Willie Fernie set out the course at Appleby Golf Club on Brackenber Moor in 1903, twenty years after the club was founded.
Soon after opening, the new layout was described by the Manchester Guardian as “a champion’s course” and “The Sunningdale of the North”.
Even though Appleby is easily accessible from the main A66 road (which traverses the Pennines) the course is set remotely on glorious expansive moorland from where there are panoramic views of the Lakeland Fells.
You can be at one with your inner Heathcliff here, especially if you can negotiate in regulation no fewer than eight par fours that stretch out beyond 400 yards.
If you’re visiting Appleby in early June, you simply have to check out the world-famous Appleby Horse Fair which is a colourful annual gathering of Gypsies and Travellers.
“Gleneagles in the raw’, ‘Sunningdale of the North’ are rather bold statements, so it was with great interest I turned off the A66 and headed off onto Brackenber Moor.
The course did not disappoint. Set over a vast property of sheep filled fields, moorland and farms, cross crossed by single lane roads, the hole lay out apart from the 1st 2 holes runs around the edge of this vast land, with spectacular views across to the Lakeland Hills and North Pennines. You share your round with sheep, horses and bird life aplenty.
At less than 6000 yards and with no par 5’s this course is no push over, with 8 holes measuring over 400 yards, the longest being 452 yards. There are 4 par 3’s, three of them on the back nine which measuring between 175 -183 yards, thus making the par of 68 a stiff test.
It’s worth saying right at the outset how friendly the club was. Whilst this doesn't impact the rating, the club is run by the members and steward who were all incredibly friendly and helpful. Playing on County Cards at £20 each the green fee is a bargain. Throw in the fact the steward lent me a battery for my trolley, an additional trolley for my playing partner and free range balls for free, you couldn’t get a friendlier greeting. The members were all keen to give tips prior to heading out. Most said, play it as a links and bump and run your approach shots in. In fairness the greens held a full shot in.
The green complexes are beautifully built with subtle undulations and slopes, the bunkers surrounding them mainly riveted and very interestingly the greens are all protected by electric fencing, about 18 inches high to prevent the sheep that wander freely around the entire course, from getting onto the greens. The electric fencing didn’t prevent any chip shots reaching the greens although one of my playing partners had the misfortune of hitting one of the stakes on the downhill par 3 4th hole. It sent the ball backwards which was very unfortunate.
The course starts with a gentle opener, a short par 4 at 338 yards. Played across a small valley, the fairway is generous flanked by rough that had wispy grass, pink in tinge. The rough wasn’t penal - nobody lost a ball all day, but the below the wispy grass the rough was like an egg box, lots of small undulations that inevitably the ball generally sat down in.
The 2nd introduces you to the many rivet bunkers around the greens. It’s the 1st of the par 4’s over 400 yards. The 3rd is the 1st of the holes that cross the narrow roads that cross cross the course, but is a beautiful hole playing uphill and right to left to an elevated green. On the greens, they ran true, not overly quick but you could trust your read.
The 1st of the par 3’s is a wonderful downhill 172 yard hole, with wooded area behind, a really picturesque hole. Plays significantly shorter.
You then follow this with a par 4, only 306 yards long but a blind tee shot across the valley side with a carry of c170 yards, it looks a longer drive to safety than it actually is. There is plenty of bailout to the left although your 2nd shot would be then from the rough.
The 6th is from a high tee, down the edge of the property, a 420 yard par 4, with a farm tucked just beyond the green. Again another beautiful part of the property.
Then the 7th, played across the corner of a farm field, a road, another road to a blind fairway. Your 2nd is then uphill, again a blind shot. Make sure you get the right club, as there is a hidden valley which you only find out about as you wander up towards the green.
The 8th is an inviting short par 4 at 306 yards where you can play over the marker post or take a more aggressive line over the gorse on the left.
The front 9 ends with a gentle left to right par 4. We played over and around sheep which were covering the fairways on this and the 11th hole as well.
The back 9 starts with a 183 yard par 3 and then a 452 yard par 4 played down towards a red roofed house again situated just behind the green. As you are playing round the edge of the property, the vastness of the moorland and grazing areas can be seen as you look across form the 12th tee. A lovely hole, again short at 258 yards, this is a special part of the course. Following this is another short par 4 at 310 yards, played across the valley and then you head into the closing holes, a strong downhill par 4 before you reach the talked about par 3 15th. Called Bell hole, you tee off next to the river, uphill and blind to a green 175 yards away and unless you have played it before you really have no idea what awaits you. The hole is picturesque. The attached photo shows what awaits you if you hit your tee shot accurately. It’s a beautiful green land would be fitting within a skatepark. Short of the hole is another dell so you really do have to fly it all the way.
The closing 3 holes are a 448 par 4, followed by another uphill par 3, played tight to farm fencing on the right and a green that slopes left to right and back to front, so try and leave yourself with an uphill putt.
You finally end with a par 4 played back to the clubhouse, The springy turf does shorten many of the holes and a good drive here will leave a short iron into a green, below the clubhouse.
This is a wonderful golf course, old fashioned in that some of the holes like the 15th probably wouldn’t be built like that anymore and with sheep and horses roaming the moors, these obstacles and the electric fencing around the greens certainly add to the fun and charm of the golf course.
We were on a trip to the Lakes and I would certainly recommend stopping off if you are heading along the A66 and give it a try. You wont be disappointed. Fun all the way.
Appleby GC, located a couple of miles from the town the course is set on Brackenber Moor in the spectacular Cumbria countryside. The course was set out at the turn of the 20th century by the open champion Willie Fernie. The course did not disappoint, following the natural contours of the Moor with short but penal heathery rough and copses of bracken on landing areas the course definately stands up to the modern equipment, despite being relatively modest in length at a chip and run over 6000 yards. The green complexes protected by fencing to keep the sheep that roam the Moor freely are amazing, clever contouring and surfaces as pure as possible. Really good course, that on a day with some wind I imagine would be a real stern test and definately worth the green fee and a small detour for anyone heading upto Scotland. Finally be sure to try the incredible food in the clubhouse, great traditional club.
I’ve decided to choose Appleby as my first review on this website. A course I have played many times, a course close to my heart as my great uncle was captain here, and a course that epitomises fun golf.
Always guaranteed a warm welcome in a relaxed environment, and a unique golf course to boot. A course over a vast piece of land, with no hole particularly close or running parallel to one another. No par 5’s to speak of but does not detract from what is a truly unique experience. Noticeably, the 5th tee shot shooting high up on the hill, the fabulous 6th with its amazing view down the fairway, and the well talked about par 3 15th (bell hole) are my stand outs.
Peaty terrain, a course full of sheep, and 18 electric fences protecting the greens adds further uniqueness to a fabulous day out.
My top tips;
1) perfect for a stop off on a golf trip to Scotland (or vice versa)
2) a brilliant day out in its own right, particularly if you’re playing 36.
I’m easily pleased. All I ask for is good turf, natural movement in the land and engaging greens. Simply give me all of those on a golf course and I’m a happy bunny.
Sadly most courses don’t offer any of the above. A relatively small number have one of the trio whilst the saying ‘two out of three ain’t bad’ can be applied to even fewer venues. However, at Appleby it’s a case of tick, tick, tick.
It’s a spectacular course in a vast and exposed landscape. It’s easy to see why it has been described as "Gleneagles in the raw".
Incidentally golfers have no right of way on the common land moor which is shared with horse-riders, cyclists, joggers and dog-walkers as well as various livestock.
A mixture of heather and wispy rough frame the generous and modestly undulating fairways. I drove the ball quite badly but never had trouble finding a ball off the fairway in early August. There is minimal, if any, fairway bunkering and greenside pits are used sparingly too.
Despite the modest yardage of 5,998, playing to a par of 68 (SSS 70), Fernie’s creation is undeniably testing, and contains no par-fives although there are some long and challenging two-shotters.
What struck me most about the course, however, was the number of excellent short par-fours. Four of them come in at under 310-yards and the opener at 336 could just about be placed into this superb group of what on paper are easy holes but in reality are testing little gremlins.
The course gets quite linksy around the turn, particularly the 182-yard tenth, with sod-wall bunkers defending the green. The final par-three, the fine 17th, also has similar characteristics.
Of all the fine holes at Appleby it is the short 15th that is likely to be the most memorable. The almost blind “Bell Hole” is a 176-yard par-three that is as unique as they come. The setting is simply lovely, the teeing ground would make an idyllic picnic spot at the side of a babbling stream, and the deep bathtub green, fired to over a ravine and played to from the long-side, could produce hours of short-game fun. I think I took about a dozen photos of this hole as it looks marvellous from all angles.
The course just flows so effortlessly over the land and the contours of the putting surfaces are simply perfect. This is a course that packs a big punch and comes with a huge thumbs-up from me.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.