Essex does not possess many courses that feature in Top 100 ranking lists, but one that does stand out is Thorndon Park Golf Club. Golfers of all standards like it here, returning regularly to be challenged, excited and frustrated with a host of tricky holes and well-guarded greens.
The club was founded in 1920 and the great Harry Colt and his partner Charles Alison designed the course. Thorndon Park is certainly another of Colt’s high quality creations and the illustrious architect can be credited for approximately 300 course designs and re-designs across the world.
Part of the South Park of Thorndon Hall was acquired for the course and the surrounding woodland has proved to be a perfect partner for the design. The turf is lush and springy making the course a lovely parkland treat. All in all this is a wonderful English setting with many rather old oak trees standing tall with elm and cedar looking on.
Hard but true greens are a strong feature and bunkering is just about right. Fairways give the impression of being spacious enough for even the longest of hitters to open their shoulders. Our favourite hole is the 3rd; a drive over the lake with a touch of draw is ideal – a classical par four that is not easily forgotten.
A round at Thorndon Park will stick in the memory for all the right reasons because it’s a great course with stacks of history and it’s always beautifully maintained. The 18th century Palladian mansion and former clubhouse has to be one of the most impresive closing hole backdrops in golf.
Despite being beaten by my daughter Rachelle (aka Baby Baxter), who rubbed salt into the wounds by holing a ridiculously long putt on the 18th to receive a standing ovation from the members who were packed onto the terrace, I really enjoyed Thorndon Park when I teed it up here a couple of weeks ago.
Don’t ask me why, but this was the first time I’d played Thorndon Park, even though I lived in Essex for a dozen years and played most courses in the county during that period. Parkland courses generally don’t receive much love in the UK but this is certainly one of the better ones. Its position in the lower quartile of the English Top 100 is bound to be questionable, especially given that there are so many other great English courses that are on the cusp of this very competitive ranking list.
I only have two criticisms and both are perennial qualms that haunt many Golden Age English courses. 1. Tree encroachment and 2. Tired bunkering. Thankfully the club is tackling both these issues under the progressive management of the new Secretary and the Course Manager and his team. The bunker renovations are underway and work will be completed in time for the club’s centenary celebrations in 2020, also many trees have already been felled.
It’s not clear what Lancelot “Capability” Brown envisaged when he remodelled the park at Thorndon Hall for the 9th Baron Petre in the 18th century, but the great landscape architect most definitely created New Hall Pond which has to be carried in a “how much dare you bite off” kind of way at the wonderful par four 3rd hole (par five for the ladies), which sweeps left around this lake.
As with most Harry Colt-designed courses the one shotters are very good. The greensites are thought provoking without being too wild and the pleasantly undulating topography provides more than enough engagement. I was most surprised and delighted by the lack of traffic noise – it’s a quiet spot – even though the M25 motorway and the busy A12 are close by.
I’d say Thorndon Park deserves its place in the English hundred and has the potential to cement its spot in the rankings once the bunkering and tree removal programmes are complete. Probably a 4.5 rating at the present moment is how I’d rate the course, but I’d liked it more than enough to round things up rather than down.
Essex is a county with many golf courses but it is not really renowned for having any venues near the top of the pyramid when it comes to discussing the best of golf in Great Britain.
I’m ashamed to say this was my first ever round of golf in Essex but it would appear that Thorndon Park, designed by Harry Colt in 1920, is the needle in the haystack.
Hidden away on some lovely golfing turf close to Brentwood a round here delivers some of the best park golf you will find in England.
As with most courses of this nature there is a lot of sedate stuff going on but there are flashes of excellence throughout the round too which more than merit a quick detour off the M25.
Covering almost 250 acres the site is actually an ancient deer park and the rolling nature of the property provides for some fine holes at this established private-members club.
Green sites at the seventh and 17th are particularly pleasing to the eye, as well as your golfing imagination, whilst the fourth and eighth also make for wonderful approach shots. The Palladian mansion of Thorndon Hall acts as the most wonderful backdrop to the final hole and adds to the sense of nobility.
The greens, though recently hollow-tined and lightly sanded, held enough interest and despite heavy overnight rain the courses remained firm; it was noticeable that a lot of drainage work had been undertaken on the approaches to some greens. The jury obviously remains out as to how the course will play in winter but the signs are promising.
Like most inland courses there are far too many trees encroaching on several holes nowadays and whilst the course pleasingly retains good width for the most part it would be even better should a lot of the clutter be removed to highlight a variety of specimen and unusual trees. There are many examples but the rising eighth in particular would be a glorious looking par-four if there were much less timber.
All considered I enjoyed my round at Thorndon Park; it was especially nice to see the ball get such a big and high bounce on the fairways.
From a golfing perspective (heading down from the North) I’d always recommend driving round the M25 in an anti-clockwise direction towards Surrey but should you find yourself on the East side of the London Orbital I can think of few better places to play.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.