Brocket Hall - a true Hertfordshire gem!

Brocket Hall - a true Hertfordshire gem!

by Matt Coles

Unless blessed with sufficient stamina to take on 36 holes in a day or the wherewithal to stay the night in Melbourne Lodge and play two courses over two days, visitors to Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire are faced with an agonizing choice – the Melbourne or the Palmerston?

Opinion is pretty evenly divided at to which is the better but all are agreed that both are truly outstanding courses which combine to make Brocket Hall one of the most appealing golf venues in England.

Romantics with a fondness for classical English landscapes and a feel for history might prefer the Melbourne, which is the older of the two. Named after Lord Melbourne, who was Prime Minister in the first half of the 19th century and lived in the magnificent Brocket Hall that proudly dominates the 500-acre estate, it gently rolls around this perfect piece of English parkland.

With majestic specimen trees sprinkled liberally about, the handsome backdrop of Brocket Hall and a glorious lake complete with waterfalls and an abundance of wildlife, the Peter Alliss designed course provides a visual feast as well as a tough test.

After teeing off under the stern gaze of the big house and negotiating the severely sloping first fairway that the planners, for aesthetic reasons, insisted be devoid of bunkers, you will happily lose yourself in the lovely landscape. 

With its demanding carries and watery menace, the lake – which comes into play both early and late in the round – obliges you to focus on the job in hand and not be distracted by the Arcadian beauty of the surroundings. Crossing the pretty stone bridge that spans the lake is significantly more enjoyable if your ball stays dry.

The fourth and final time that you have to take on the lake is on the fabulous final hole. A sweeping downhill par five, it provides a fitting climax and a great matchplay hole where, if you crack a decent drive away, you might feel tempted to go for the green in two.

Irrespective of how many shots it took you to reach the green, you can ride on the automatic ferry that gently floats golfers over the water to the other side. As you cross, look left and you’ll see the Auberge du Lac, a fabulous fine-dining restaurant. And then look right for the oak tree beneath which Elizabeth was sitting in 1558 when she was informed by a galloping horseman that she was the new Queen.

Those who managed to stay awake during history lessons at school will, of course, know that Lord Palmerston was Lord Melbourne’s Foreign Secretary and later succeeded him as Prime Minister. And the golf course that bears his name is certainly every inch the equal of its illustrious neighbour.

Its character, however, is rather contrasting as it’s a woodland course that has been sensitively routed through what was originally part of Hatfield Forest. Enormous care has been taken to preserve the hardwood trees in particular and Donald Steel, the architect, deserves considerable credit for the unobtrusive way the course sits so comfortably in its historic setting.

Although opinion among the members as to which is the more enjoyable is pretty evenly divided, because there are no long carries over water, the Palmerston is the undoubted winner with the shorter hitters. Somewhat tighter between the trees than the more forgiving Melbourne, the Palmerston is also said to favour those who are more accurate off the tee.

The more testing gradients on the immaculate greens also appeal to those fortunate enough to possess a reliable putting stroke. But irrespective of whether you putt wonderfully well or rather poorly you will appreciate the glorious views over the surrounding countryside that the elevated Melbourne provides in abundance.

Wentworth and Woburn, with which Brocket Hall is often compared, both have three courses and, as there would appear to be sufficient room for it, might a third be added here? The Disraeli or the Cameron or possibly the Sunak?

With two outstanding courses, exceptionally comfortable accommodation, an outstanding restaurant, first-class practice facilities, a delightful par three course, a famed academy and swing studio, over 500 acres of glorious Hertfordshire countryside and easy access to the A1 and M25, Brocket Hall has everything including, of course, heaps of history.