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.
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