Located less than a 15-minute drive northwest of Bury St Edmunds, Flempton Golf Club dates back to 1895, when a 9-hole course was brought into play. Eleven years later, after acquiring an additional tract of twelve acres, the club invited J.H. Taylor to redesign the course over an extended 45 acres of heathland.
The resulting layout is the one that’s still in play more than a hundred years later, cleverly configured with three returning 3-hole loops to bring golfers back to the clubhouse with regularity. And with fairways laid out across sandy-soiled terrain, the course is genuinely playable all year round.
Measuring 3,126 yards from the back markers, the course plays to a par of 35, with just the one par five hole at the 489-yard 3rd. The par four 4th is rated the most difficult on the card, while the 202-yard 9th is the longest of the two par threes, played to a green that slopes markedly from left to right.
Mackenzie and Ebert were engaged in 2018 to conduct a course audit and a blueprint was developed to pay homage to J. H. Taylor’s design by setting out to reinstate the unique bunkering, mounding and other elements that have been partially lost over time.
The phased implementation of the upgrade work began in 2020, with aspects of course clearance and improving sight lines and the recruitment of a new Head Greenkeeper to work with Master Greenkeeper and agronomist Gordon Irvine augurs well for the future.
The Course Development Plan will be completed as finances allow.
During a swift trip to Suffolk to play “The Sacred Nine”, I was invited by a good friend of mine to play a less heralded 9-hole course in the shape of Flempton Golf Club.
Flempton, a stones throw from the market town of Bury St Edmunds, was founded in 1895 and is a club and course steeped in history. I was taken aback with the open links feeling that the drive in encompasses, with the entrance splitting the Par 3 9th hole and surrounded by tightly mown run off areas. The clubhouse itself sits proud in front of the 1st Tee and 9th Green and evokes feelings of a quaint cricket pavilion neatly guarded by towering pines. It’s a club that transports you back in time a little. It’s traditional golf with a very bright future.
Back in 1906 the club requested five time open champion J.H. Taylor to redesign the course. This resulted in a unique clover leaf of three loops of three holes all returning to the clubhouse, which is a fantastic piece of design. I am told this was for the benefit of the local doctors who would play the course and collect messages from the clubhouse every three holes when on call!
Standout holes would be the beautiful short par 3 5th with a stream and small waterfall snaking across the approach. Although short, the green is tricky and par is by no means a given. The standout hole is the Par 4 7th. A mid to long iron needs to be played to a fescue and bunker protected fairway and the approach shot is played into semi blind sunken green protected on all sides by bunkers, all hidden from view. It’s a fantastically fun hole and one you would never get bored of playing.
My overriding feeling is there is a lot to love here and with a little investment Flempton could really hold its own with the best 9 holes in the U.K. Luckily this is something the club has already recognised and as such has engaged Mackenzie & Ebert to undertake a comprehensive ‘Masterplan’ to develop holes, revolutionise the practice facilities and futureproof the course for generations to come.
It’s hard not to compare Flempton and RW&N (Mildenhall) due to their proximity to each other. In my opinion RW&N is the better course, but with the investment that seems forthcoming, Flempton can really compete with its famous counterpart and is really not that far behind.
Flempton is a hidden Gem tucked away in a beautiful part of the world and I really am looking forward to returning over the years to see how the course develops and hopefully, in time, could push for higher rankings in the 9-hole elite.
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Flempton is a lovely, tucked away, nine-holer close to the market town of Bury St. Edmunds in the sleepy Suffolk countryside. There is a wonderful ambience to quintessential Flempton from the moment you turn into the club and it is without doubt one of the best nine-hole golf courses in the country.
Built on just 45 acres of sandy terrain I can imagine the course, laid out in three returning triangles, plays exceptionally well for 12 months of the year. And even if the weather turns on you the clover-leaf routing means you are never far away from the charming clubhouse.
I enjoyed the course on a warm summer day when the fairways were on the tipping point of turning brown and there was plenty of run on the ball. I imagine this is when it plays at its best because it brings to life all the natural undulations and slopes and makes avoiding the bold bunkers, of which there are many, even more challenging.
I suspect it is a venue you will be hearing more about in the coming years as the club are currently underway with a 5 year "Flempton Masterplan" to restore some of the original JH Taylor features from back in the day (Five-time Open Champion Taylor was asked to redesign the course in 1906 when the club acquired some new land). This will be overseen by the Mackenzie & Ebert firm of golf course architects as well as greenkeeping consultant Gordon Irvine. The Club have already installed some thoughtfully placed forward, gender neutral tees and improved some sight lines, although I think even more could be done in this area to open up the estate further.
The opening three holes contain two medium length par-fours and a par-five. The greens were all accommodating of a running approach, especially at the reachable third which sits in a shallow basin, although avoiding the fairway bunkers is the main challenge on this opening stretch, as it is all the way round! This trio of holes make for a nice and gentle start to the round.
The second mini-loop has a short par-three between two stubborn two-shotters. The first of these is a fantastic hole that sweeps around five intimidating, staggered sand traps before you play towards a green which has more trouble lurking than we have seen thus far. There is a lot going on at the sort hole too as we enter a greener part of the property with a pond, bridge, ditches and a boundary hedge all in ones visual. The sixth is another tough a par-four and is played slightly uphill (the entire layout is fairly flat on the whole) and has cross bunkers to contend with.
The final third has two par-fours with a one-shotter to close out the round. The 7th is arguably the hole you will remember most at Flempton. It is a driveable par four with an almost bathtub style green protected at the front and sides with bunkers. If there had been more holes like the seventh, particularly the green surrounds, the course would have been even higher in my estimation. Another strong par-four greets us at the eighth and the closing hole, played over the entrance road, is a fine one to conclude a very satisfying round of golf.
The greens have more than enough interest, the contouring is not too bold but there are lots of subtle undulations and movement which means you do not want to leave yourself the top side of the hole.
There's very little not to like about Flempton and I for one look forward to returning when the masterplan has been fully executed and its full potential realised.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
The woke golfing crowd may flock to Mildenhall to visit the Sacred Nine, but just fifteen minutes east of there beside the historic market town of Bury St Edmunds lies another nine holer that should be every bit as well renowned. Flempton is a traditional club with a course that exhibits characteristics of Ganton as firm sandy turf and gently rolling ground are enhanced by wild bunkering and artificial yet stylish mounding.
Uniquely, the course plays in three loops, all returning back to the clubhouse meaning that anything from a quick skip across three holes through to a full eighteen are a possibility.
Bunkering is central to the course and it’s how the bunkers are embedded into the banks and bumps that provide the course’s most startling feature. The greens also, whilst maybe not blessed with internal features as strong as Royal Worlington, still have subtle breaks and borrows, and the surrounds are closely shaven providing for some interesting run-offs. Each hole is blessed with character, but it’s the 7th that remains most firmly in the memory. This is a shortish par four that has a distinctive string of bunkers across the fairway before a hidden green is surrounded by some nasty little revetted pots.
Any minor criticism would be that the course has maybe lacked the investment that it should have over recent decades, but its potential is boundless. As such, the directors at Flempton have hired Martin Ebert as they now embark upon a three-year masterplan with the aim being that once complete, the club would see itself becoming one of the top 10 nine-hole courses in the UK. I for one think this is a hugely modest target as even without those improvements, I would suggest it already belongs amongst such company and maybe worthy of a full day out on its own merit.
There’s already a lot to be admired and from the moment you drive into the clubhouse, you can immediately tell that this place has a special something. It's a course suitable for beginners through to the scratch player, and their new Head Greenkeeper has already started to make various improvements. With the new irrigation system that is on order, quality year-round conditions should soon be accomplished. I also like the switch to genderless tees and once the bunker work is completed with the main aim of making the sand lines more visible, I honestly think the club are onto a winner.
I came away with a real soft spot for Flempton. It's relatively unknown to the wider golf community but they have a real gem on their hands and seem to be doing everything right. I look forward to a return to the club in the future and enjoying the fruits of their labour when that natural potential has been reached.
When you tell someone you are playing a ‘9 hole’ you tend to get raised eyebrows. In this day and age of variety and choice at our fingertips, people like to have large expansive 18/27/36 hole layouts and sprawling clubhouses to suit every need.
But, there are still ‘Hidden Gems’ located in these fair Isles of ours, and one that falls right on my doorstep is that of Flempton GC. I’ve been fortunate enough to play this beautiful course with a good friend who is a member on lots of occasions and I have never been let down.
I am always very impressed with the level of maintenance at the course, a heathland course that sits on fast draining light soil which offers a good test. The clubhouse is steeped in history and has a feel as though you are stepping back in time. The only draw backs would be the practice facilities, but I know that plans are in place to re-develop the practice area to offer more and in turn will help develop and modernise the club.
Onto the course, and a very gentle opening hole (approx.350 yards off the members tee) and a great way to open your round with a nice open green. The signature holes on this course are certainly the Par 3, 5th hole and short Par 4, 7th.
The 5th hole being a beautiful little hole, from a slightly elevated tee you are hitting down over a stream to a very tricky undulating green. The green is framed to the rear by a row of conifers which give it a much tighter feel. You can be lured into thinking that once safely aboard the green here you can walk off with a birdie or Par, but a 3 putt is very realistic due to the undulations.
The 7th Hole is a real Jewel, and a hole that wouldn’t be out of place at some of the best heathland courses in the British Isles. As you stand on the tee you are faced with a tricky decision as to how to approach the hole. At only around 299 Yards and listed as SI.17/18 the temptation is to ‘take it on’ and pull out the driver. Once you have played the hole once you will understand why this is a very high risk strategy. A sunken green awaits, and is very well protected by longer grass and deep bunkers. My advice on this hole is that it is a second shot hole, get into a good position down the right hand side of the fairway and attack with a wedge.
Lots of people are put off by playing 18 holes on a 9 hole course due to repetition, but Flempton is not one of those. You play all on the first loop and wish you had the chance to play them again and the joy is that you get that chance!
Having played a good percentage of golf courses that appear in the Top 100 list, I would state that Flempton could and should be higher on the Suffolk Rankings and vying for a place in the overall 100 list (Much like its neighbour of 9 miles away Royal Worlington & Newmarket Golf Club), Flempton is a lovely course and well worth the visit.
Managed to squeeze in 18 holes on a glorious summers evening in 2018. A rather questionable welcome from the bar manager aside (running out on the first tee to inform me and my Dad that we must leave before any members do for 'lock-up purposes...) this is a real gem.
Golf has clearly been played here for many years, much before modern technology was introduced with bunkers sometimes placed a mere 40 yards off tees, which adds to the character of the place.
The driveable par 4 7th with the 'dropped' green is the main highlight of the course. Bunkers guard the green on all sides in addition to a creek and out of bounds left off the tee. A real risk reward hole.
My only primary criticism of this club is that it feels stuck in time both in time and attitude. Worth playing though if you are in the area.