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6 miles E of A12 (A1094) to Aldeburgh
Contact in advance - 2 balls & foursomes only
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!”
Aldeburgh is a traditional golf club located near the sea, complete with white mast for flags, which you notice immediately when you arrive. The clubhouse has recently been refurbished and combines modern lounge and dining areas with more traditional oak-panelled rooms, which somehow works very well. Next to the clubhouse is a small but well-stocked pro shop and visitors receive a very warm welcome.
Although there is no range, there is a chipping and pitching area and 2 warm-up nets; a larger practice area is located some way from the clubhouse. You get a sense of what you are in for as soon as you get onto the putting green, which is hard and fast and from the first tee you see down three fairways: the 1st, 2nd and 9th which are all lined with gorse. Although it is officially a heathland course, it plays much more like a links than anything in Surrey or beyond and you would be hard pushed to feel which of it or Formby is the links course. The challenge ahead is reinforced by a look at the scorecard - it has a par of 68 but the SSS is 72 off whites. It may look short to the untrained eye, but make no mistake, this is a very tough golf course requiring good course management and all the clubs in the bag.
The first seven holes play over a hill on the western side of the property and uses it well with the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th playing up and down the hill and the 3rd, 5th and 6th playing across it. This makes for a good variety of holes and great views. The 4th is the signature hole, a stunning Par 3 that plays uphill to extremely long kidney-shaped green with a large bunker wrapping around the front and right hand side, lined with railway sleepers. Take a 3 and run.
The 9th is a shortish par 4, playing back to the clubhouse from an elevated tee, with pot bunkers down both sides, pinching in. The safe play is a mid/long iron taking no risk with the bunkers followed by a short iron. However, greed can really wreck your card here.
The back nine also has a little less elevation but I found it much tougher with the gorse seeming to creep closer towards the fairways. Like the front nine an iron or hybrid off the tee will serve you well on half the holes, including the 12th, a 300-yard gem of a hole. I also really like the 13th, a dog-leg left into the south-eastern corner of the property. The hole makes you want to take an aggressive line down the left side of the hole, flying the bunker protecting that side and hoping you don’t run out into another bunker 280yds away on the outside of the dog-leg. However, you really need to play to the right with a shorter club to open up the hole. Beware the run-off at the back-right of the green which is easy to take 3 or more from.
The course closes with some tough holes including the brutally-long Par 3 15th which requires an arrow-straight long-iron or fairway wood uphill, avoiding gorse and a deep bunker to the right. I am told this, and many other holes, have been made easier by taking the gorse back away from the green but it certainly felt claustrophobic to me.
To play well at Aldeburgh you really need you wits about you. The hardness of the ground requires you to play up to 3 clubs less than the yardage, landing it short of the green and letting it run onto the green. It is essential to plot your way round and accept some bad breaks or shots as it is a lot harder than it looks. If you do, and you enjoy links golf, Aldeburgh is a real treat and I highly recommend making the trip to play it. With the excellent Woodbridge 15 miles away I will be back to this region soon.
After a mild, even balmy, February, we decided to make use of Aldeburgh’s excellent winter offer and headed up to Suffolk in mid-March only to get beaten up by squally showers and icy blustery winds. Apparently Aldeburgh is a maritime heathland, but the firm sandy turf, sea views, big skies and wind swept landscape mean that this is a links course in everything but name.
The clubhouse was cosy and welcoming, the clouds were ominous outside, but after a pot of tea and a quick warm up it was time to face the first tee. I was hoping for a more comprehensive warm up, but there is no range, just a field where you have to bring your own balls… to be honest I expect more from a top 100 course with a premium green fee.
Out on the course, the opener has a generous fairway, and a lovely firm fairway it was too. Once on the putting surface, I discovered that the grass was long and wispy, possibly the longest grass I’ve ever seen on a green. As the grass was very fine, the ball still ran quite true, but nowhere near the smooth billiard table greens I would expect at a top links course. This was really my only disappointment with the course, and maybe I’m being harsh because mid-March in England is still winter really, but this isn’t a muddy parkland course.
I flirted with the gorse on the 2nd. Other reviewers have mentioned the abundance of gorse at Aldeburgh. It is everywhere, on every hole, but the playing corridors are quite generous, so I didn’t find it too penal. In fact I liked the way the gorse framed each hole, and created definition and separation between the fairways. Nevertheless, over 18 holes I had one big miss which inevitably was lost in the gorse.
The 3rd is the first of several long par 4’s that are really a par 4 and a half. After a decent drive, I nailed a low stinger 3 wood into the wind… and came up 40 yards short of the green. At least the green site was generous.
The same cannot be said about the green complex at the 5th. This is the shortest of the par 3’s at 119 yards, and although it was only a wedge it was easily the trickiest and most enjoyable. The green is raised up on sleepers and encircled by a long snake-like bunker which wraps itself around the green. The putting surface has some big contours which I imagine could be fun in the summer.
Following this came a succession of long par 4’s, interrupted only by the par 3 8th. As you navigate this stretch you realise that this course is relentless and start to understand why the SSS is 73 when the par is only 68.
The back nine has a little more variety. 11 is long (467 yards), with bunkers left and right off the tee, then has large cross bunkers right across the fairway about a hundred yards from the green, which really add to the intimidation factor when you have a long club in your hands for the approach. The green sits in a bowl and is well protected by pot bunkers which gather the ball. 12 is the only short par 4 on the course, at 320 yards off the whites (370 from the blues) it requires a hybrid or long iron for position and then a wedge which must carry sleeper faced bunkers and then spin to hold the green.
The closing stretch features 2 of the longest par 4’s, both playing into the prevailing wind and gently uphill, which helps cement the feeling that Aldeburgh is a long, tough, unforgiving course, where your driving has to be on point if you want to score well. I want to get back here in the summer, when there is more roll on the fairways and the greens are true.
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.
A great review (as always). Interesting that you call it an inland track... I know the course doesn't run along the beach, but like Lytham I thought the course was definitely affected by the wind off the sea.
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.