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6 miles E of A12 (A1094) to Aldeburgh
Contact in advance - 2 balls & foursomes only
John Thompson and Willie Fernie, Willie Park Jr. and J.H.Taylor, Hugh Alison and Harry Colt
Founded in 1884, Aldeburgh Golf Club is one of the oldest golf clubs in Suffolk and is separated from the tidal Alde estuary by an unusual strip of coastal heathland. Although the Championship course itself is ostensibly heathland, its close proximity to the estuary and the North Sea provides a salty whiff of sea air.
Aldeburgh was originally designed by John Thompson and Willie Fernie and modified at the turn of the 20th century by Willie Park Junior and J.H.Taylor. Hugh Alison and Harry Colt made further modifications to the course in the 1920s. Benjamin Britten once lived close to the course, bringing fame to the town through the internationally renowned music festivals at Snape Maltings.
If you play Aldeburgh between May and late June, you will be presented with beautiful narrow fairways weaving their way between bright yellow gorse. You will be hard-pressed to find such an awe-inspiring sight at any golf course. Clearly, you need to be on top of your game. Looking for golf balls in this terrain is a painful business. "I am also very fond of Aldeburgh," wrote Darwin, "though now and again when I am sore and spiky from sitting in gorse bushes, and hot and tired from searching for my ball, I could wish there was just a little less gorse."
Deep, sleeper-faced bunkers protect some of the greens. Combine this with the ever-changing wind and you are presented with an excellent a golfing challenge. Or as Darwin said: "I know no course more likely to teach driving accuracy. There is nearly always a wind on that most pleasant heath, and there are very often avenues of gorse, and you simply must keep straight."
Aldeburgh is a traditional two-ball club; foursomes, not three or four-ball play is the order of the day. Aldeburgh Golf Club has hosted a number of important ladies and men’s amateur events over the years, but it’s a course the average handicap golfer will also enjoy enormously.
9th October 2008 – Perry Hunt commented on our article: “In common with a large number of top courses, Aldeburgh has cleared some gorse away from the fairways and tidied up years of natural overgrowth. As a result of a recent review, in association with Nicholsons, the course has been lengthened to 6,600 yards (par 68), bunkering has been modified and the Club is partway through a programme of modifying 4 or 5 holes. Finally, Aldeburgh offers splendid golf throughout the winter (no placing, no temporary surfaces and fast true greens) something many higher ranked courses cannot always offer, especially for our modest greenfees!”
A big thank you firstly to the team at Aldeburgh who gave us a really warm welcome, far beyond what I expected of a club of this stature. Both the club professional and secretary took time out to talk to us before the round and treated us like members for the day.
The course itself is made up of 27 holes, the nine across the road “The River Course” is a gentle if unspectacular warm up nine but possesses well maintained greens and a gem of a third hole, playing out to the Alde River and marshes.
The Championship Course is clearly the superior layout and there are two lasting memories that I have. The first being the gorse and the second being those classic timber faced bunkers. Firstly, there is masses of gorse, and it’s very much in play. Miss the fairway by a margin and you’ll lose your ball. I found the gorse a little over-penal and it did affect my enjoyment of the round so if there could be a way to thin the gorse out somewhat without losing the course’s character, I think that would be welcomed by most touring golfers. On the flip side, the course was maintained to a very high standard, particularly for the time of year. The greens ran true and the free draining sandy fairways were reminiscent of a links. The professional said that the course was a “Maritime Heathland”, not a term I’ve come across before but one that makes sense, and if comparisons are your thing, the most similar course I’ve experienced in style and condition is at Ganton in North Yorkshire.
The course possesses no par fives and the majority of par fours are over 400 yards. This means that there’s no respite for anyone who’s remotely off their game. Combined with the fact that the greens are often plateau-style as well as the previously mentioned masses of gorse, what you have at Aldeburgh is a very tough examination of your game from tee to green. Whilst there’s nothing that’s particularly stand-out or spectacular about the course, it’s a very solid test and there are no poor holes amongst the 18. Highlights were the island green on 4 with the enormous reinforced bunker that snakes around the green and I also really enjoyed the 9th with its raised tee playing back towards the whitewashed clubhouse. Whilst these two holes are on the front nine, the back nine was marginally the better of the two nines for me for having slightly more variation in the golf holes.
If you’re in the area, go and play it. I hear that it’s head and shoulders above anything else in East Suffolk. And as far as my own experience goes, only Royal West Norfolk and Hunstanton are superior courses across East Anglia, although those two courses are a notch above Aldeburgh for course quality and enjoyment for that first-time visitor.
If only you knew how much gorse there used to be, they must have removed 90% of it at least..
A solid, tough golf course which is no surprise as there are no par 5s and 6 par 4s over 420 and a further 3 over 400 off the whites. The best stretch of holes are 3 to 6 (sweeping right to left par 4, short but aesthetic par 3 and 2 more excellent par 4s). Other very good holes include 9, 11, 16 and 18. One slight "negative" comment is perhaps the lack of variety in the longer holes. Whereas there are at least 6 holes that are noticeable right to left doglegs there are no fade holes. The fairways and greens were nice and firm and the 2 pros were very engaging when I turned up. In summary, whilst it is not a "wow" golf course it is a very substantial course and anyone who can play off scratch here has my respect.
If you succumb to the notion of par then Aldeburgh is as tough as old boots. Its par of 68 versus a SSS of 73 is testament to that. Playing over 6,600 yards from the back markers there are a dozen par fours that exceed the 400 yard mark (seven greater than 425) and you won’t find a par five in sight.
The four par-threes are well defended and there isn’t a single hole where you stand on the tee and think this is a real birdie opportunity.
However, and interestingly, the scorecard also has a column for ‘bogey’ where the 3rd (uphill 429 yards), the sixth (uphill 428 yards), the 11th (flat 467 yards) and the 16th (rising 478 yards) are all assigned a bogey of five.
Now is not the time to delve into the mechanics or history of bogey but if one should consider the above quartet of holes as par fives and the course a par 72 then you actually have four excellent birdie chances! In practice these are effectively ‘par 4 ½’ holes, as are a number of the other two-shotters depending upon the strength and direction of the wind.
Regardless of how you balance the numbers Aldeburgh, situated a mile or so inland from the seaside town, is a very good test of golf over superbly dry, running ground. As you would expect long driving and stout iron play are essential. The former is complicated by a number of deadly fairway bunkers and, although the playing corridors are generous, gorse lines virtually every one of them and will happily gobble up a wild tee-shot. There's a real brashness to the 18 holes.
Aldeburgh is undoubtedly a very good golf course and an even better test of golf although I did feel it lacked a bit of variety in the type of shots required. I personally would like to see a short par four thrown into the equation to mix it up a bit whilst the four short holes, all playing in the same direction, meant that you had a similar wind to contend with on each of them.
However, this is nit-picking at a very fine course, certainly one of England’s best and toughest inland tracks. Hard as nails and relentless in its challenge.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I played Aldeburgh again on our annual Suffolk trip in October and I become less impressed each time I visit. The thing I like most is that it plays firm and fast. It’s got plenty of length and a lowly par 68, so scoring is tough, but it lacks variation with 9 longish par fours in the first 11 holes. Ideally the course needs a couple of par fives to break up the monotony.
Nice review - looking forward to a round here in 2019 & we will follow the rest of your advice. Perhaps even playing the 16th as a par 5.
Just read that you are an opera singer. Would love to be around when you shout "FORE!" on the course.