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.
Date: September 23, 2020