Growing up in the South – West of England, 9-hole course offerings were generally municipal ‘pitch and putts’ or inferior add-ons to golf complexes designed to attract the pay and play market.
Imagine my surprise then, after moving to East Anglia (for this ranking it includes Norfolk and Suffolk only), to discover a wealth of top quality short courses, many of which have celebrated their centenary.
In an age where leisure time and disposable income are increasingly squeezed, these courses offer a high quality golfing alternative without the 5-hour round and in most cases at fantastic value for money. Lets look at the top 10.
10. Mundesley Golf Club
Tucked away at a remote part of the North Norfolk coast, Mundesley can sometimes struggle to attract the visitors that the course deserves. Those that have made the effort though, can be forgiven for wanting to keep it their little secret.
Established in 1901 with the help of the legendary Harry Vardon, the 6 times Open Champion was to return to Mundesley in slightly unfortunate circumstances in 1903 to attend the sanatorium for treatment for tuberculosis. His recovery was in some way helped when he made a hole-in-one at the 6th during this time.
As part of a wider sports complex that includes an indoor bowls rink (several international bowlers are members) and a horse racing track that holds a number of top class meets every season, the golf course at Fakenham in central Norfolk can often be overshadowed. This is a shame because it is a great little course that contains a lovely mix of fun holes.
The course has been on its present site since 1974, although there has been a Golf Club in Fakenham since 1889. There are six holes sited around the outside of the race course, with three holes inside the track. This routing makes it impossible to play the course on race days.
The holes outside the track are very attractive parkland beside a river. The three holes inside the track contain a more featureless character given that any vegetation has to be kept down to allow racegoers to view the horses around the whole of the race course.
8. Ipswich Golf Club (Bixley)
Ipswich Golf Club (often referred to as ‘Purdis Heath’, over which the course runs) contains an 18-Hole layout that ranks in the top – 50 in England. Local golfers however, will tell you not to overlook the merits of the shorter Bixley course.
With a Par of 31 and under 2000 yards in length, the course can easily be played in 60-90 minutes, offering a high quality round in double-quick time.
7. Dereham Golf Club
Dereham is a pretty course sited on the outskirts of the market town in Central Norfolk.
This is gently undulating parkland golf that requires well thought out shot-making in order to score well.
Together with Southwold, Dereham provides the greatest range of different tee options of any of the courses on the list – adding pleasing variety for those playing 18 holes or making a second visit.
6. Feltwell Golf Club
At first glance, this very flat expanse of land situated at the edge of the fens in West Norfolk appears to offer little chance of quality golf. How wrong you would be!
A mixture of clever course design, subtle but significant undulations and free draining soil create a course that exceeds all expectations.
Playing like an inland links with the wind whipping across the fenland and firm soil, each hole contains clever angles and design features to create an exciting, fun experience.
As part of a former RAF base, the level of quirkiness is kept high as golfers are required at various points to avoid concrete installations, formerly used to fire Thor missiles.
5. Ryston Park Golf Club
Ryston Park is a pure parkland layout similar in nature to both Fakenham and Dereham. Ryston just about shades those two in the rankings due to the excellent routing and strategic course design that offers a wonderful experience for all levels of golfer.
The fairways are generally wide but the tee-shots need to be placed at a certain angle to avoid a more difficult approach. The holes vary in length and direction, making the golfer use all the Clubs in the bag and a range of shot shapes to fit the situations.
Generally excellent conditioning adds to the quality. The unnecessary lack of tee-options prevents this course from possibly rising further up the top 10.
4. Southwold Golf Club
Sited on the Common just outside the popular seaside resort, Southwold Golf Club offers some wonderful heathland golf.
Interestingly, this used to be an 18-Hole course until the great floods of January 1953 left the lower – lying parts under 10 feet of water. Despite years of attempts to find a solution, the Club finally settled on the nine-hole layout.
This course makes great use of different tee options, lending some significantly different distances and angles for holes. This really adds to the variety when playing 18 holes and for the visitor that only has time for nine, will surely make them want to return to play the alternative tees.
3. Woodbridge Golf Club (Forest)
As a 9-hole complement to a top 100 listed 18-hole course, the Forest nine at Woodbridge ranks right up there with Burnham and Berrow (Channel) for the best I have played.
Added to the facility in the late 1980’s following the purchase of additional land from the Forestry Commision, the Forest course contains all of the attributes that you would expect from a classic heathland layout. The relaxed atmosphere, pleasing aesthetics and great value for money make this an excellent choice for scratch and high handicap golfers alike and perhaps offers a glimpse into the template for modern course design and layout.
2. Royal Worlington & Newmarket Golf Club
Perhaps the most ‘famous’ nine-hole course in the country, a Spring evening at Royal Worlington offers the golfer everything that they could wish for.
The green complexes here are extraordinary. With run-offs, humps and swales, huge bunkers and firm quick surfaces they match any Open Championship venue. At the time of the Masters in April, the green speeds at Worlington will often match or exceed Augusta National.
As a very private members Club, this is not the easiest course to gain access and the green fees are not cheap, but if you get a chance – jump at it. And make sure to include the wonderful tea and cake after play – and perhaps the famous Pink Jug beverage.
1. Flempton Golf Club
Many will be surprised to see Royal Worlington pipped for the top spot, but this little gem of a course in central Suffolk is worthy of the accolade.
Originally established in 1895, significant extension and re-design were conducted by JH Taylor in 1906. The fact that the layout remains pretty well unchanged since then adds a wonderful sense of history when playing the course.
With three loops of three holes, you are never far from the clubhouse and adds a feeling of coziness to the experience – as if you are playing in somebodies private garden.
The many bunkers (there are over 80) offer the main challenge, but this is a course that you cannot help but play with a smile on your face. The pretty heathland setting, the exceptional conditioning and the wonderful routing make this the best 9-hole course in East Anglia and possibly the country.