Home to two of England’s most picturesque parkland courses, and set against the backdrop of a grand stately home, the Brocket Hall Estate remains one of England’s finest golfing venues, whether you enjoy it as a member, a green fee visitor or a golf break guest
Like many golf clubs in post-Covid UK, Brocket Hall has enjoyed something of a boom over the last three years. While for some venues the surge in golf participation has served to add the icing to the top of an already well-baked cake, for Brocket Hall the renewed interest in golf club membership has provided something of a lifeline following a period of uncertainty and instability.
Since emerging from the pandemic, the last 18 months has seen The Melbourne Club – as Brocket Hall Estate’s golf club element has been known since 2019 – enjoy significant growth, with the membership ranks rising from 400 to a new high of 950, and that comes in the face of the introduction of a £6,200 joining fee. Bookings for society and corporate days have also improved dramatically, with many of the golf events that were hosted in 2022 having already rebooked for 2023. And with the golf breaks and wedding and events market having also rebounded in spectacular fashion, the future is looking busier and brighter than it has in a long time at the Welwyn-based venue, which is located on a stunning 500-acre estate some five miles from St Albans and 20 miles from the centre of London.
Having played Brocket’s two courses – The Melbourne and The Palmerston – several times each over a decade ago, I was interested to come back and see how they had matured in that time. The former, which was designed by Peter Alliss and Clive Clark, is the older of the two, having first opened in 1992, and enjoys frontal views of the magnificent hall and features a course which criss-crosses over the River Lea no less than four times. Measuring 6,616 yards from the back tees, the par-72 Melbourne represents an enjoyable but thoroughly challenging test.
The aforementioned river is in play right from the off, waiting to catch anything struck too far to the right at the short par-4 first, while the par-3 second requires a full 170-yard carry directly across the water to a green which is protected by two giant willows on both sides. The wet stuff is back in action at the par-4 fourth, which requires a long drive to open up sight of the green, this time the other side of the river. The view from here, with the old bridge and weir in full flow, is a sight to behold.
The course then moves away from the water. A short par-5 and mid-length par-3 follow before a fine short par-4 with small raised green at the 7th, which features treacherous bunkering. The 8th is a 90-degree dogleg with a fabulous approach over a valley before the front nine ends with a short downhill par-3 that sits right by the hall.
After a quick stop at the halfway house, you get eased into the back nine with a gentle downhill par 5. But don’t get your hopes up as what follows is a brutal uphill par four, that, at 475 yards, only the biggest hitters will find in two. The course then heads back into the woods with a pair of cracking par fours followed by a 200-yard plus par-3. The 15th is another dogleg with the approach shot down the hill to the green on the waterside, while 16th, Waterfall, is another breathtaking holes, which is in effect a reverse of the fourth, requiring a 170-yard second shot over the water, again in sight of the bridge and weir. A short uphill par 4, the 17th, with its green surrounded by a sand-filled moat gives little warning as to what’s to follow for the final hole.
Standing on top of the hill you look straight down at the mighty Brocket Hall, the green in the distance on the far side of the imposing waterway. Follow the winding fairway or boom a drive over the scrub – if you find the short stuff the ball will run down leaving you to decide if to lay up or go for it in two. Most – including me – chicken out, but that still leaves a 140-yard carry over the water to a green that slopes from back to front. Find the putting surface and then enjoy the ride on the quirky, rope-drawn ferry that transports you effortlessly across the water to the safety of dry land on the other side.
All in all, it’s a memorable round – indeed, better than I remembered ¬– with an intriguing mix of holes that demand your respect and attention at every turn. What was just as impressive was the conditioning, with the greens running as smoothly as the billiard table that no doubt adorns the hall’s games room, while the fairways were also in tremendous shape, without a puddle or damp patch in sight, despite a month’s worth of rain falling in the days leading up to my round. A bunker renovation programme is next on the agenda, and that will only serve to further elevate what is already an elevated experience.
With another course still to play, it seemed only sensible to make a two-day trip of it and stay at Brocket Hall’s excellent Melbourne Lodge, a converted Georgian coach house which offers 16 luxury en-suite rooms within a pitching wedge of the first tee on both layouts. Generously proportioned and grandly decorated, the rooms are both comfortable and suitably over the top, with ornate furnishings and vast oil paintings adding to the feeling that you’re a guest at an Edwardian shooting party.
Guests can take their meals in the clubhouse’s excellent Watershyppes brasserie, while from the end of March next year they will also be able to indulge their tastebuds in the estate’s high-end restaurant, Auberge du Lac, which, as its name suggests, enjoys a stunning waterside location and is reopening to members and guests next Spring. Judging by the menu I was served at one of the pop-up nights in the run up to reopening, members and local diners are in for a treat, with a seven-course tasting menu curated by head chef John Barber easily up to Michelin standards, and certainly providing a suitably elevated dining experience that sits alongside Brocket’s other five-star facilities.
After a restful night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast I was ready to tackle Brocket’s second course, the par-73 Palmerston. Unlike the Melbourne, the River Lea doesn’t come into play on this fine course. Instead, there’s bold bunkering to contend with and avenues of trees. Course architects Donald Steel and Martin Ebert have created a strategic course where the golfer is presented with options. Central bunkers divide the third fairway, while the fourth tempts big hitters to drive left, over a small hollow and across the corner of the dogleg.
The short par-5 9th is also tempting to attack in two shots, but cleverly positioned greenside bunkers await anything but the best struck approach shot. Your approach shot on the par-4 12th must negotiate a chalk face which lies some 100 yards from the green. This really is a delightful hole, which requires pinpoint accuracy from the tee. The mid-part of the round is laid out on more open country, before returning to more tree-lined part for the closing stretch, where the 15th and 16th rival any on the course. All in all, the Palmerston offers a well-balanced design that provides a perfect foil to the drama of the Melbourne, and combined are certainly among the best 36 holes of parkland golf to be enjoyed anywhere the country.
A review of the golf facilities is incomplete without a mention of Brocket’s tour-standard practice facilities, which include a full-length driving range, chipping and bunker area, a practice putting green and a six-hole par-3 academy course. And with an indoor studio and a team of highly qualified PGA Professionals on hand, there really is no excuse not to up your game here.
So, whether you’re looking for a new golfing home from home, or simply somewhere to enjoy a slice of golfing heaven for a day or two in one of England’s most beautiful spots, Brocket Hall is ready and waiting.
STAY & PLAY AT BROCKET HALL
Golf break packages, including a round on the Melbourne and Palmerston course, overnight accommodation in the Melbourne Lodge and a full English breakfast, start from £282pp, with one-round packages available from £190pp.
For details of the latest golf breaks, membership enquiries and tee time bookings, please visit www.brocket-hall.co.uk, email [email protected], or call 01707 368700.