By Sam Tremlett
Home to a plethora of great golf courses, we take a look at the best Northumberland has to offer.
The Best Golf Courses In Northumberland
As you would expect from golf up north, there are some truly stunning links, parkland and heathland tracks in the most northerly county in England. 2017 British Masters host, the Colt course at Close House, is the pick of the parkland bunch whilst Goswick Golf Club in Berwick-upon-Tweed is arguably the best links course on offer.
However do not be content with just those two, because there are a number of hidden gems throughout the county. Below, we take a look at some of the best.
Related: Golf Monthly’s UK&I Top 100 Courses
Close House (Colt and Filly)
While the original course at Close House dates back half a century and is great fun to play, it is the relatively recent birth of its big, bold younger sibling that is justifiably bringing in golfing enthusiasts and attracting the plaudits. The Lee Westwood Colt Course opened for play in 2011, and has already built a healthy reputation not just for the challenge of its varied and undulating design, but for the sheer enjoyment it brings to the game with every hole quite distinct and fabulous views.
The expansive layout cleverly traverses the side of a hill overlooking the Tyne Valley, yet steep climbs are surprisingly few and far between. Some of the best holes fall on the back nine, among them the dogleg right 13th, which descends dramatically via a sea of sand, and the gorgeous short par-3 14th that has just a hint of Augusta about it. The Filly course plays to a more modest length, although undulating greens and a pressing need for accuracy ensure a more than adequate test for golfers of all abilities
Linden Hall, created by Jonathan Gaunt in the late 1990s, plays over mature undulating parkland around the grand 19th century mansion. It climbs away from the pro shop, then enjoys a couple of holes with a moorland feel before plunging into woodland on the 4th, an excellent par-3 over reeds and water to a green protected by a tall fir front right. This isn’t the first time a tree will attempt to derail you, for another solitary specimen guarding the late dogleg on the par-5 3rd may well leave you blocked out if your positional play lets you down – the voice of experience! Doglegs are a common feature, mostly favouring the fader, though the 13th twists both ways before finally reaching the green 556 yards away.
The par 3s are all strong and blessed with water, with the 7th - a very pretty downhiller with a walled pond left of the green – bearing a striking resemblance to the 3rd on the Heritage course at The London Club. A pond short of the 15th awaits anything mis-struck or underhit, with more water coming on the excellent par-4 18th both right off the tee and then a little way short of the green on the final approach.
A former host of six European Tour events with winners of the calibre of Lee Westwood and Colin Montgomerie, the Hunting course is one of two very enjoyable designs at this lovely 1,000-acre resort to the west of Newcastle. Dave Thomas has a reputation for very attractive courses, and this par-72 1989 creation is a picture.
Christened ‘the Augusta of the North’ when it first opened in the 1980s the Dave Thomas design has azaleas, rhododendrons and towering pines on most of the holes. These are magnificent surroundings in which to play golf, with the course playing over rolling fairways that mix elements of moorland, parkland and heathland golf with some trickily placed water features, as on par-4 5th with its nervy approach, and the par-3 6th. The views are, at times, liberating, especially on the moorland holes early on the back nine, before a testing final stretch in amongst the trees.
Northumberland is renowned for its beaches and castles, and a visit to Bamburgh Castle Golf Club brings stirring views of both in this north-eastern wilderness. Any club that willingly describes its course as “entertaining” is definitely singing from the “hidden gems” hymn sheet, and that description is spot on. You won’t play a par 4 until the 5th: there are then several your ego will tell you you should knock it on. And yet there are many places where due care and attention needs to be exercised. Fantastic views, a sporting layout and a friendly welcome are just the ingredients we’re looking for here.
It feels as though little has changed here since James Braid laid out the original nine in 1890, though it now has nine more holes and some extra yardage courtesy of Frank Pennink 50 years ago. But this is still unadulterated links golf at its natural best, with the playing arena wedged between rugged duneland and the East Coast mainline. From the 1st, which doglegs right up to a plateau green, to the sometimes reachable par-4 finale, the variety and test never let up, with mischievously placed fairway bunkers ensuring shrewd strategy is a key requirement. The excellent par-3 15th, playing from the dunes down to an intriguing bowl-shaped green, is perhaps the visual highlight.
In golf you occasionally stumble across an unexpected golfing delight, with the little nine-holer at Wooler a fine example. The wiggly, bumpy approach road eventually reaches a modest clubhouse, an honesty box and a splendid moorland course with views to die for, especially from the 7th tee, where the 360˚ panorama is simply immense. Other than the incredibly long downhill 4th – playing even longer into a headwind on my visit – you climb over the opening six holes before playing along the top on the 7th and then cascading steeply back down over the final two. The 3rd is a very pretty par 3 with a narrow stream just short of the green.
In the midst of Northumberland’s historic landscape lies a 7,065-yard slice of Americana golf. Burgham Park was opened in 1994 on a modest budget and has since gone on to host the PGA North Region Championship, which is no small feat for a relatively flat layout. The course relies on fastidious maintenance to create a manicured look that certainly draws the crowds judging by the car park. Cross-cut fairways and lush greens give it a polished feel with the playing conditions certainly intended to impress. Former Ryder Cup captain Mark James formed part of the design team that developed the course, which surrounds a small but exclusive residential development, 16 years ago. The clubhouse is modern and offers great views over the 18th, which is certainly the best hole on the course. The fairway on this 465-yard par 4 is split by a brook with trees either side and brutal bunkers around the green. There are other holes to savour but this is a great one to finish on.
Great views feature prominently in Northumberland and Hexham is no exception with the course set high above the Tyne valley and surrounded by rolling parkland. Originally located at the bottom of the hill by the river, the club moved to more elevated and expansive land 50 years ago and now enjoys Grade-1 listed Spital House as its clubhouse. The course is very pretty but you need to take care when you reach the greens; they are fast and have subtle breaks.
Alnmouth is England’s fourth oldest club dating back to 1869, though today’s Colt layout hails from the 1930s. The course is right on the coast, looking out over Alnmouth and Foxton Bays, yet this is no links, but rather a stout parkland test. This seeming juxtaposition works well, with the pick of the holes – the short 5th and long, testing 6th - playing beside the beach. As you’d expect from a Colt layout, the greens are often protected by slopes and run-offs, testing both accuracy and recovery skills. For the complete Alnmouth experience, why not head down to Alnmouth Village Golf Club, which still plays over the original 1869 nine-hole links.
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Perseverance pays off, so they say, and nowhere is this more evident than at Dunstanburgh Castle. With a history stretching back over 110 years, it has all the hallmarks of a classic links, and certainly looks the part from the car park with wispy grasses and bluebells lining the undulating fairways which were redesigned by James Braid in the 1920s. If first impressions count, Dunstanburgh certainly ticks all the boxes. Unfortunately, the first five holes do little to perpetuate this ideal.
Uninspiring and uneventful, the opening holes call into question the validity of the modest green fee but, as already mentioned, perseverance has its own rewards. From the 5th hole onwards, Dunstanburgh comes alive. From the blandness of the opening quintet, everything changes and the telltale signs of links golf thankfully become apparent. Fast and firm, quirky undulations combine with great playability and the salty sea air to create an invigorating golfing experience. In the time taken to walk from green to tee, Dunstanburgh transforms itself with cracking holes like the 372-yard 8th which follows a subtle dog-leg left over penal dunes, and the signature 13th framed by the castle itself, making it one of the most picturesque par 3s anywhere. Opening holes aside, this is a cracking course.
Established in 1903, play at Magdalene Fields was originally over a nine-hole layout designed by Willie Park of Musselburgh. The course was extended to 18 holes in 1914 but it reverted to nine two years later. The present 18-hole layout dates from 1974. It’s a very scenic course with views out over the North Sea towards Holy Island. Set on cliff-tops just outside Berwick-upon-Tweed, Magdalene Fields features some spectacular holes. Look out for the par-3 8th where the tee shot must be played over a cove.
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