The origins of Ely City Golf Club go back to the late 1950s when a group of local businessmen bought a 36-acre parcel of land (formerly the site of an old prisoner of war camp at Barton Field) located just off the Cambridge Road on the southern outskirts of the historic cathedral city.
“With much volunteer help and machinery, the ‘home-made’ nine was opened for play on 14 April 1962.” Wrote David Hamilton in The Golfers Guide to East Anglia . “By the late 1960s, a wooden clubhouse had been erected and in 1971 it was agreed to approach the Church Commissioners for extra land to provide a practice area. The ensuing negotiations ended in the purchase of a further 62 acres to extend the course to 18 holes. This was when [Henry] Cotton arrived on the scene and the completion of his work by Golf Landscapes of Brentwood led to the opening in the summer of ’73 and the exhibition match.”
This normally quiet and genteel corner of East Anglia was buzzing when Lee Trevino (the 1972 Open champion) turned up with the Claret Jug for an exhibition match against Hugh Baiocchi, which Trevino won by one shot with a score of 66.
“Since those days Ely has improved every year as the trees have matured until today when it is a joy to play,” continues David Hamilton. “At 6,627 yards off the back tees (6,348 from the yellows), par 72, is as Cotton described it more than 30 years ago. ‘Golfers go miles to play a good course and at Ely there are many good holes.’ The maestro’s favourites were arguably the key holes you’d pick today. The short 2nd at 160 yards from the back over a pond is perhaps the prettiest hole on the course, while the 387-yard 14th is uphill to a tricky green. This is stroke index two, indicating that it needs some thought and where the second shot must be from the right of the fairway.”
Undoubtedly Ely City’s mature parkland course is a real pleasure to play, but both accuracy and solid ball striking are the keys to carding a low score on this compact and easy-walking layout.
I have now played Ely three times in two completely different conditions, the first time was in the middle of summer and I must say it was more than worth the money, I felt like the par 4s where a masterpiece and some of the pr 5s was very challenging yet enjoyable. I have also played in freezing cold wind and rain which was a challenging however I feel the course stayed in still such an impeccable condition throughout. The views were very pleasing and the food after was magnificent and something I would drive down just for.
A fun, challenging track with many holes that make you choose strategy over distance off the tee. With some narrow fairways and trees aplenty, you must be accurate or face dropping a stroke or two each hole. The par 3 hole #2 is a nice overwater shot. There are a couple holes that you may be tempted to cut corners to give yourself an easy wedge into the green, but miss and you'll be looking for your ball in trees and bushes. I played here a few times, and overall enjoyed my experience each time.
Ely City felt like a proper golf course, and is a proper golf course. Having played a number of 1990s creations (by the way what part of the 1990s course designer's handbook requires at least three holes with right angle doglegs) it was nice to play somewhere which had subtlety to it.
As with the one previous review I felt the back nine had more collective character, with a lovely mix of holes and, unusually for Cambridgeshire, some elevation. That's not to say the front nine was poor, but it felt tighter, with the main protection being the tree lined and relatively tight fairways. This was particularly the case with three, four and five which went back, forth and back down the same corridor and at much the same length. The fifth is a long tough hole played into the prevailing wind with a long ditch down the right and trees down the left. A very hard hole to par indeed.
But the best part of the course was definitely the back nine; no sense that the same hold was being played in a different direction here. The climbing started on 11, as did the rippling links-like fairways. It was also the first of, I think three holes played to raised greens. What goes up must come down, and at Ely City this was with a lovely short part three (11th), a short downhill par five (16) which required a strong fade off the tee before a straight approach guarded by bunkers left and right and finally, another fade required hole at 18. In between there was 13, which encouraged a big draw to shorten the second shot (but did not have so many trees on the corner as to make the shot impossible) and my favourite, 17, where a long straight shot is needed to offer a clear sight of the raised green once the top of the ridge at about 250 yards (off white) had been reached.
The welcome was great, and we all particularly liked the captain who was working at the club and popped out for a quick chat and to welcome us. A really nice gesture which took about a minute and which left a happy glow.
To go back to the front nine; there were no bad holes, just an element of sameness which was never felt coming back. Like all parkland courses the trees provide definition and like all parkland courses care will need to be taken to ensure the trees do not encroach on playing lines and do not force holes to be played one way.
Condition was the fairways were great; although recently sanded the greens were as well - especially if one hits a high ball and hopes for a soft reception from that shot.
Never judge a book by the cover they say and that applies to the course at Ely. This club is just off the main road on the outskirts of the city and this parkland course has plenty of holes that run alongside each other which is not normally a good sign. I played in April ’17 and was very impressed with the early season presentation of the course – after spending some-time with the green-keeping staff it is clear that they are very passionate about their work. As mentioned there are some up and down holes and probably most noticeable on the opening tee, a look to the right and here are four more holes running parallel – more of an observation than a criticism though with high-class conditioning on all holes.
The first par-3 is at the 2nd and certainly the best looking short hole; and at 160 yards is playable for everyone. The 3rd to the 5th is a tough lengthy stretch, a couple of par-5’s followed by a 467 yard par-4 and all have fairly tight drives too – score well on these three and you have a great foundation for a decent card.
The back nine is stronger in my opinion, plenty of variety and change in elevation and some nice sightings of Ely Cathedral. Although I have mentioned variety, the 10th is very similar to the 1st hole, not sure what can really be done about that though. The 12th, like the 2nd is a mid-length par-3 and great fun to play. Another observation from me comes at the 14th; this is SI-2 and a par-4 at 387 yards – the hole turns to the left and rises up to the green; the issue I have is that a decent shot in the left of the fairway can have the route to the green blocked by one or two huge trees; a little unfair for me.
The last two holes are very strong, with the uphill 17th a serious test, especially with its raised green – very difficult for most. The final hole is 432 yards long with no bunkers but does have a slight turn to the right for the last 150 yards or so – if you need a par to win your match, you will have to work for it here – a really impressive hole.
Final thoughts of Ely are good ones and would love to re-visit. Hats off to the guys looking after the course – some serious dedication and some of the best apron/approach areas to greens that I have seen in a while.