Located at Thorpe Bay near Southend, Thorpe Hall Golf Club dates back to 1907, when K. Costley-White leased part of Thorpe Hall Farm for the purpose of laying out a golf course with the help of the Bert Batley, the club’s first professional. Shortly after construction, it was described as being “on fine old meadow pasture, the turf being excellent. The hazards consist of ditches, ponds, whins and artificial bunkers.”
The Southend handbook of 1931 later described the course in the following manner: “At first glance, this seaside course appears easy, as Harry Vardon thought when he started out in a final some years ago. After taking a seven at the first and a seven at the second, he altered his opinion and wrote an article in Golf Monthly about the false impression Thorpe Hall gives”.
Interestingly, two of the club’s members have gone on to become secretary of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club at St Andrews. Sir Michael Bonallack served in the position from 1983 to 1999 before being succeeded by former Captain of the Cambridge University team, Peter Dawson, who remained in post until retiring in 2015.
Surrounded by housing on all sides, the course extends to a modest 6,242 yards from the back markers, with the front nine routed in a clockwise direction around the perimeter of the property, enclosing the back nine in the middle. It’s a parkland track but because it’s located so close to the Thames estuary, fickle sea breezes often play havoc with scoring.
Highlight holes include the double doglegged 6th (rated stroke index 1); the 136-yard 13th (the shortest of the five testing short holes on the card); and the left doglegged 17th, which is a really tough par four to face so late in the round.
It’s also a good idea to maybe leave the driver in the bag on quite a few holes as there are a number of hazards to negotiate, including out of bounds areas, ditches and ponds. Accuracy rather than length will pay dividends on the intimate tree-lined holes at Thorpe Hall.
It feels that Thorpe Hall flies a little under the radar in terms of awareness and is only really known by those in the locale or the visiting golfer from other Essex clubs on match-days. I often ask myself if I would play a course more than once and would I also recommend to others? Both of these are a yes, in fact I have played the course twice now. As a summary Thorpe Hall is very flat with hardly any elevation change but is a great example of a parkland course conditioned very well. The biggest defence against scoring well and too easily are plenty of tight drives and some really good greens with many subtle breaks that make the job of two putting a game in itself.
The opening hole is under 360 yards but seems to play a lot longer for some reason – it is a tree lined hole with the course boundary to the left and a lone fairway bunker at around 110 yards from the green – par a very good score on the opener. Next strong hole for me is the stroke-index 1, 453-yard 6th; a snakelike double dog-leg where your drive needs to find the right side of the fairway to have a decent chance to hit the green. The front nine ends with a short par-4 and the back nine starts with another – the 9th at just over three hundred yards turns a little left and the sensible play is mid-iron, short iron. The 10th at 341 yards probably needs a little more length from the tee and best position is tight down the left, otherwise the green will be blocked as the last 100 yards of the hole turn to the right.
A slight observation from me is that pair of par-5’s at the 11th and 14th are decent holes but very similar – both are a slow left to right style of hole that could be improved on with some fairway bunkering – at present both are a little straight forward to play.
The shortest par-3 comes at the 13th – only 136 yards but through a funnel of trees so there is a little pressure on securing a par on the stroke-index 18 hole.
The best hole on the course comes at the 17th – 411 yards long, turning to the left with a perfectly placed bunker just 40 yards short of the green. I can only imagine that the amount of approach shots that come up short and land between this bunker and the green must be very high – mine did! The home hole is another short par-4 at 335 yards, it is very straight and with a fairly wide fairway does not throw up too many problems in securing a par finish. There is one possibility here – the putting green is to the right of the 18th as you approach – I would investigate if this could ever become the green for the last? This would certainly add a little something to the finishing hole.