re-routing, this is a very new development and we’re in the process of trying to improve signage and awareness, particularly in the transition from the from 3rd to the new 4th hole. With regard to conditioning, we’re thankfully taking big strides largely due to an investment in more resource (greens staff now number 13, up from 8) but we will acknowledge the Old, in parts, is a couple of weeks behind the New in terms of growth – though, from the recent feedback we’ve received on the whole, by no means bad. As for us believing we are better than we really are, I feel this is conjecture and I assure you that is absolutely not the case. We try to approach every area of our business with humility and the goal of continuous improvement and I certainly hope that if you do revisit, you’ll leave with a better feeling that you did on this occasion.
Paul - thanks for taking the time to respond. I think the disappointment was in relation mostly to the first six holes where, as you describe, the signage is a little bit limited and the condition is slightly worse off compared to the latter part of the course. I appreciate that as a club you're taking strides to rectify things and I also understand that you have probably been impacted heavily by the COVID pandemic, so in fairness my review is probably poorly timed here and perhaps we did not find the course in its prime. I think that paying £60 for a green fee, my playing partner and I were probably expecting a little more than we got - however we would like to return some time in the future as we found the back 9 to be particularly enjoyable.
Much shorter and trickier than the New course which is also very good. Really enjoyed my day our here and would definitely recommend to anyone living in the county or close by, two great courses and great facilities.
I liked both courses here, the new I found tougher than the old, but other people say they think the old is tougher.
We play here every year on a 36 hole society and get to do both courses on the same day late summertime, I would recommend this venue, the clubhouse is great, both courses are great and different too which is nice to have.
The main negative for me on the old course was the 16th hole, I get the club probably don't want to cut a mature tree down and I get the want for the hole that it makes it different, but that tree is just too big to go over it or around it if you lay up short, so you have to hit about 250 yards to be as parallel to the tree as possible to have a shot and even then, there is a break in the fairway, so you get penalised for that too as the ground is rough and not well grassed?
I actually had to hit a stinger 2 iron with a cut to get it to bounce before the tree and run past the narrowest of gaps to get through to have a shot at the green, which is genuinely a 1 in 10 chance of the shot even coming off.
Even after playing the hole perfectly, walking up the hole I was just thinking it doesn't make any sense, I could imagine this hole really ruining a round being so late on and could very easily be a good shot off the tee is ruined and leaves you with no other option but to punch a shot and run it up at the green?
I don't know, maybe other people opinions might be worth commenting on this post because I personally think it spoils the round, happy to hear other people opinions.
TEE BOXES 8
GREEN CONDITION 8
GREEN SPEED 8
VALUE FOR MONEY 7
OVERALL FEEL 7
TIME OF THE YEAR PLAYED - AUGUST
FAVOURITE HOLE - 12th par 5 - very interesting double green
I have many happy memories of playing the Old course at Essendon during the summer months after knocking off work early. Rushing from the office to the first tee that was adjacent to the manor house was always a thrilling experience. The Old was considered the poor pay-and-play relation to the private New course and it took me quite a few years before I eventually managed to play the New and, if I’m honest, I like the Old course best. The reason I prefer the Old is that it is an interesting and fun parkland course which is none too arduous and basically plays the same way (weather permitting) each day. The New is more complicated due to its dual greens which only served to muddy the focal point for me on approach shots. The New could be better than the Old, but not in my eyes until the club reconsiders the architectural merits of the dual greens.