Close House is home from home to Graham Wylie, entrepreneur and co-founder of the software company, Sage. Wylie purchased the Close House Estate from Newcastle University as a “thank you” for his education and subsequently invested a cool £25 million in the project, the centrepiece of which is an elegant 18th century mansion.
Set in stunning Northumberland countryside, close to Hadrian’s Wall and the village of Heddon-on-the-Wall – which attracts thousands of visitors to the longest unbroken section of wall – Close House is far from the madding crowd and yet less than ten miles from the centre of Newcastle.
The first golf club was founded here in 1968 for Newcastle University golfers to hone their skills and this course, now called the Filly, underwent a refurbishment in 2006 and then in 2013 was substantially altered by Scott Macpherson. The Filly is now a much improved course with USGA greens and fine River Tyne views, but the real golfing thoroughbred at Close House is the new Colt course, which Scott Macpherson routed across 170 acres of new land.
Macpherson spent eighteen months researching designs by architect, Harry Colt, and developed a plan to create a modern course for Close House that doffs the hat to the Golden Age of golf course architecture.
Opened by Lee Westwood – Close House’s ‘Attached Tour Professional’ – in May 2011 and measuring a respectable 6,850 yards from the tips (par 71), the Colt course is a thoroughly engaging layout that incorporates many of the site’s historical features in its routing, including a Roman Fort, ha-ha walls, ancient woodland and Ice Lake.
Lee Westwood commented, “I think Close House is a perfect members course that has the capability of staging a major tournament in years to come.” The Journal’s Tim Taylor was also impressed, “If Scott Macpherson is not the 21st century's re-incarnation of Harry Colt, then I don’t know who is. A drop dead gorgeous course and you can see from the way Macpherson has subtly set his jewel into the breathtaking countryside alongside Hadrian’s Wall, that he is a student of Colt’s gentle way of doing things.”
We were similarly moved when we visited in August 2011, so moved in fact that we had no hesitation in placing the Colt course at 99th in our 2012 English Top 100 rankings. The future is bright for Close House, but don’t take our word for it, check it out yourself and prepare to be impressed.
In October 2016, Lee Westwood was announced as tournament host for the 2017 British Masters, and the Englishman selected the Colt course as the stage. It was the first time a European Tour event had been held at Close House and it resulted in an Irish one-two with Paul Dunne carding a remarkable final round of 61, holding off a late charge from Rory McIlroy to win his maiden European Tour title. The British Masters returns to Close House in July 2020.
“You haven’t hired a buggy for the Colt?”, queried the friendly server in the Close House restaurant.
“Then, you’ll need plenty of energy for those hills.”
She wasn’t kidding. Mrs W and I needed to catch our breath before playing our shots after ascending some of The Colt’s upward holes.
But, to be fair, the routing is such that it is perfectly possible to walk with a bit of effort and it would be a shame to miss out on the wonderful views from the British Masters course.
I had feared that service meant more at Close House than the golf. The clubhouse team are exceptionally welcoming and our courtyard room was very impressive.
This is the home to the northeast glitterati – the professional is Lee Westwood and in the past week luminaries such as England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, singer Roger Daltrey and TV presenters Ant and Dec have been on site.
The photos in the clubhouse are testimony to the magnetism of the venue.
Given this context, we were slightly disappointed by the Filly course we had played the previous day. It was perfectly fine but didn’t match the sense of expectation which had been building.
However, the Colt was a different matter. Every hole was memorable and thoughtfully laid out, well-manicured. Some were absolute belters.
Indeed, it was so good that we were left wondering why it has only recently emerged into the England top 100 list. In my opinion, it deserves a much higher ranking.
The drama begins from the opener – a gently rising par-four with a brook on the right and trees to the left.
The fairways on the Colt were wonderfully lush on the day we played and wide enough to yield decent scores – however, the wayward will find deep tangly rough in which balls are nearly impossible to find.
This is arguably most dangerous on the dramatically left-to-right sloping third hole because it lies in wait for those trying to bail out on the left.
Meanwhile, strategic bunkers and large undulating, often two-tiered greens are The Colt’s key defence along with the occasional picturesque pond.
No hole is easy and the par-threes are particularly wicked, beginning with the fourth, a near 200-yarder with a narrow entrance between sand traps.
It is followed by the steep par-four fifth – on paper a mere 341 yards but playing much longer into a green protected by yet more sand and deep rough.
The sixth is where The Colt’s quirks begin to emerge, demanding a drive over a wall to the left for the best way into a green which is low on the property’s boundary edge.
The ante is turned up on the downhill eighth through humps and hollows to a brook winding in front and at the side of the target. I attempted to cut the corner to the right never to see my ball again in the long grass.
A vintage red phone box stands next to the ninth tee to enable food orders from the halfway house at Close House’s stunning academy with its driving range and fabulous practice facilities.
How well the sausage roll tastes may well depend on whether the gorgeous par-three ninth has been successfully negotiated and its rather large pond avoided.
There are some fine holes on the outward nine but, in my opinion, the trek home is even more exciting.
The fairway on the par-four 11th feeds through a slither of land between a wall and trees to the right and more out-of-bounds on the left.
My round was floundering at this stage and my first ball bounced over the wall, forcing a reload. After a straight second attempt, I struck the approach of my life to within four feet of the flag and nailed the best bogey I can remember.
The view from the 11th green is just fabulous, reminding us that not only is golf a wonderful sport but also gives us chance to admire our fantastic countryside.
From on high we could see the 13th green - the climax of another dramatic hole which runs to the right from an elevated tee between more light-brown rough and killer sand. I was thrilled with a rare par.
‘Deep water’ warns the sign at the 15th tee, accompanied by a buoyancy ring, presumably to aid golfers who fancy doing a Van Der Velde.
This is one of the most intimating tee shots we have encountered but I managed to squeeze my drive over the water and a marker post which stands on a narrow patch of land between trees.
The fairway emerges thereafter as does the flag which has a beach of sand protecting it.
“I f***ing hate the 18th” proclaimed a quote from former Newcastle United executive Freddy Shepherd on a banner from the previous day’s tournament in his memory.
I could imagine why as I attempted feebly to make up three points on Mrs W by attempting to sling an approach to the side of a reeded-bordered pond over a North Berwick-style wall onto the green.
Inevitably, this attempt at grabbing an undeserved result ended in glorious failure.
It was a pity my round wasn’t quite as stellar as I would have liked because the Colt, an especially classic home hole, deserved me to have risen to the challenge.
It is a course worthy of a venue which prides itself on customer experience.
From the crisp pillows in our room to the Close House breakfast sandwich (I could tell you the special ingredient but I would have to kill you) and the superb, jocular staff, this is a cracking venue and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay.
On what was a brutish day - swirling, strong winds and cold as a result - the Colt course proved a very stiff test. Scott Macpherson has done an excellent job of routing the course across what one can only guess was primarily farm land before it was created.
The course offered variety of styles - the 1st 8 holes in particular had an inland links feel, with thick gnarly rough, which no doubt would be more wispy in the Summer months. Holes 10 and 16, I felt I could have been at Gleneagles - classically framed with pine trees, and the par 3 14th even had an Augusta feel to it. Just needed the rhododendrons.
With ancient woodland flanking the left of the 1st hole, stone walls framing the green at hole 6, water in play on the long par 3 9th; throw in a few blind shots at the 11th and 16th, a few stunning views across the Tyne Valley towards Newcastle, and a strong a varied finish, this course offers alot.
Tough it was, given the wind, which never seemed to come from the back of you, blowing across and often into a headwind. This meant avoiding the penal rough was no easy task, and avoid it you needed to, as it was thick and gnarly.
You needed a good set of lungs as the course wends it way up the hillside for the 1st 7 holes, before a dramatic descent on hole 8. Hole 9, a long par 3 played over water at 206 yards off the tips, is a strong finish to the front 9, and the only respite we had from the wind through those opening holes.
After a brief stop at the Golf Academy which also serves as halfway house, you then start your back 9 heading back up the hillside, the but the feel of this and 11 are different as the hole is framed by pine trees, something I like to see. A par 5, it isn't long in terms of yardage but being uphill it played 3 shots to the green. Then the 11th, a blind tee shot where you aim at c250 yards towards a narrow gap between a rocky outcrop and trees. This then leaves a 130 yard approach into a green which sits on a plateau looking across the valley. Stunning views.
After a very long par 3, 198 yards but playing into a strong wind, you then descend down the hillside again, in one hole, like on the 8th. The 13th however offers a couple of options off the tee which I liked.
The 14th is a lovely par 3, played in woodland across a ravine, and as mentioned above as a different feel to the rest of the course. It is followed by a strong finish. A blind shot over a marker post on the 15th, then a tee shot which was reminiscent of Gleneagles on the 16th, another blind drive, leaving a 2nd shot dogleg left onto a well bunkered green.
You then finish with a strong par 5, and the excellent 18th, where it is important to place your drive off the left hand side as that will favour your 2nd over an Ha Ha wall and pond to the green.
I certainly knew I'd been out in the elements and that combined with the physical test, left me pretty tired and achy on Thursday evening. I'd love to go back and play on a sunny, warm and calm day, where the front 9 would play more linksy. Either way I'd highly recommend playing.
Undulating greens and rolling fairways Close House Colt course was a pleasure to play. A few blind tee shots that favour being cautious set across a lovely vista whilst going up and down the hills. A course you should definitely play.
We played this just before the British Masters was to be played and it was sensational. We were lucky enough to play the Colt and the Filly courses but this one, the Colt was amazing. There are some brilliant holes, most rememberable for me were the 8th a gorgeous par 4 with two lines in depending how you are playing on the day, and the 14th a par 3 surrounded by trees where you have to consider the wind as you will be coming in high.
The greens gripped, the rough snagged and the bounces were fair.
Can't wait to play again.
I played the Colt course at Close House on a lovely summer's day last year and also visited for the British Masters on the European Tour (in less nice weather).
The setting of the course and club is very nice: there are far reaching views of nature in which the two courses are nestled into. It's a lovely place to spend the day. The club house is newly designed and has everything you need. I found the range to be excellent, with plenty of targets and slightly going uphill. There are plenty of bays but it is a little far from the club house and the first tee, so you need to take your car or a buggy to go back and forth. It's not ideal but as long as you know it, it's fine.
The course layout throws different looks at you with doglegs and elevation changes as well as water that comes into play on a few holes. There are some secluded holes in the woods (a par 3 on the back 9 comes to mind) and some more open holes with wide fairways. Some holes are quite tricky with few bailout options. The bunkers do come into play and influence your decision making off the tee, as they should do. The greens and fairways were in excellent shape that day.
I cannot say anything to the architectural resemblance with the Colt courses further South but I did enjoy the layout here. I think you can play it every day and enjoy it. It was also fine to walk the course, even with some of the changes in elevation.
The staff and members were very friendly (a sign of the North-East) and I'm sure the 19th hole can provide for some fun after a round.
I would gladly come back to play and if I lived in the area would easily become a member at Close House.
I recently played the colt course for the first time and I have to agree with previous reviews, the design of the course is very good considering the available land. There are some very good holes with elevation changes, supported by excellent views. The condition was also very good the greens were true and ran at a very respectable pace. Recent heavy rain resulted in a few wet area's but this did not detract from the courses playability. An enjoyable visit.
The designer / architect has done a great job on what is tough topography and the design / flow is excellent. The understating nature of the course makes it a tough physical challenge and clubbing is difficult. There aren't enough strong holes to be considered top tier / top 100, and I don't believe it will ever breakthrough to its aspired level for that reason. There are however undeniably half a dozen very good holes, namely 7, 11, 13 and the finishing 3. In addition, No 14 is a beautiful par 3. The view from 12th tee is breathtaking.
The design of the Lee Westwood “Colt” course, located on the Close House Estate near Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland, apparently tips its hat to the great golf course architect Harry Colt and whilst The Club note that nothing is copied directly they claim that the “rectangular tees” (eh?), the bunker forms, and the variety in par threes are all features conceived from the brilliant architect.
I’m inclined to take all this with a pinch of salt and whilst people with a far greater knowledge about the subject than myself will be better able to advise – even considering the obvious time differential - it’s certainly nothing like any of the other courses I’ve played by the man responsible for creating the likes of St Georges Hill, Sunningdale and Swinley Forest at the highest level and the plethora of second and third tier courses he also created.
The Colt course is less than ten years old - there is also the elder “Filly” on the grounds - and it is for sure a bold modern layout that for the most part offers plenty of width but punishes you significantly if you miss the generous fairways. The sea of striking bunkers, with their craggy outlines, certainly brings the course to life and dictates play to a large extent whilst the long, bronzed coloured fescue grass define each fairway gloriously.
What I particularly liked was that the sand traps were often very much on the line of play and not just simply flanking the fairways.
Scott Macpherson was the man tasked with creating the course and he has done an excellent job in routing the course over what is not prime real estate for golf (not a problem Colt often faced!) because for the most part it is laid out over a steep hillside. Indeed there must be at least a couple of hundred feet in elevation change from the low part of the property to the summit.
There are four significant and inevitable climbs that we must make during the round – and this does detract from the playing experience - but thankfully most of these come quite early in the round.
As they say, what goes up must come down and at Close House it does so in truly spectacular fashion! The eighth and 13th are both dramatic plunging holes and although one play isn’t enough to even come close to understanding their strategies, with their multiple routes, I can unequivocally say that I’m a fan!
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Just played yesterday morning greens are fabulous some of the best anywhere, but you need to be a mountain goat to walk round here and the only two holes I remembered were 8&9