The ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle lie on the Northumberland coast, between the villages of Craster and Embleton. Just to the north of this 14th-century fortification sits the self-deprecating 18-hole layout of Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Course, where the fairways run out close to the sandy beach of Embleton Bay.
Owned by the National Trust but maintained by staff at the course, the links has been used for golf since 1900, when a 9-hole layout was first established. The estate was sold to shipping magnate Sir Arthur Munro Sutherland in 1919 and he wasted no time in calling in James Braid the following year to modify the course.
Braid lengthened four holes, shortened four holes and designed a new one. The course was then extended southwards in three stages to a full 18-hole layout: three holes were added by 1929, another three-hole extension was completed two years later before the final three holes were brought into play in 1936.
After Sir Arthur’s death in 1953, the running of the club was handed down to his son, Sir Ivan Sutherland, who gifted the golf course to the National Trust in 1961 while retaining the lease. Sir Ivan’s son, William Sutherland, picks up the story:
“The sea would sparkle beyond as we left the hard tarmac, threw off our shoes and ran into the soft and quite amazing smell of the lush green links. Covered with flowers, harebells, cowslips and ragwort, the place was a feast of coloured butterflies and stripy caterpillars. The old war trenches made magical tunnels through the long marram grass and the golfers were beings from another world, taking part in some strange ritual quite alien to a young child.
These are some of my earliest memories of the place that would do much to shape my future life. For I grew up with Dunstanburgh Golf Course as my second garden and many is the long summer evening I would trudge home up the hill to Dunstan Steads after playing 3 or 4 rounds during the day.”
William became Dunstanburgh's lessee in 1987 and decided it was high time for change.
“So here we had this beautiful links with a course of great charm, but the total length was barely over 5,000 yards. Too many of the holes were less than 300 yards and two of the short holes were very chancy to play. Play was also held up regularly by traffic over the footpaths crossing holes 1 and 7 and holes 10 and 17. I decided to bite the bullet, risking the disappointment of old Dunstanburgh hands, by setting out major changes to the course…
All in all, the changes had created ten new golf holes and brought the course up to date for the modern game. We managed to keep the work of the bulldozers to a minimum so as not to spoil the overall character of the links. We managed to create our new greens by grooming and cutting existing turf. By gradually reducing the height of cut over a period of months we turned areas of fairway into turf for the new greens. The change was remarkable, but it was not a job that could be done overnight. A great deal of thought and hard work went into the changes which have created the course of the present day.”.
Today, there’s only one par three on the front nine, the 166-yard 4th (“Plateau”) which, as its name suggests, plays to a raised green with bunkers protecting the front right and left of the putting surface. The lone par five on the card arrives at the 527-yard 14th (“Crags”), where out of bounds threatens all the way down the left of the fairway.
In the modern era, the course measures 6,263 yards from the back tees and par is rated at 70. Holes 1 to 6 are laid out to the north of the clubhouse with the remaining holes routed further to the south. The two par threes on the back nine at the 13th and 15th are both terrific holes, but then so are all three of the short par fours at holes 5, 7 and 11.
It’s hard to imagine that this course was only a Gem 3 years ago, but the good news is that clearly the rankings team finally got it on their radar and ultimately have started to give it the recognition it truly deserves.
This is an exceptionally good true links course played around the sweeping Embleton Bay, a National Trust Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The scenery is stunning from so many vantage points on the course, with the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle at the south end of the course and the throwback wooden huts perched on the dunes at the other end. The part of the course with the huts is so reminiscent Of Cape Cod in New England, absolutely stunning.
The course is right up there with the scenery it is situated in. As it is on National Trust land, there are numerous foot paths crossing the course and running alongside the coastal edge and inland boundary so playing with a few spectators is the order for the day. There is even a main footpath to the beach that runs directly behind the 1st tee, itself just set a short distance away from the clubhouse and car park.
This is traditional links at it’s best. The 1st few holes are played out northwards of the clubhouse, up and then onto a raised plateau where the wooden beach houses are. The 1st is an excellent starting hole, a long sweeping right par 4, played into a gentle breeze, when I played on Wednesday. The 1st green was like all the others, beautifully manicured, true, but with less movement in them than I kept reading. The green staff have all the latest equipment, including the hover ironing machines, and it shows with the course immaculately presented, the greens in excellent condition, and the overall definition of the fairways and rough perfect. Talking of rough, whilst there was a little bit of whispy grass between some holes - 1st and 6th for example - generally if you were wide off the tee, then you were in serious trouble with the rough deep and clumpy and a lost ball could easily follow.
All the 1st 6 holes north of the footpath were excellent, but my favourite couple were the par 3 4th - called Plateau - played to a green perched on the hillside, with severe run off and bunker to the right and rough and a pot bunker to the left. With a back to front green anything above the pin, could see you putt back off the green at the front!
The 6th is also wonderful as you tee off the plateau from an elevated tee back towards the clubhouse and the fairway below, with the bay to your left and the castle in the distance in front of you.
The other holes in this 1st 6, include two dog leg left holes and a short par 5 which at 290 yards is drivable.
At the end of the round myself and my playing partner both agreed that there were a few holes, with the benefit of hindsight we would play differently and the 7th is one of those. Off the tee you cannot be certain where the fairway will be as the land rises over a dune so you have no idea where the landing area is. We bailed out right - wrong choice. Best to aim down the left, leaving a shot from a dell to a green 60 foot above you.
Then you get 3 really strong par 4’s. still playing alongside the Bay. The 8th, you tee over a valley and the green has 3 levels making where you land the ball on your approach all they more important.
You then swing back on yourself when you play the 11th, a shortish par 4 with the wind behind you but again accuracy is key with the rough penal. You then again swing back on yourself and play towards the castle again with the 12th, This was a tough hole with errant shots penalised heavily.
The you get the picture postcard short 13th, playing only 100 yards to the farthest point on the course, over a valley and in front of watching tourists and walkers. A relatively easy hole but one to savour.
And then you begin the head back home. The 14th is the only par 5 on the course and off the back tees measures 530 yards. OOB down the left and deep rough down the right, again accuracy is key.
I really enjoyed the 15th, the last of the par 3’s, played across a valley and brook to a green protected by a large bunker and with wind against, playing longer than its yardage. This is then followed by another 3 quality holes to finish, with the 16th green the standout, with so many undulations and curves to it, almost like a bowl.
The finishing hole plays right back down to the 1st tee, with the green placed just over a small brook to catch any shots that just come up short. A par on this last hole is very satisfactory.
You can see how the course has been designed through the sand dunes and I just marvelled at the clever routing of the original designer.
This is a quality golf course, maintained to the highest standards and I would highly recommend a visit if you are passing on the way to/back from Scotland or if you’re staying in the area.
I think that Cumbria and Northumberland are probably the most under-rated areas for English golf.
Brilliantly located for golf en route to and from Scotland the scenery is wild and remote, the people friendly and the golf fun and great value.
We played Dunstanburgh when it was a Gem on this site and loved its understated charm. Excellent holiday golf, with the par 3 13th standing out in the memory as an outpost with lovely views of the castle and coastline. Highly recommended - as noted it could be even better with a little work, but definitely worth making the trip.
I was just looking for a venue near Newcastle, not being Goswick Golf Club, Bamburgh Castle or Alnmouth Golf Club, since we had played these courses already. Just by pure luck I picked Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club, and how lucky I was. Dunstanburgh is a golf course I really enjoyed: it has a very natural & links feeling, and I'm very much surprised it does not make the top 10 of Northumberland. I'm not a fan of rating courses against each other, but I believe Dunstanburgh would easily pass the test when compared with most venues on the Northumberland list.
The round starts a bit funny: after a inviting opener, two (blind) holes play on the top of the hill left of the clubhouse followed by a - impossible to par - par 3. But then the track shows its beauty as a true links course: proper turf, blind (tee) shots, funky bunkered & undulating greens, all the works. At the far end of the premisses, hole 13 is the short par 3 overlooked by the ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle, the occasional hiker and the colony of seabirds that have their nests at the seashore cliffs. The stretch of holes back to the clubhouse is as nice as the stretch that got you there.
Although they call it a clubhouse, the restaurant is open to the public and serve all that come by: golfers, hikers but also the tenants of the seaside summerhouses that are scattered around the dunes nearby. This results in a very non-golfing, vibrant atmosphere, not often experienced before in the UK. It is a pity the kitchen was already closed after our round, the menu looked very inviting.
Not sure who is in charge of the Northumberland list, but maybe he/she should put on the good old golfing boots and book a tee time at Dunstanburgh and reconsider the ranking of Dunstanburgh on that list.
OCB, your Dunstanburgh Castle review is timely. We are currently in the process of updating our North East England rankings. Following recent evaluations, Dunstanburgh Castle has been elevated from a GEM (although it is still a gem) to #7 in our Northumberland Best In County rankings. We’ll be publishing our 2017 news release for the North East region by the end of this week.
I will be honest and admit that Dunstanburgh Castle wasn’t really on my radar of courses to play. Mainly because it wasn’t included in the book ‘True Links’, a publication that supposedly includes all of the genuine links courses in the World.
Leaving Dunstanburgh out is a clear omission because this course is not only the real deal when it comes to links golf it’s one of the most enjoyable I’ve played.
OK, let’s get things into perspective first. It’s not going to be hosting The Open anytime soon and Goswick, just up the coast towards Berwick upon Tweed, is king of the links in this part of the country but Dunstanburgh, designed by the legendary James Braid, is good and at times excellent.
There’s little doubt that this is a links course from the moment you drive through the tiny village of Embleton and crest the hill of the single track road that leads down to the golf course. You are faced with rippling linksland separated from a sandy beach by large shaggy sand dunes. The pulse quickens.
Admittedly, the opening tee-shot is less than promising but as soon as you reach your drive and the green comes into view things start to improve. The contouring of putting surface is superb and this is a feature that repeats itself several times during the round. From the tee Dunstanburgh is solid but it is the green complexes that bring the course to life and make this Angel of the North shine brighter than most.
After the opener you play a lovely cluster of holes on higher where the exposed, table-top par-three fourth and short par-four fifth stand out. The latter having a wicked green where being on the wrong side can prove extremely harmful to your score.
If you are a true lover of links golf you will more than enjoy a round at Dunstanburgh Castle. Paired with a round at Goswick this would make for a tremendous 36 hole day of links golf in an area that often doesn’t get the true credit it deserves.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Now Dunstanburgh Castle was a surprise packet. Yet to be reviewed on this website but as it made The 240 Real Links courses of Britain & Ireland list I felt compelled to play it as I was in a B&B just 75 miles away in Gullane.
The opening 6 holes is a loop that brings you back to the clubhouse. These holes were quite tough in places with plenty of gorse to keep you honest. Chuck in a few doglegs, some elevation and a blind shot or two and you have a neat parcel of golf territory but nothing to get too excited about.
The fun starts on hole 7 in what is the start of an out (holes 7 – 13) and in layout. Large, rugged dunes line the left of these outward holes that make their way to the foot of the castle. Some great holes here – the dunes come into play for any pulls so it is a slicers course. There are dips, blindshots, narrowing fairways, incredible views, pot bunkers, rumpled fairways and all other facets pertaining to links golf.
The 13th is a short par 3 that is played a cross a ravine. It may take anything from 4 mins to 20mins to play, depends on the number of walkers that stroll straight across the front of the green. There was no-one on the course so I waited to see if any of them acknowledged there was a golfer standing on the tee 121 yards away. Of the 40 or so people I waited for not one even looked. So be patient at this point.
The inward strip of holes are also interesting. Out of bounds on the left and outward holes on the right, again favouring the slicer. Some fairways are very wide, some quire narrow, there are plenty of patches of rough to lose your ball in and the Standard Scratch of 71 against the par of 70 on this 6263 yard course suggests it is not a pushover.
With a bit of TLC and smartening up this could be a strong 5 balls. It reminded me of Brancaster. The greens were well kept and the layout was fantastic. The first 6 holes are 3 ball standard whilst holes 7-13 are 5 balls and coming home 4 balls so 4 balls it is. Warren from Aust