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.
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.