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A64, 9 miles W of Scarborough
Welcome, contact club in advance.
Tom Chisholm, James Braid, Ted Ray, J.H. Taylor, Alister MacKenzie, Tom Simpson and C.K. Cotton
Visit Golfbreaks.com for a golf holiday at Ganton
To classify Ganton as a heathland course is a misnomer – one could just as easily categorise it as an inland links, as it’s situated in the rural Vale of Pickering, nine miles from the sea. This sandy, gently undulating site was once a North Sea inlet. Consequently, it has all the characteristics of a links and a heathland course. Either way, Ganton Golf Club is a perfect place to play golf.
The Scarborough Golf Club (as it was originally called) opened for play in 1891, laid out by St Andrews’ Tom Chisholm. The great Harry Vardon became the club’s pro in 1896, the same year he won his first Open title at Muirfield. This immediately put Ganton on the map.
In 1905, Ted Ray, along with James Braid and J.H. Taylor made alterations to the layout. Alister MacKenzie, Harry Colt and C.K. Cotton made further changes over the next 50 years.
Ganton is surely one of the few inland courses in the British Isles good enough to hold an Open Championship. It would make a pleasant change to break with tradition and hold an Open somewhere inland. After all, Ganton is used to holding important competitions – it hosted the 1949 Ryder Cup, the 2000 Curtis Cup and the 2003 Walker Cup.
The bunkering is quite extraordinary, a real feature of the course. With over 100 cunningly placed bunkers, some of which are simply huge, both in breadth and in depth, whilst others are small. Only lucky (or very good golfers) will avoid the sand traps at Ganton. Bernard Darwin wrote in The Golf Courses of the British Isles, that Ganton “possesses by far the vastest and generally most gorgeous bunker that is to be found, as far as I know, on any inland course. It is a huge pit of sand, with just the depths and shallows, the bays and promontories of the genuine seaside article. It is so large that, by its unaided efforts, it provides highly effective bunkering for the tee shots to the last two holes; and as regards its dimensions, I shall not be flattering it very grossly if I compare it to the bunker in front of the fifth tee at Westward Ho!”
If you blend the Old course at Walton Heath (minus the road noise) with Woodhall Spa’s Hotchkin course and then throw in a touch of Muirfield (without the sea), you’ve got Ganton. Nearly 100 years ago, Bernard Darwin compared Ganton to being “a little like Woking, a little like Worplesdon; and, generally speaking, it is the type of course that one would expect to find in Surrey rather than in Yorkshire.” Occupying open, windswept heathland, it’s a supreme thinking man’s and woman’s test of golf; the fast greens and firm fairways test the very best players. Various types of thick gorse, heather and broom highlight the course during the spring and summer months.
Three short par fours provide the opportunity of a game of risk and reward for the big hitters. A minor downside is the fact that there are only two par threes but the strength of the par fours more than compensates for this. The 4th hole, a 406-yard par four, requires a solid drive to a wide fairway before an undulating green sited on a raised plateau is unveiled. The approach shot must carry across a gully and avoid a canny bunker on the right-hand side of the green. From the raised 5th tee, a short 157-yard par three, you have a great view of the well-protected green. Only an arrow-straight tee shot will suffice. Stray to the left and you will be swallowed up by one of two bunkers, stray to the right and you'll be trapped by a huge curved bunker, which wraps itself around the entire right-hand side of the green.
Ganton is a friendly club that opens its doors warmly to visitors (providing you have a handicap). If you are a serious golfer and have never played here, we strongly recommend it.
I played Ganton on a cool, windy day in April. After a gracious reception by the staff, I found that the course very much lives up to its reputation as a tough but fair examination from tee to green. Fairways are well-bunkered and often lined with stands of gorse....as are the greens. The greens were in outstanding shape. As noted in the James Finegan book, the course provides a constant sense of pressure on your swing (or at least the swing of a low double digit amateur). I found myself playing the longer par 4s as par 5s in order to stay out of trouble off the tee and around the well-trapped greens. None of this is intended as a criticism, just as a reminder of why this course has hosted many significant championships....a high level of play is required to score well. I'm told the wind I experienced is more or less the prevailing condition, resulting in a hard, fast track. I thought I had salvaged a memory during an otherwise mediocre day of scoring on the ~230 yard par 3 17th, but my three wood rolled over the green and I failed to get up and down for par. Still, a real treat for a serious golfer with a sense of the game's history. Would visit again in a heartbeat.
I love golf in the British Isles and visiting Ganton is no exception. The course is located in North Yorkshire which has beautiful rolling countryside and impossible to decipher thick accents. The nearby North York Moors are a national park and the areas surrounding Ganton are comprised of moors rich with bracken, heather and grass that give off a glowing color. The area has a purple hue in the summer from the bursting heather. There is something mysterious and romantic about this part of England and its old stone walls and alluring views.
Ganton is golf from the old school. Aside from 150-yard markers, there are no yardage markers at Ganton. The tops of the flag sticks DO NOT have a GPS target in them. This is golfing the old fashioned way, played by feel, trying to judge the wind and distance by eye or from the distance measured by a bunker or a tree. No golf carts here. This is pure golf. I suppose that deep bunkering is part of the character in the north of England because Ganton also has deep, penal and large bunkers in the style of nearby Woodhall Spa. These are bunkers so deep that you need a ladder to climb in and out of them. I played Ganton without a caddy in sunny, windy conditions. The winter sun was at a low angle in the sky with the crisp air filling my lungs.
The course has a relatively easy start and the front nine isn't terribly difficult or dramatic, although you quickly get a sense that it is wise to stay out of the bunkers and to look around at the idyllic countryside in all directions. Ganton is not unusually short by today's standards, with back tees of 6,935 and would be a real challenge with the wind blowing. The growing conditions in this part of England are ideal due to the rain and cool temperatures, thus, the greens and fairways are as good as any course in the world. I particularly like the 258-yard par three seventeenth hole, where you must hit your tee shot across the entrance road to the course. Yorkshire men are known as a hearty breed, and this hole is built for them.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
Made second visit here today a few years after the first time - and it beat me up again !
GREAT course with numerous MASSIVE bunkers - some fairway bunkers 200 yards out and you are doing well if you get out let alone make any yards !!
Apart from bunkers and even though I could not a hit a cow's a*** with a banjo today I still cant quite work out why it plays so hard BUT IT DOES !!
Give it a go if you haven't already tried it TOP COURSE
It’s hard not to compare Ganton with the Hotchkin course at Woodhall Spa. Both lie on the east side of the country and both sport trademark cavernous bunkers. Undoubtedly the Hotchkin’s bunkers are deeper, but the bunkers at Ganton are still too deep for many golfers to escape from first time – they are beyond penal and I wonder whether they really need to be so yawning. However, I think Ganton’s bunkering is consistent and each adds definition and character, especially on the two-shot holes.
Which is the best course? Well, I’d argue Ganton because it has more interesting greens in terms of slopes, contours and run-off areas (the Hotchkin greens are pretty flat). There’s also a feeling of “bigness” at Ganton, which is somehow missing at Woodhall Spa, couple that with more graceful movement in the Yorkshire land in terms of fairway undulations and my feeling is that Ganton is a clear winner over its younger Lincolnshire counterpart.
Ganton’s first four holes (although not in any way poor) didn’t inspire me and I felt the course came alive at the par three 5th and it continued to hold my attention until the final putt dropped. Until last Saturday, Ganton was the highest ranked English course that I’d not played, and my feeling is that it’s a very good course that richly deserves the high praise it receives from most quarters. I agree with the point made in Jim’s review below regarding the long par three 17th. As a par three from the yellows, I think it’s a good hole, but making it a par four from the whites, 16 yards further back, is rather strange, as the penalty for laying up and finding one of the numerous bunkers short of and flanking the landing area is likely to be greater than attempting to drive the green. Keith
Richard, i didnt realise I hadnt written a review of Ganton on here, but i thought it was absolutely amazing (played it in September 2015).
I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of making it a tough par 3 for the championship tees and then a short par 4 off the yellows. It would make possibly the worst hole on the course into a very demanding finish (the idea of having to finish with 3 pars to win is scary)
Aside from the bunkering, a standout feature of the layout is the green complexes, namely for their sublime contouring. Many greens, such as the par four 15th have beautifully rippled surfaces that reward both careful judgment and execution of approach shots from any length, and in turn provide for plenty of interest and challenge when putting.
If one were being picky they might complain that there is a lack of short and long holes in the layout, with only three par threes and two par fives on the card, making for a total of thirteen par fours. However, there are many excellent layouts with more than ten par fours in their configuration, and what makes all of those courses so great is the challenge and variety amongst their two shot holes. Ganton is no exception, and in many ways it is distinguished by this quality.
There is a great mix of par four’s on both nines. Some holes bend with the terrain while others fight it, the latter asking you to shape you tee shot in order to not just have the best angle for your approach, but to ensure you find the fairway itself. In all instances you are required to drive accurately to give yourself a chance of posting a decent score.
Rated index 1, the 432 yard 7th hole is a great example of the difficult challenges the layout consistently presents you with, and is in many ways, a microcosm of the entire golf course. Dog-legging left to right, the inside of the hole is protected by a cluster of four fairway bunkers that sit in the rough. The wide fairway provides plenty of room to avoid them, though the further left you drive, the longer your second. A lone bunker also sits to the left to swallow up anything playing too far down that side of the hole. Your approach is played slightly uphill past several bunkers flanking both sides of the fairway to a large, oval-shaped green protected by three more bunkers – two left and one right.
Despite the course stretching to almost 7,000 yards there are a couple of genuine short par fours (three if you include the swinging 17th) that are quite interesting from a playability point of view, enticing the golfer with risk and reward options.
Playing slightly downhill, the 3rd has a sprawling bunker that eats into the fairway from the left, asking you to weigh up the need to take driver from the tee. The safe option is to lay up and take the bunker out of play, leaving only a short iron for you second. While it plays to 349 and 339 yards from the blue and white markers, it is only 288 yards from the yellow tee, so for those playing up front, having a crack at flying the bunker and reaching the green becomes a real possibility. A second fairway bunker sits to the right to swallow up anything played too far down that side. For those who have laid up, precision with regards to length is the key with your approach, especially if the pin is cut in the back-half of the green. The is owed to the fact that the entire green slopes from front to back, with out-of-bounds just several paces off the back edge of the putting surface.
For all the great two-shot holes to be found at Ganton, one shouldn’t discount the par threes. The pick of these is the 17th, which is an interesting quandary, partly owing to the change in par between the three different tee markers. At 251 yards from the championship markers and is listed as either a par three or four, from the medal tee it still measures a stern 247 yards though affords four strokes on the card, while for general club play it is back to a par three of 235 yards. Standing on the tee you are confronted with a variety of elements laid out before you that force you to weight up the best strategy to implement: should you lay up in the fairway or go for the green? A road crosses directly in front of the tee pad itself (which is deemed in play), and over the road is a strip of thick gorse, which runs somewhat in a straight line between the ladies tee and the green up to the start of the main fairway. To carry this line of gorse and find the fairway will require a tee shot of only around 160 yards, though the fairway its self is encircled by six bunkers to punish the wayward golfer.
For those attempting to reach the putting surface with their tee shot, the fairway and green are angled slightly left to right across the line of play, such that a straight shot from tee to green must flirt ever so slightly with the bunkers on the right. Should you avoid the gorse and sand, the next issue to contend with is the false front to the green, which makes hitting and holding the putting surface quite difficult. Cleverly, these design elements combine to remove the option of the golfer playing safe for the fairway in the hope that their tee shot may end up running onto the green; and also ensure that the hole presents both as a long, difficult par three and a short, though shrewd par four.
With so many great golf architectural minds having an influence on the layout, it is easy to understand why Ganton is such a fine test of golf. Just make sure you are on your game when you decide to visit, as it is sure to test every aspect of your shot making as well as your resilience.
This review is an edited extract from my Blog titled: An Architect Abroad. The full review can be found at: http://wp.me/p6l5Ih-ef-ef along with photographs taken of the course. Please also note that my rating of the course here has been done specifically against the other courses which I visited on that trip, many of which rank very highly in the top 100 listed on this website for the United Kingdom. For that reason some ratings of courses may be lower than that given by other reviewers.