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A64, 9 miles W of Scarborough
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Tom Chisholm, James Braid, Ted Ray, J.H. Taylor, Alister MacKenzie, Tom Simpson and C.K. Cotton
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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.
Ganton, along with Royal Birkdale and The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers (Muirfield) are the only clubs to have staged the Ryder Cup, Walker Cup and Curtis Cup. Its reputation as a top championship golf course cannot be disputed.
Defining Ganton is not an easy task for it doesn’t fit into a typical category that many people like to box courses into nowadays. It’s not a heathland course as such, there is a little bit of a moorland feel at times and although it does play ‘linksy’ to a certain extent it’s almost ten miles from the East Coast. In truth it doesn’t really matter what type of course it is because it’s fantastic regardless.
At Ganton you will face a series of demanding par fours, most of them topping the 400 yard mark and many of them much more than that, with the longest, the prodigious 15th hole, stretching to a whopping 493 yards from the blue tees.
Indeed it is the two-shotters that really make Ganton what it is and coupled with the extremely deep bunkering, vast at times and often requiring steps to descend into the hazards, you come away feeling that you really have to be on top of your game if you wish to conquer it. And few rarely do for it’s certainly a tough assignment.
There are a number of patches of gorse throughout the round that also add to the difficulty plus the open and exposed nature of the site is prone to fierce winds. Add into the mix that the exceptional routing continually twists you in one direction and then the other making judging even the slightest breeze more taxing than usual.
At times a lot of the severest bunkers, which must be avoided at all costs, are slightly peripheral to the fairways and although punishing of a wayward shot they are not always key to the strategy of the hole. Straight down the middle and long is essential at Ganton on most of the sterner holes and is perhaps suitable for elite competition, however, I can imagine everyday play for amateur golfers can become unrelenting.
For 16 holes Ganton is extremely good golf and doesn’t really put a foot wrong. However in my own opinion, one that’s not necessarily shared by others, there’s no disguising that the course ends on a bit a low note with the final two holes not quite living up to the very high standard it sets for the majority of the round. It’s perhaps a bit unfair to end the review of such a high quality venue on a bit of a downer but sadly that’s how the course ends too.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Framed by the beautiful rolling hills of North Yorkshire, Ganton offers a portrait of England’s green and pleasant land like no other. The term “inland links” is often misused, but this is a befitting description of Ganton. Firm, fast running fairways and deep bunkers that are only rivalled by those at Woodhall Spa, Ganton offers a true but stern test. Yet it’s not the test that draws you to Ganton but its endless charm. This starts in the clubhouse where tradition rules and a jacket and tie is needed if you want to be invited into the members’ lounge. This charm continues on the course with details such as the quaint steps that provide you with access into those daunting bunkers or St Nicholas’ Church that offers the classic countryside backdrop to the 14th approach.
The course is a shot-maker’s layout that demands you to put the ball in the right areas. Pockets of gorse are dotted alongside gently rumpled fairways whilst subtle run off areas around the greens will snaggle any slightly offline approach. There are doglegs, blind shots, short par 5s, long par 3s (play the 17th from the yellows) and plenty more to maintain your attention throughout the round.
Sure, I’d agree with the reviewer below in that there are no holes that particularly stand out above any others across the course, but the eighteen holes you’re presented with are sure to test your metal. Some holes at Ganton are even a little quirky, the closing hole being the best example of this where you can stand on the viewing platform to watch your playing partner hit for the marker post before aiming your approach shot at a right-angle from the fairway and attempt to curve your ball around a tree.
Old fashioned and quintessentially English, Yorkshire’s very finest is a course that stays long in the memory.
Was there recently, lovely course, captain and members very friendly.....my only problem is that the last 2 holes are just awful...make no sense. This is ranked too high, sorry to say...
I played Ganton for the first time a couple of weeks ago and it is a very fine course. If it lacks anything it is memorability, there are no stand out holes, just eightteen very solid ones. Yorkshire in general is very good, i highly recommend going there.
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