Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club was originally nominated by Brian and was added to the your gems section of the Top 100 website in February 2006. Since then, the Martello course at the historic Felixstowe Ferry (established in 1880 and one of England’s oldest golf clubs), moved straight out of your gems and into our Suffolk Best in County rankings. Brian’s original nomination article follows:
“I have played some great golf courses over the years but my personal “Home of Golf” is not St Andrews, it’s Felixstowe Ferry. I’ve lived in Essex all my life and it’s a complete joy to head off to the seaside to escape the clay and play a top quality links course. My wife already knows that when I kick the bucket I’d like my ashes to be scattered here because Felixstowe is where my heart is.”
“I have the tenderest and most sentimental association with Felixstowe,” wrote Bernard Darwin in The Golf Courses of Great Britain, “because it was there that I began to play golf. I did not see it again for a painfully long number of years, and my recollections of it were those of a small boy of eight or nine years old. The small boy wore a flannel shirt, brown holland knickerbockers, and bare legs, from which the sun had removed nearly all vestiges of skin. He used to dodge in and out of the crowd, hurriedly playing a hole here and there, and then waiting for unsympathetic grown-ups in red coats to pass him. Willie Fernie was the professional there in those days, and in the zenith of his fame; it was not long before he had beaten Bob Ferguson for the championship by holing a long putt for a two at the last hole at Musselburgh. Occasionally also another great golfer, Mr. Mure Fergusson, would come down from London to shed the light of his countenance upon the course and be breathlessly admired by the small boy from a respectful distance.
As far as I can remember, my best score then was 70 for one round of the nine-hole course, and so I always pictured Felixstowe to myself as possessing longer holes and bunkers infinitely more terrible than those to be found on any other course. Felixstowe revisited appeared naturally enough to have shrunk a little; the Martello tower was not quite so tall as I had pictured it, but I still found it one of the most charming and interesting of courses. As far as I could see, the course was almost exactly the same as it always had been. The names of the holes came back to me as I played them – the ‘Gate,’ the ‘Tower,’ ‘Eastward Ho!’ ‘Bunker’s Hill,’ the ‘Point’ – with a romantic thrill.
Another interval of time elapsed and I saw Felixstowe again. Then all had been changed indeed. Nine holes had become too few for all those that wanted to play there, and, although the ground has now made a wonderful recovery, the War and the troops had left their traces. So the whole course has been entirely changed and has become eighteen holes. It must have been rather an ungrateful task to alter what was so lovable and so historic, but Dr Mackenzie did it very well. The course now consists of three different sections. There is the old ground of the pure seaside character, close to the sea, where are still to be found old-fashioned, keen seaside greens. There is the ground to the left of the road to Bawdsey Ferry, which is heavier, but partially sandy, and there is the ground on top of the cliff behind the clubhouse, which has inland soil. Yet, oddly enough, it is when we are playing inland golf that we are most afraid of the sea, for the tenth and eleventh greens are so close to the edge of the cliff that it gives me the cold shivers to think of them. None of the old holes now remain, though some of the old greens are used.”
“But the course suffered a worse fate in 1939 when it became part of the defence system against invasion.” Wrote Donald Steel in Classic Golf Links of Great Britain & Ireland. “In 1946, there wasn’t much evidence that it had ever been a golf course but superhuman efforts (not helped by the floods of 1949) led to its re-opening in 1950 although the building of the sea wall led to the loss of a fine short hole facing out to sea. It is easy to understand how the exhibition match to mark its relaunch was a matter of great rejoicing. The latest version of the layout embraces holes on both sides of the road but the ground nearest the shore is still the best and most interesting.”
The original course that Tom Dunn designed and the 18-hole course that Alister MacKenzie laid out in 1920 (when he was partner of Colt, Alison and MacKenzie) no longer exists. The ravages of war and flood resulted in the need for yet another new course that was fashioned in 1948 by two knights of the realm, Guy Campbell and Henry Cotton.
The Martello course, as it is now known, opened in 1950, but once again found its fairways underwater in Britain's worst natural disaster, the devastating North Sea floods of January 1953. The club thankfully recovered and since then has gone from strength to strength, hosting a number of important tournaments down the years and warmly welcoming visitors to this day.
This a very quirky course with its Martello Towers lining the North Sea frontage and making it an atmospheric place to play golf. Bernard Darwin played here back in the day and I can see why he had such fond memories. Again a very stiff breeze affected every shot but once you get used to it, its "nae sae bad". The outward 9 was excellent with some very cool holes testing your shotmaking. It was suprisingly undulating too. Part of the course was closed when I visited but I would return on a less windy day to make a more thorough inspection. Kudos to the pro-shop who freely gave their advice.
It was a long drive to Felixstowe to play this course and it was worth the drive. Tons of character and a good course to visit. The ranking though, is hard. The links holes on the clubhouse side of the road are worthy of a 5-ball rating, but the majority of the holes on the other side of the road are more like 3/3.5. So I have opted for a 4 ball rating.
As has been noted, the opening 3 holes are good solid links holes with a bit of gorse scattered around before you cross the road to get to the flatter part of the course. I actually really enjoyed hole 4. A slight dogleg left where the landing area for your drive is blind. The next few holes up to the 10th are on the flatter less interesting land and whilst fine holes, they lack the charm and character of the rest of the course.
11 is a nice par 3, if a little quirky, being played across the road to an undulating green below the clubhouse. The holes 12-17 are the pick of the bunch and are what make this course worth visiting. They are hilly, bumpy and great fun - played along the beach in the dunes with brilliant and undulating green complexes. The tee by the Martello Tower was also a great treat.
Definitely worth playing this course if, like me, you enjoy playing different courses - especially the old fashioned links of this land.
The Martello course at Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club is the only links course in Suffolk and one of only a handful in East Anglia.
This makes it a highly desirable venue for a number of golfers, visitors especially, who seek out all-year round play on fast draining, running ground.
The view from the clubhouse is one of the loveliest and far-reaching I have come across. The entire course and coastline stretches out before you. The opening tee shot is one of the most inviting you will play.
The course makes a promising start with the first three holes heading away from the clubhouse, each with excellent green complexes, and there is a stirring finish with five of the last six holes showcasing the best of links golf…
However, there is no denying that the holes on the inland side of the course, divided by a road, lack the sparkle, charm and character of the others.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I too have a sentimental association with Felixstowe Ferry – nowhere near in the same league as Bernard Darwin, who might have had very good reasons to award Felixstowe the highest rating.
I used to play Felixstowe regularly when my home courses in Essex (where I used to live) were deep in mud during the soggy winter months. I always enjoyed playing Felixstowe, largely due to the respite from the Essex sludge and the fact that the condition of the Martello course was (and probably still is) unusually good all year round.
Design wise Felixstowe is not links excellence. To counterbalance the last two rather fawning ratings, I assert that Felixstowe is a good course but not an excellent one. Brancaster and Hunstanton, further to the north, are significantly better courses and there may even be one hundred links courses in Great Britain and Ireland that are superior to Felixstowe.
Our rating scale is available online for all to see and I urge other first-time reviewers to read our Ranking & Rating page before allocating a score to avoid disappointing travelling golfers whose expectations have been artificially raised. Keith Baxter
Felixstowe is a hidden gem of a course. Laid out in parallel to the coastline it is a fantastic place to be even if not playing golf. The views across the sea and the inland river and marshes are simply stunning.
The course itself is basically links and you can be sure of the usual amount of quirky bounces, best you brush up on pitch and runs and Texas wedges before coming. None of the holes are easy but 13 to18 are outstanding requiring accurate tee shots and pin point approaches to the very sloping greens. When the wind is blowing you will have your hands full around this track.
Glenn the Head Greenkeeper keeps the course in tip top condition all the year round (no temporary greens here) and Head professional Robert and assistant Peter in the pro shop cannot be more helpful and welcoming.
There are some excellent courses in this part of Suffolk but Felixstowe is as good as any of them and better than most, I thoroughly recommend a visit.
I'd just like to say that we all really enjoyed out time at Felixstowe Ferry Golf Club. The course was in fantastic condition for the time of the year! We particularly enjoyed the layout and decision making for your shot selection. I would highly recommend it to all golfers as it is truly enjoyable. I'd also like to thank Rob Joyce a fellow PGA member for being so welcoming and helpful on our visit. Fantastic condition, layout and staff. Thank you very much!
Referring to the reviewer below me, I think for everyone who plays at Felixstowe the favourite holes would be the stretch from 13 to home as it is here you find some proper undulations and interesting holes. As for the rest of the course....a good course (3 balls) with enough to suggest it is a links course but if holes 13-18 did not detour away from the first 12 holes then it would be a fairly mundane course, say on a par to Lochgreen, Moray New or St Olaf. But because it does it is a decent, not strong, 4 baller. If I had the choice to play this or Troon Darley it would be a toss of the coin. Between say Felixtstowe or Seacroft, Seacroft in a heartbeat. Not quite enough to get excited by. What also didn't help was the (I'm guessing) Asst Pro suggesting that Felixs is better than Cruden Bay as the views are the only great thing about CB, well, that set my expectation very high and it is obviously not in the same league as Cruden Bay. Warren from Australia.
I very much enjoyed my first visit to Felixstowe Ferry on a sunny late August evening. Although the course is quite compact and doesn't possess the large sand dunes commonly found on many of our better known links courses, there is more than enough going on to concentrate the mind. Measuring a little over 6,400 yards, the course does not play particularly long but good bunkering, a few ditches and plenty of humps and hollows, not to mention the ever present wind, will challenge all but the very best. On the front nine I was impressed by both the 3rd and 4th holes, two short par-4's where positioning from the tee is vital if you are to find the correct landing areas to approach the narrow and well defended greens. From the 6th we find a stretch of flatter holes as the course changes character with ditches and marshland coming in to play. Although these holes don't have quite the same links turf they still provide us with some entertaining golf. As good as the front nine is, my favourite stretch would be the holes nearest to the beach from the 13th - 18th. The imposing Martello tower, a survivor from the Napoleonic War, broods over both the excellent downhill 13th and the tough 17th, a brute of a par-4 into the prevailing wind. The 14th is a particularly good hole with three bunkers built into a ridge short of the green and the 18th is another good short par-4 climbing uphill with bunkers defending a testing two-tier green. The course was in great condition throughout and being one of England's oldest has a certain historical charm about it that makes me want to return as soon as possible. Brian W
The par three 5th marks the beginning of seven holes where a burn is in play. The burn is on both sides of the fairway on the 7th, 8th and 10th holes. Whilst the 11th has the burn on the right hand side, there is also the road and an out of bounds along the left.
The 14th and 15th are two of the newer holes (following previous coastal erosion) and can play longer into the wind than their yardage would suggest. These holes have a different architectural feel as a result of being the work of Martin Hawtree.
The 17th is a long par four dominated by the presence of the famous Martello tower, which dates back to the Napoleonic Wars. The 18th is 321 yards and uphill but with summer fairways and a following breeze it is almost drivable. A ridge across the fairway and three greenside bunkers are the main obstacles but a straight drive should leave just a short approach.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every English course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.