Pictured: Your author hitting 7-Wood to the Par 3 1st Hole at The Berkshire (Blue)
Like all Golf Club Manager’s, I have a love – hate relationship with course reviews. I use them regularly through the top 100 website when researching golfing trips and I often check that website, as well as Tripadvisor, Facebook & Golfshake to monitor any reviews that Royal Cromer has received. I generally use a basic rule to ignore the very best and worst reviews and focus on the others as nearer reality.
When ranking golf courses, choices are often controversial. How on earth do you compare for example, a true links course like Hunstanton with a pure parkland course like Little Aston? The truth is, of course that all reviews and rankings are highly subjective but nevertheless offer a great subject for debate.
I will attempt to offer some quantitative means of ranking the courses that I play by rating each hole out of 10, based upon design, setting and condition. A further 20 marks are awarded for the overall experience, flow and the crucial ‘fun’ element. Finally the overall mark out of 200 is converted to a percentage for easy comparison.
- Royal County Down 90%
- Royal Birkdale 85%
- Notts 80%
- Burnham & Berrow 77%
- Rye 76%
- Hunstanton 74%
- Royal Cromer 72%
- Thetford 71%
- Flempton 70%
- Bath 67%
- Great Yarmouth & Caister 66%
- Painswick 63%
- Eaton (Norwich) 61%
- Ryston Park 60%
Full reviews below:
Bath is rated the second best course in Somerset behind Burnham & Berrow by http://www.top100golfcourses.co.uk. I am not too sure about that – B & B is out on its own in that County and there is a host of courses vying for space behind them – but what I do know is that Bath offers a great variety of holes over undulating parkland with wonderful panoramic views.
The quality starts early, with the excellent short par 4 2nd hole, where you are offered variety from the tee, with the wide fairway tempting you to go for the green, which narrows dramatically the closer you get. A lay-up to the right is easy, but offers a tougher angle to the sloping green.
The 3rd sets the tone with the variety, contrasting with the opening holes with a long par 4 requiring a blind tee-shot and an accurate approach to a green that slopes dramatically off to the left. Stop to admire the spectacular views.
The course mellows round the turn with flatter, more bland landscapes before revving up again for the closing six holes. The par 3 14th would be quite straightforward were it not for the huge ‘quarry’ between tee and green.
The finish is strong, with another great short par 4 with the right-angled left to right dogley 17th and downhill par 4 finish.
In my experience, the conditioning at Bath is often excellent and the greens can get extremely quick. With a lack of top 100 courses nearby, Bath can often get overlooked by golf tour organisers. This is a shame as the course offers great fun and an assortment of interesting challenges. Golfers staying in the lively and beautiful nearby City will not be disappointed.
Overall Score: 67%
Notts Golf Club near Mansfield is magnificent. Alongside Woodhall Spa (Hotchkin) it is the best inland course that I have played in England (I have not had the pleasure of Ganton, which is highly rated by many).
The individual star of the show is the sublime downhill Par 3 13th – a rare perfect 10 awarded here. This hole has a variety of different teeing areas, playing to a maximum of 241 yards, although the slope means it does not quite play as long as the scorecard suggests. With abundant heather, rugged bunkers and an undulating green, this is as good as a short hole gets for me.
There is also a fitting finish to your round, with the exciting long par 4 18th completing your round right in front of the clubhouse.
Although there are any number of excellent holes, the overall feel, atmosphere and vistas add up to more than the sum of the parts – it truly is a stunning environment in which to hit a small ball around.
The small number of ‘average’ holes prevent Notts from challenging the best of the best courses, but with the improvements that the Club continue to make, including the introduction of top class practice facilities, if it is not already there, add this place to your bucket list.
Overall Score: 80%
Hunstanton often vies with Royal West Norfolk in the ranking for Best course in Norfolk. It is an interesting battle as they are quite different courses with very different ‘feels’. Hunstanton is a connoisseurs links course that may lack a certain beauty but is packed full of excellent, fair and pure golf holes.
The 6th and 7th holes offer the ‘wow’ factor on the opening 9 with frightening run-offs, huge bunkers and narrow sloping green surfaces raising the golfers pulse. It is the 9th hole, however, that takes the pick for best hole on the front side, a straightaway par 5 with a challenging carry from the tee, numerous bunkers and a sloping green.
The back 9 contains one of the worst holes that I have ever played on a top course in the blind long par 3 14th, but the last 5 holes more than make up for it with a fantastic finish.
The putting greens at Hunstanton are amongst the best and most consistent in the country – truly outstanding world class surfaces.
As an overall package Hunstanton is perhaps a good example of a course that is greater than the sum of its parts. This is pure, sometimes brutal links golf for the serious golfer and is immensely enjoyable.
Overall Score: 74%
If there was a dictionary of golf, then the image shown under the definition of ‘hidden gem’ would be Flempton.
This special 9-hole course is tucked privately away in a nondescript part of Central Suffolk. Once you turn off the A-road and approach the pretty Clubhouse, a sense of peace and relaxation flows through you in anticipation of the fun ahead.
With three loops of three holes, you are never far from the clubhouse and the intimacy of the place gives a sense that it is a private, most English of gardens.
The location of the bunkers dictate the strategy for each hole, and with over 80 across just 9-holes, it is rare that your sand wedge will remain in the bag for long. All of the holes are good with just perhaps the recently re-designed Par 3 5th a little out of character with the rest of the course, which has remained pretty much unaltered for over 100 years. My personal favourite is the short Par 4 7th, which entices you into being ambitious from the tee before punishing you with a wry smile.
Like Ryston Park, the overall rating of this course suffers when compared to 18 hole layouts due to the limited tee options. Over 9 holes, however, this is one of the very best.
With consistently immaculate conditioning, this secret garden of a golf course should be on the must play list of all golfers.
Overall Rating: 70%
The jewel in the crown of ‘England’s Golf Coast’, perhaps the finest stretch of golfing terrain in the UK is Royal Birkdale, a magnificent beast of a links course.
Whilst it does not offer fantastic views of the sea, every other element that I wish for in a links course is included – great conditioning, rolling dunes, immaculate bunkering, wispy fescue rough, superb routing, birdie opportunities and brutal long par 4’s.
The highlight for me is the par 3 12th hole – a perfect 10 and you can see why.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Royal Birkdale is that it has no weaknesses. It does not possess the jaw dropping run of 10 rated holes that Royal County Down can boast, but arguably the weaker holes at Birkdale are better than their equivalent on RCD.
The art deco Clubhouse is one of the finest in the country, managing to balance a sense of history, Open Championship memories, style and comfort.
The views, food and service from the upstairs restaurant are exceptional. A very classy course and facility.
Overall Score: 85%
Ryston Park is a gem of a 9-Hole course in West Norfolk just outside Downham Market on the edge of the fens.
This is a pure parkland track that contains many of the elements that I enjoy. The fairways are generous but the strategy level is high, when hitting the wrong side of the fairway can often result in a blocked approach shot by one of the many magnificent trees.
The conditioning is often excellent, especially considering the limited budget. The rough allows you to find your ball but still makes the next shot more challenging. The routing is very good and all these factors combine to keep the fun element high.
The best holes arrive early, with the opening two holes both fine par 4’s requiring a good range of shot-making. The sixth is another strong 2 shotter with a great fun drive from an elevated position with a pond to the right and trees to the left making the wide fairway seem more narrow.
The seventh is another fun hole, this time a Par 3 over water with a sloping green.
These course ratings are over 18 holes and Ryston Park suffers in this regard as there are only a single set of tees on each hole. In this day and age however, with limited leisure time an issue, the shorter courses can be a real sucess and Ryston Park is one which you can expect to feature strongly in my upcoming feature on the best 9 Holer’s in East Anglia.
Overall Score: 60%
Eaton is an extremely well-appointed Club near to the centre of the wonderful County town of Norwich. It is a very well run with a welcoming atmosphere and rightly claims itself as the Premier Members Club in Norwich.
The course itself is full of very solid, undulating heavily tree-lined holes. The highlights are perhaps the 8 rated Par 3 2nd and the Par 5 16th.
The second will require a mid-iron to a small green. A fearsome bunker at the front of the green adds an element of fear that leads the golfer to hold the club just that bit tighter than normal.
The sweeping downhill left to right dogleg Par 5 16th offers the chance of a birdie or indeed can be a card wrecker. An adventurous drive needs to be shaped with the hole in order to avoid running out of fairway. The hole narrows nearer the green with a long approach shot fraught with danger both left and right.
The horrible severe dog-leg 18th provides a slightly unfair finish with a right angle bend around 190 yards from the tee and the trees on the dog-leg so tall that they prevent a shot with a long enough Club to carry them. A straight tee shot to the corner will put the green out of reach with the second shot.
Overall a programme of tree removal would probably benefit by making the course more playable and bringing the Driver more into play. This would also help make the conditioning more consistent by removing areas of shade from greens.
Whilst the Hotel based courses in Norwich market themselves more widely, if you are looking for the best course currently in close vacinity to the City, then look no further than Eaton.
Overall Score: 61%
Burnham & Berrow
When I was a kid growing up and starting golf, I lived with my parents in Somerset. Hands down the best course in this County was Burnham and Berrow, a fine links course just off the M5.
As a newcomer to the game, this was the course that really introduced me to not only links golf, but top quality championship conditioning. The scale of the undulations and the severity of the run-offs and green speeds were beyond the level of my fledgling game at the time, but they burnt a deep memory and fondness that still rings true today.
The course contains no less than 5 holes with a 9 rating, including three of the first five and the closing 2 holes.
The course starts at an alarming pace and severity, with the first 5 holes winding through duneland with severe changes in elevation reminding one of the choppiest of ocean swells.
This opening stretch of holes would hold its own against the equivalent stretch on any of the Open venues. Equally the closing pair of holes including a long par 3 followed by a brutal dog-leg Par 4 finishing hole are both magnificent in their aesthetics and scale.
The middle holes in comparison do not have quite the same feel, with a lower lying, marshland type appearance. Conditioning is usually exceptional all year round and given their contours, the greens can become a scary experience when they are cut tight.
The straight out and back nature of the routing is not my favourite as you are constantly facing the same wind direction. Particularly if you are facing 9 holes straight into the wind, this can get quite tiresome!
Please make the trek to play this course – you will not be disappointed. If you have the time, nip out and play the excellent 9 hole Channel course – many of the holes would not be out of place on the main Championship layout.
Overall Score: 77%
Set amongst a picturesque pine forest/heathland mix, Thetford has to be one of the most under-rated courses in England.
I am not a fan of Par 3 opening holes and the rating of this hole is affected by its position on the course
What follows this, though is a very solid sequence of four holes that require the golfer to work through a full repertoire of skills to keep their score in tact.
The building of the busy A11 road through the original course led to the loss of several holes. The new holes follow a slightly military course through stands of pine trees and add a somewhat uninteresting finish to the front side.
The back 9 holes are all very good with the highlight possibly the short par 3 16th, just a short iron to an ‘island’ style green circled by a large bunker, heather and gorse.
A restriction on irrigation usage can lead to the course drying out in mid-summer and perhaps the Spring is the best time to visit. The crossing of a very busy road twice during the round affects the routing rating slightly and should be treated with care.
With travel routes from the South particularly improving in recent years, there is less excuse for Thetford remaining a hidden gem. The recent purchase of the land from the Crown Estate has put the Club on more solid footing for the future. Make no mistake, this is a seriously good golf course.
Overall rating: 71%
Royal County Down
Any visit to a world top 100 ranked Club is special. A visit to a course ranked in the top 10 in the world is more of a pilgrimage. And so it was that I took the short flight from Bristol to Belfast, hired a car and took the hour drive to reach golfing mecca.
Wow Wow Wow! If you are lucky enough to find a rare clear day then the setting is breathtaking – with the course set amongst rugged sand dunes and gorse, flanked by the beach and the Mourne Mountains.
It is difficult to imagine a better front 9 in all the world, ranking 83 with four perfect 10’s, four 9’s and a lonesome 8.
Each hole winds its way majestically through perfect golfing terrain, as if planted there by a golfing God.
Every hole is superb but my absolute highlights were the par 3 4th hole, set amongst a perfect vista of gorse, bunkers and mountains and the the 9th hole, a par 4 where the blind drive falls away to a beautifully contoured fairway.
The conditioning is magnificent – perfect yet still wild in places. It is difficult to describe how challenging the greens, surrounds and bunkers are – most golfers will very rarely have had their games tested in such a way. The difficulty in general may lead to anybody with more than a 16 handicap to lose some enjoyment – but this should not take away from how good this place is.
With relative comparison, the back 9 is not as perfect as the front, and the last couple of holes in particular are perhaps the weakest on the course. It is all relative, however, with four 9 ratings and a 10 hardly being shabby.
For some, the multitude of blind shots on the course are a weakness. I can understand this view but there is also something appealing about hitting a shot over the horizon and into the unknown.
RCD truly merits its spot near the very summit of world golf. Yes it is remote. Yes you could travel thousands of miles to get there and often be rained off, but oh my goodness, when the sun shines it is truly golfing heaven.
Overall Score: 90%
Painswick Golf Club in Gloucestershire surely has good claim to be one of the most unusual and quirky courses in all of world golf.
Rising to 900ft above sea level, the course is set on Painswick Beacon, a 3000 year old Bronze Age Hill Fort. The great ramparts of earth and stone that enclose all or part of the 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th and 11th holes are remarkable and ones mind is drawn to those calendars of ‘Impossible Golf Holes’ when seeing them for the first time.
At only 4831 yards long it is no monster. Set as it is on common land the course is impossible to play on Sundays given the number of walkers present. Although the turf is generally good for golf, the challenge for green-keepers is immense given the terrain and hence the conditioning is less than perfect.
After the 1st hole, which is straight up a ridiculously steep hill and kind of sums up the craziness to follow, the courses settles nicely into a series of short, very quirky challenges. Stood on the 5th tee with a marker saying 114 yards you have no idea where to go. I have rated this hole as high as a 5 simply for its magic dust insanity.
The best hole on the course is the 9 rated Par 3 6th hole – a beaut with incredible views and great undulations
To sum up, would Painswick appear on my list of top 100 courses in England? No. Would I recommend it amongst my top 10 quirky, fun, unique places to play? Absolutely and it scores highly on the bonus scores because of this. It is not far from the M5 motorway and if you are travelling through the area, pack a half-set of clubs, your sense of humour and discover a course that you will be telling your mates about for years to come.
Overall Score: 63%
It was with much anticipation that I made the long trip South in early summer 2017 to play at Rye. This is a golf club that is quite difficult to get a tee-time and that sense that you are visiting somewhere that is exclusive adds to the adrenaline.
What I found did not disappoint – at times epic landscapes and green complexes for the ages.
I must start with my first perfect 10 – the par 3 7th hole is a mid-iron for most players but the penalty for missing the green is severe on any side. A missed green here will leave you perplexed on exactly how to play your second shot and rather than how to get it close to the hole you are left to wonder exactly how you may keep it on the green. Indeed it can rightly be argued that the most difficult shots at Rye are your second’s on the Par 3’s!
A trio of truly epic Par 4’s at the 4th, 6th and 13th all achieve a 9 rating, making spectacular use of the dune ridge that runs through the course. All could easily have been 10’s.
The greens and surrounds including bunkers are extremely challenging and at times take you apart. There is only a single Par 5 and this comes at the first hole before you have a chance to get properly warmed up. It could be argued that, as a Par 68, Rye is almost too tough to get the full enjoyment. This may be the case for some, and particularly if you are playing a medal. It is in match-play that the course really serves as a perfect backdrop.
All in all, if you combine 18 holes with the sumptuous and incredible lunch, there are few better places in the UK to spend a day. If you are lucky enough to receive an invite then cancel all other plans and head to Sussex for a great experience.
Overall Score: 76%
Great Yarmouth & Caister
The golfing outpost of Great Yarmouth and Caister in my experience divides opinion – golfers either love it or hate it. Personally I love it – a slightly quirky but true links experience in the main.
The main quirk of the course is the fact that it plays alongside, over and next to Yarmouth Race Track. The unusual bit is that the track is in play! When you first hit onto it – you think ‘that does not look too bad’ until when you get there the grass is lush and thick and frankly horrible.
The course contains a really enjoyable stretch between the 4th and 16th with a slightly weak and out of character start and finish. The undoubted highlight is the Par 4 11th hole – a hole that would fit in nicely with a number of Open venues – it has shades of Birkdale or Troon as you hit to a valley between sand dunes and then another long shot to a beautiful green site – a truly stunning golf hole.
The conditioning of the course could unkindly be described as rough – there are no real fairways as such – just areas between gorse, bunkers, dunes or a racetrack. The experience of pushing a trolley is interesting as you can often feel like you are holding a road drill with all the vibrations. At the time of writing, they are putting in some paths to alleviate some of this issue.
Although the first couple of holes and particularly the 17th can get very wet, in the main Yarmouth is a superb winter course. It is not particularly aesthetically pleasing in places but for links lovers it offers a fantastic days golfing.
The Clubhouse is very welcoming although in need of a spruce up – significant work due to commence in February 2018. As the oldest Club in Norfolk, Great Yarmouth and Caister offers much history and you feel that if there were other quality courses nearby then it would benefit more from visitor trade and be more widely acknowledged.
Overall Score: 66%
It is of course very difficult to post an unbiased review of your home course. Nevertheless I hope that this can act as a great benchmark for my reviews of other courses that I play.
Front 9: The 1st is an excellent starting hole, with a wide fairway allowing players to get away with no bother, before a demanding second shot over the corner of a steep drop-off. The 2nd and 3rd are shortish par 4’s with superb green complexes before a spectacular elevated tee-shot on the 4th. The 6th and 7th are both demanding par 4’s, with views along the coast to the pier on the cliff-side 6th. The nine finish off with a daunting downhill par 3 surrounded by bunkers. Rating: 64
Back 9: After a subdued start, the back nine takes off on the signature 14th hole with the lighthouse beside the green. Tony Jacklin once flew in by helicopter to play this hole as part of his ‘favourite 18’ followed by the TV cameras. Perhaps the best hole on the course is the 15th, another strong par 4, with a narrow tee shot through a valley of fern and gorse covered banks followed by an uphill approach to a lightning fast green. The 16th is a risk and reward short Par 4 with spectacular views in all directions, before the pulse quickens again with a tiny par 3 17th where the penalty for missing the green is severe. The 18th is a suitable finish to a varied and fun last 5 holes, offering a final view of the iconic lighthouse. Rating: 63
Summary: Royal Cromer offers terrific fun golf with a varied mix of demanding long holes and birdie opportunities. The bunkering is strong throughout and the conditioning is consistently top class. The routing is somewhat difficult, with some hilly terrain. The clubhouse is functional but welcoming with an interesting History Room. The food and welcome are consistently good.
Overall Rating: 72%