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  • Neil White

Thorndon Park

A brace of pheasants and an eagle were witnessed as we enjoyed the 84th venue in my challenge to play England's top 100 golf courses.

Yes, the natural wildlife at Thorndon Park was complimented by our big-hitting host nailing a three on a par five.

Alas, he and I couldn't do enough to defeat a combination of his pal and Mrs W who I re-renamed elle bandita for the day.

She took advantage of the fact that sensible course management will likely reap rewards at this Essex track.

The first hole sets the tone at Thorndon Park - you can see almost every flag from the tee and the major threat is well-placed bunkers, typical for a Harry Colt course.

The bounce on the green also gave us fair warning of what was to come - unusually for a parkland track, they don't hold because they are built on clay.

It certainly wasn't the last time I watched in dismay as my approach trundled past the target and off the putting surface.

The four par-threes are among the highlights, None are any longer than 175 yards but all are well protected by bunkers and have deceptive lead-ins.

The most picturesque and simultaneously potentially most ruinous is the 15th which demands a flick across water as well as sand traps into a green leaning heavily from left to right.

Failure to hit the green will almost certainly result in a bogey.

Water plays a significant part at Thorndon Park and the third hole is where it is most visible although it only comes into play if the mind lets it because the carry from the whites is only about 150 yards.

It struck me that water could have been even more of a feature with some judicious pruning which would add to the course's attractiveness.

It certainly poses problems on the fourth hole where a decently hit drive may find a hidden brook which crosses the fairway and cuts in front of the green.

My travels have now taken in many courses designed by Colt and the style of the bunkers are a giveaway to his work.

This is most evident on the 13th where four big traps are at an angle across the fairway.

The hall which gives the backdrop to the 18th hole and the practice putting green offers a clue to Thorndon Park's heritage.

Apparently, its former owners, the Petre family entertained George III there as far back as 1778 and Capability Brown designed the park which was a famous spot for aristocrats to hunt deer. Its ancient oaks date back to the 1500s.

Nowadays, the only shooting is for birdies of the non-feathered variety as Mrs W proved with a two on the second while my playing partner followed his eagle on the par-five 11th with a two on the 12th which was perilously close to an ace.

The old hall was the clubhouse for many years but is now home to private apartment dwellers who have a cracking view of the course.

Meanwhile, golfers have a splendid, modern clubhouse and a rather lovely veranda with a hatch where excellent food and drinks are served,

We were given a very warm welcome by members who had given a ripple of applause to our approach shots to the 18th green and were keen to know if we had been 'well looked after'.

We certainly had been. Our well-travelled host was a wonderful companion as well as having the ability to blast rockets off the tee.

He ensured that our five-hour round trip was very much worth it.

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