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.
Ken Moodie consults at the club and his Creative Golf Design firm oversaw a major refurbishment of the course in 2019. Thousands of trees and bushes were removed and all the greenside bunkers were renovated and in some instances repositioned.
I wasn't entirely sure what to expect of Thorndon Park when I made the journey down from Norfolk to start my little golf trip this past Sunday. Essex certainly isn't renowned for it's golf courses so I had to see what this place did differently from the rest.
You'd be forgiven for muttering an expletive after turning around, putter in hand for a warmup when you lay eyes on the giant mansion which is Thorndon Hall. The idea of building a golf course on this deer park only came about when the hall was badly damaged by fire in 1878, and some businessmen found it the perfect location for a golf course and housing estate. And whilst the estate never materialized, I'm sure glad the golf course did.
The clubhouse was even located in the east wing of Thorndon Hall, the east wing and chapel were leased to the golf club until 1968 until they bought the great building. This was short-lived as a new clubhouse was erected in 1974 and Thorndon Hall sold off to developers.
As for the course itself, it's a pretty parkland course with some blind tee shots, thick rough and a couple of great looking holes. Accuracy off the tee is the priority here, it's very easy to lose a ball just a few yards off the fairway.
Whilst the condition of the course was brilliant, the few criticisms I did have about Thorndon Park was the condition of fairway bunkers. I did find it quite odd the greenside bunkers were in pristine condition whilst the fairway bunkers were not. Maybe as Keith mentioned in his review back in 2018 they hadn't quite got round to this yet, just lucky I didn't end up in any!
Some courses tend to have a few great holes and try and use that to compensate for how average other holes are on the course. Thorndon shows consistency here as I couldn't really point out a bad hole. On the flip side I can't really think of a wow hole. The 9th probably came the closest for me with an elevated view of the par 5 hole in front. The fairway narrowly snakes it's way through until it reaches the green at the top of the hill.
The 12th is probably worth a mention too. A great example of how just adding a bridge to a hole turns a standard par 3 into something more special.
Overall, Thorndon Park is a contender for top 100 in my opinion. It may not have the quality over 18 holes to go higher but I can definitely see why it's there.
First review alert , Thorndon park holds a very speacial place in my heart as it was the first top 100 course (England) i visited. Although living less than 10 miles away i waited until i thought my game was good enough to play , Boy was it worth the wait every hole felt like an Amphitheatre. For the most part you wont see another group its a pleasure to play and always in supreme condition . well played Mr colt well played.
I can understand why Thorndon Park is rated #1 in Essex (#95 in England), the scenery is stunning, you wouldn’t think you were 30 minutes from East London. Every hole is completely different and totally isolated from each other by the trees. At 6216 yards off the yellows I wasn’t expecting too much of a challenge, but was I wrong!!! The amount of bunkers/sand traps on this course is immense, without a doubt you won’t make it round this course without ending up in one. The other big challenge is the greens, if you are able to land the ball on the green and make it stay you are doing very well, they are lightning fast. This is a must play course if you live in Essex or are visiting, best make yourself aware of the clubs dress-code & rules etc as this is a private members club.
This is my first time reviewing, so here goes nothing…
Thorndon Park is an outstanding example of a British Parkland course in the heart of Essex, teeming with wildlife and woodland, its a truly serene place to play 18. The position of the course deep in Thorndon Park offers golfers a noise pollution free round, allowing you to embrace nature’s peace and focus on the round at hand.
I’ve played here numerous times over the last 5 or so years, and it’s safe to say the course really keeps you on your toes. A fantastic mix of different length par 3s, a reachable par 4, a long uphill par 4 which you’ll do well to par and the reachable par 5 9th all contribute to offer every type of available golf hole - as soon as you’re gifted shots, you’re then struggling to keep them.
It’s been great to see the course improvements are finally bearing the fruits of the labour, with all the new bunkers in place, new fluffy sand added and a lot of tree removal. The new layout of the course mimics that which I’ve seen on TV but not managed to play, for example Wentworth. The greens play fast and true and the fairways are in impeccable condition, offering a real advantage to fairway finding golfers. Playing off the whites, the course stretches to 6511 yards, and with some tee shots that require an iron for position, it plays long.
To rattle off some holes of note, I’ll start with the 2nd. This is a picturesque par 3 guarded by bunkers on all sides. The hole shouldn’t be a struggle, as it’s a perfect distance for my 7 iron, but the usual crosswind makes it a tester. The 4th hole is one of the iron off the tee for position holes, with a ditch halfway down the hole on a downslope always in the mind off the tee. A heavily guarded green makes the approach tricky as well, with a par is a great score on this one! The reachable par 5 9th offers a wide fairway off the tee that lets you properly open up the shoulders off the tee, with a nice drive catching a speed trap and leaving you just over 200 yards to the green. The 18th hole back up towards Thorndon Hall is also one to note, with the hall’s presence offering up a spectacular finish to the round.
Being a local to the area, I can’t think of a course to beat it and not one that I would rather be a member of. It is well deserving of the #1 spot in Essex and I believe can challenge higher up the lower quartile of the Top100 of England.
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.