With approximately 80 courses affiliated with its county union, Essex boasts tremendous variety when it comes to golf.
Some say Essex doesn’t have a ‘big name’ like other home counties. However, many of the game’s most revered architects have left their mark here, which makes a visit to Essex well worth your while.
Located in 240 acres of ancient deer park, the Harry Colt-designed Thorndon Park is just over two miles away from the M25. As you thread your way through the mighty, old oaks, it’s hard to believe it could be so close—this is a secluded beauty; one of the county’s finest courses, if not THE finest.
Two loops of nine run in opposite directions around New Hall Pond, making for some memorable holes. However, with Thorndon Hall as the magnificent backdrop to the final hole, the 18th takes some beating. The short holes run it close, though, especially the 15th, the longest par 3, which plays over a small lake and stream to a well-bunkered green.
Another fine Colt course, Chelmsford, is one of the county’s oldest layouts. The club, which celebrated its centenary in 1993, moved to an 18-hole James Braid design almost 30 years after its foundation, before Colt made some considerable changes. Measuring a fraction under 6,000 yards (par 68), it’s not the length that’ll challenge you, so much as the number of tight shots you’ll face as you negotiate fairways that are constantly changing direction.
The 7th is one of the most memorable holes, where you’re required to thread a long drive through the bunkers, while the 11th, the only par 5 on the course, offers the chance for big hitters to cut the corner and go for the green in two with an iron.
Orsett Golf Club, located just a few miles from the Thames, was founded in 1899; it’s the work of James Braid and boasts both woodland and heathland features. The club has hosted Open Championship qualifying on several occasions and presents a real challenge when the wind is up, with holes 17 and 18, which are invariably played into the prevailing wind, particularly brutish.
As signature holes go, Orsett has a real gem: the short par 4 6th, which is set in a valley. Many a visiting golfer has underestimated the difficulty of this hole, where an accurate tee shot is crucial.
Colchester is the oldest recorded town in Britain, and its club was formed in 1907. James Braid is responsible for this undulating parkland where mature trees line the fairways, so it’s straight driving that gets rewarded.
Coming home, most par 4s exceed 400 yards, so you need to make your score going out, which is where you’ll come across the course’s two par 5s, at the 2nd and 9th. Rarely will you find Colchester in anything but excellent condition, and it’s benefitted from a £750,000 state-of-the-art irrigation system, too. If you like fast greens, you’re sure to warm to Colchester’s subtly-contoured putting surfaces.
Romford Golf Club, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2019, is located just 18 miles from the centre of London. No doubt, many of its members commute back from the capital with haste to tee it up here. The course, another James Braid design, is renowned for its taxing bunkers, traps that have cost many a player looking to qualify for The Open.
The Regional Qualifying course opens up in a fairly sedate manner before showing its teeth at the par 4 4th, which at 470 odd yards, can only be described as a beast. “Card a five and move on” is the advice offered by the club pro, and the same could probably be said of the 14th, rated the hardest hole on the course and another par 4 measuring over 450 yards.
The legendary Sir Henry Cotton designed Canons Brook, situated close to Harlow on the border of Hertfordshire and London. It opened in 1963, and while it may not boast the same rich history as a number of the county’s other courses, it’s a track that’s matured wonderfully over the last 50 years.
The club’s name comes from the ancient area in which it’s located, with the brook winding its way through the landscape and catching out many a player, especially first-time visitors. The 17th, meanwhile, known as “Death or Glory”, is set back in an avenue of trees, while up ahead, a ditch extends across the fairway.
Located just 10 miles northeast of Central London, close to the A13 and M11, Chigwell is easily accessible and well worth adding to your list of golf courses in Essex. Set on undulating parkland, the club offers a warm welcome, so friendly in fact that the 1st hole can rather catch you off guard.
The club describes its 467-yard 1st as “one of the hardest opening holes in the south-east”. The tree-lined fairways aren’t quite as intimidating as those you might find elsewhere, which means you can escape with the odd loose shot. As well as a fine collection of par 3s, which force you to use a different club each time, the course also boasts a wonderful closing hole—a strong par-5 of 556 yards with water down the left.
Situated not far from Brentford, Bentley is a beautiful parkland layout; one that has hosted the Essex County Championship and remains a popular venue for the Essex Captains. Designed by Alex Swan, founder of Swan Golf Designs, it’s configured of two returning nines. The gently undulating fairways, which are flanked by mature trees, veer this way and that, and should you stray off line, numerous ponds and ditches lie in wait.
The signature hole arrives on the par 4 16th, and it’s worth the wait. A downhill dogleg right with out of bounds to the right and a lake guarding the green, it’s a bit of a knee-trembler if you leave yourself a long iron with your second.
Affectionately known as “The West”, the James Braid-designed West Essex was founded in 1900. Epping Forest, Chingford, provides a beautiful location for this parkland layout, offering picturesque views across the city of London, including many famous landmarks such as the London Eye and Wembley Stadium.
It’s a course of two distinctive nines, with the tree-lined front nine winding its way through the forest, whilst the back nine is longer and flatter.
A fun fact: West Essex is home to the smallest championship green in England. Members nickname the downhill par 3 5th, which measures 159 yards, the “Frying Pan”. With a putting surface that measures just 14 yards, it rather goes without saying that club selection is crucial.
Abridge Golf & Country Club, set in 240 acres of beautiful parkland, has matured beautifully since opening in the 1960s, and Sir Henry Cotton’s layout has hosted Open Championship qualifying in more recent times. This gives you an idea of the quality of the course, which is, without doubt, one of the best in the county.
Golfers are treated to some wonderful elevation changes and several plateau greens. As well as making for a great variety of holes, the undulations do a fine job shielding the sound of the nearby M25. As close as it is, there’s no shortage of wonderful views of the Essex countryside.
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