The Jacobean-style manor house was built in 1890 for the Hanbury family and in 1923, it was converted into a girls’ boarding school. It remained a school until 1986, when it was ambitiously transformed into a luxury hotel and the prestigious Hanbury Manor Golf & Country Club.
Harry Vardon originally laid out a nine-hole course in the majestic parkland grounds in the early 1900s, but it was Jack Nicklaus’s eldest son who brought the Hanbury Manor golf course back to life. Behind the manor house was an undulating piece of farmland and this was used for the addition of nine new holes and the original Vardon parkland layout was completely revised. The official opening took place in 1991, with an exhibition match between Tony Jacklin and Dave Stockton. Jack Nicklaus II was there too.
Nicklaus II has done a great job. He has used many of his father’s tricks of the trade and created an exciting golf course with double fairways and plenty of threatening water. Hanbury Manor is PGA championship standard and it plays its length, measuring over 6,660 yards from the medal tees. The two nines are distinctly contrasting, each having a completely different look and feel. The newer front nine is much more exposed, laid out on undulating land in a modern American style while the back nine feels traditionally park-like with fairways flanked by stately trees.
Hanbury Manor’s tournament potential was quickly recognised and, in 1996, Trish Johnson won the Women’s European Open by five clear shots. The following year, the Men’s PGA European Tour arrived in the shape of the English Open and the tournament remained at Hanbury Manor until 1999.
Scoring well on this demanding course is easier said than done. The 8th hole is the toughest on the course, measuring 425 yards with out-of-bounds all the way along the right hand side. The approach shot to the green is tricky, even from the middle of the fairway. The green is elevated and protected by a lake on the left and a grassy hollow to the right, the ground and the green slope cruelly towards the lake. The back nine features some memorable holes, playing through majestic oaks and across numerous lakes.
Hanbury Manor stands on its own in an area absent of great golf courses. There’s a lovely ambience to Hanbury Manor, an English rural version of an American Country Club.
When I land in London I sometimes stay at a hotel with a golf course. I can check-in, play a round where I care less about my score and more about being refreshed, but have the advantage of being able to go right to an early dinner and the hotel rather than get in a car and drive. Hanbury Manor is a good example of a hotel/golf course where that can be accomplished.
Hanbury Manor is an average resort golf course. There is nothing interesting or unique about it. There is not a single “wow” hole. This is not to be said that it should be avoided. For anyone living within 25 minutes of it or choosing to stay at the hotel, I am certain they will have an enjoyable round because it has a nice mixture of long and short holes and there are a few elevation changes. But it is definitely not a golf course that one should go out of their way to play, even if their bucket list is to play the top courses in Hertfordshire. I have only played two other courses in Hertfordshire, both of which I thought to be better than Hanbury Manor, so I will not question whether it belongs in the top 10 in the county. However, one should drive farther in order to play both a more interesting and challenging golf course. If one is looking for a hotel/golf course option, I preferred the Forest of Arden, The Belfry, or The Oxfordshire.
Hanbury Manor is a tale of two nines with the front nine being completed by Jack Nicklaus, II with him making modifications to the back nine, originally laid out by Harry Vardon. The front nine is wide open while the back nine has some trees but basically wide open. The greens on the front nine are large and with slopes but no real undulating character, other than the seventh. The holes on the back nine have better bunkers as well as greens with a bit more character such as the slightly elevated greens on the sixteenth and the seventeenth.
The par 3’s in particular are bland. The par 5’s are the better holes on the golf course.
Of the holes I liked at Hanbury Manor I would list the second, a downhill par 5 with a pond fronting the green. The long par 4 eighth dogleg left with out-of-bounds right has a pond near the green and some nice mounding around the green. The ninth par 5 has some nice bunkering as you near the green on this dogleg right. The par 5 twelfth hole has a green set back amongst the trees. The par 5 seventeenth is a slight double dogleg although the green is set back too far from the pond fronting it. It has a nice smaller green much like the twelfth.
While the eighteenth has a pond, trees on either side of the fairway and bunkers near the green, somehow the hole is boring mainly because the green does not have much going on.
As I stated, this is an average resort golf course. It could be made better with additional bunkers and more interesting greens, but I am doubtful the hotel owner would want to make any additional investment. I do not think it is worth playing more than once unless you live close by.