Just outside Welwyn-Garden-City in Hertfordshire, the Brocket Hall Estate holds an enviable reputation as one of London and the South East’s most prestigious golfing venues. This is definitely not your run-of-the-mill golf club. There are two championship courses and a top class golf academy, plus the opportunity to indulge in some genuine fine dining and to stay overnight in the elegant Lodge accommodations.
The courses are each named after 19th Century Prime Ministers, Lord Palmerston and Lord Melbourne, but they are very different in character. The Palmerston is a woodland course that threads its way among the ancient oaks, while the Melbourne meanders across the estate, dotting the rolling parkland landscape with an array of bunkers and incorporating water features on the opening and closing holes – complete with a ferry ride to the 18th green!
Playing the Melbourne Course
Opened in 1992 and designed by Peter Alliss and Clive Clark, the Melbourne Course sets about its businesses immediately. There’s no easing you into your round, so you need to make sure you’re warmed up and ready to go. Negotiating the quirky left to right fairway and avoiding the neighbouring River Lea are the challenges from the tee, but the inevitable hanging lie and the long narrow green mean the approach shot is no picnic either.
Moments later you are presented with an equally daunting prospect, as the raised tee gives you good sight of the River Lea and the lengthy carry to the green of this intimidating par 3. It’s certainly a beautiful looking hole, though that may come as scant consolation if you’re left watching your ball disappear downstream. Still, negotiate this opening duo and there’s a little light relief at the next.
Driving away over the contoured fairway of the first par 5 on the course rewards you with an approach towards a green nestled nicely amongst the pine trees. There’s plenty of room with the second shot, but the best angle to play in from is undoubtedly the flatter right hand side of the fairway.
Bizarre as it sounds, remembering to cross the water is the key to playing the fourth! From the tee, the obvious target is the 16th green, and I am sure the occasional visitor has learned their mistake too late. The hole as it should be played turns right and again flirts with the imposing River Lea. Fortunately, there is no such issue on the fifth, another par 5 that, despite the plentiful bunkers that line both sides of this dog-leg, represents another early birdie chance.
After the shorter sixth and seventh holes, the prudent play on the eighth is to hit towards the left-hand bunker from the tee. At the corner of this dog-leg, the hole descends and turns dramatically to the right. It’s a short approach across a dip in the fairway, but there is a severe back-to-front slope in the green, making control of distance key. It’s a similar story on the short hole that follows, but the drop is more pronounced with fall-offs on all sides of the green.
The tenth hole offers an early chance to open the shoulders on the back nine. Curving from left to right from the tee, a good drive is rewarded with an enticing shot towards a green surrounded by bunkers.
Turning back in the opposite direction, the eleventh represents a much sterner challenge. It’s shorter in length, but also in par. It’s a strong hole, and a fine precursor to the pair of classic short par 4s that follow. The first of these provides an opportunity to pinch the corner of the dog-leg for a shorter shot into a tricky green. The following hole, the thirteenth, tempts you into taking too much from the tee, with sand intruding the closer you get to the green.
The fourteenth is the longest par 3 on the course, but despite the yardage the hole doesn’t play quite as long as it would suggest. From the tee, the shot is deceptive, as it appears necessary to fly the ball the entire distance. In truth, the approach to the green is quite flat and indeed a ball can be run up on to the green.
After the dog-leg left fifteenth hole, the final three holes shape a strong finish to the Melbourne Course. The sixteenth gently shapes round to the right as the course again approaches the River Lea, before crossing over the water with the second shot to the three-tiered green. Seventeen is another dog-leg right, but with the elevation of the fairway it’s very easy to leave a long, uphill shot for the approach. It’s also a green on which you’ll ideally want to be below the hole, as the severity of the back-to-front slope is only obvious when you reach for the putter. You’ll certainly prefer to be putting up the hill.
The closing hole is particularly memorable. A long descending par 5 that allows a safe three shot option or, for the bold, brave and possibly foolish, a grandstand ‘Hollywood’ finish. For longer hitters the temptation will be greatest as a strong drive over the bunkers leaves a particularly appealing shot. With the final flourish played out in front of Brocket Hall and its majestic surroundings, it would be hard not to succumb to the hubris and your chance of glory. In your mind’s eye, that momentous shot across the River Lea will provide a fitting and thrilling finale to your round.
The Melbourne Course is a terrific blend of obstacles and opportunities. It makes for a very enjoyable round of golf, and succeeds in being a good challenge for the low handicap golfer but not so formidable as to be unplayable for the high handicapper. For a comparatively modern course, if fits quite seamlessly with the classic surrounds of this country estate and would be well worth the trip to Hertfordshire in its own right, but add in another championship course and the other attractions Brocket Hall offers and you can see why it enjoys the reputation it does. While I didn’t eat at the Auberge Restaurant, it looked first-class, and anyone that likes to tinker with their swing will be happy whiling away the hours at The Academy.
The Palmerston Course also has a sterling reputation, so you might choose to whip round 36 in a day. Of course, with the Melbourne Lodges on-site, you have the choice to play the two at a more leisurely pace, something that seems more befitting of such a refined country estate.
Details of the latest offers and memberships at Brocket Hall can be viewed here.