Gorleston Golf Club was founded at a meeting in the Cliff Hotel on 12th May 1906, when entrance fees for gentlemen were set at one guinea and annual subscriptions also fixed at one guinea, with ladies paying half those amounts. A 9-hole course was brought into play by Easter the following year on land leased from the Cliff Park estate.
The club relocated in 1913, calling in Willie Park Jr. to lay out a new 18-hole course, and he was assisted in this by James Hepburn, the professional at Home Park in Richmond. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War I the following year resulted in the closure of the course and six holes were ploughed over for agricultural use.
All eighteen holes didn’t come back into use until 1925, after they had been remodelled by Fred Hawtree and J.H. Taylor. During the Second World War, only twelve holes were left in play but repairs and renovations were carried out again by Fred Hawtree, allowing normal operations to resume in 1948.
Both the course and clubhouse were bought from the landlord by the members in 1967, enabling the club to proceed on a surer footing. When additional land was obtained in 1974/75, this allowed John Bacon of Hugh Jackson, Bacon and Partners to design a couple of new holes and modify others.
At the start of the new millennium, the club purchased another 50-acre tract to the west of the old 13th and 14th holes, which enabled Howard Swan to integrate part of this land into the main design of the course. Continuing coastal erosion might force the club to develop more of these spare acres as the cliffs erode onto the beach below.
Today, this cliff top layout (the easternmost course in the UK) extends to 6,341 yards from the back tees, playing to a par of 71; 34 out and 37 in. With no par fives on the outward half, the front nine holes measure all of 500 yards shorter than those on the back nine, though the routing is such that golfers don’t return to the clubhouse until they’ve played the par four 10th.
Highlight holes include short par fours on the 1st and 9th, along with the stretch of holes between the 5th and 8th, which run along the edge of the cliffs. On the inward half, the par three 11th is a tricky optical proposition for first time players on the tee, with a couple of bunkers in front of the green giving the illusion that the green appears to be a lot closer than it really is.
Although Gorleston is located in Norfolk the golf club is affilated to the Suffolk Golf Union, so we have assigned the course to our Suffolk county listings.
I like the club and course at Gorleston and enjoyed my first visit in May 2021. There is plenty of that seaside charm found at many coastal courses around the country and the pace of life is slightly slower, which is no bad thing at all. The 18 hole course has been here for over 100 years and although some of the course will be impacted by the erosion at the cliffs in time, most of the original layout is intact but definitely watch this space.
Located just minutes from the busy holiday hotspot that is Great Yarmouth, the course is very popular with locals and visitors but probably still flies a little under the radar and is not that well known overall. I think this is a perfect course to choose and combine in a tour with some of the higher ranked courses in Norfolk or Suffolk.
A friendly opening couple of par-4’s at 267 yards and 320 yards (downhill) get you moving quickly and give a chance for a smart start to score. The 3rd hole bites back at 430 yards and slightly uphill – the early par-run will be under threat here. My first observation comes at the next hole; the 4th is a par-3, 220 yards with a not so friendly stroke-index of 14 – this can be a full blooded tee shot with a big club depending on wind direction – I think a positive move would be to shorten this hole a little.
The 5th tee takes you very close to the cliff-edge and the signs are there that the coastal erosion is very close and that land is being lost at a scary rate.
The 6th hole is my favourite on the front nine; 451 yards having to negotiate two sets of cross bunkers with the fairway dipping severely between both sets, this hole will not be reached in two shots often; add in a fairly sloping green and this is a beast of a hole.
The course is the furthest east in the UK and the green at the all-carry par-3 7th is the putting surface closest to the sea and my choice of best short hole on the course.
The front nine ends with another short par-4 (286 yards); this with a very small green and strong bunkering at the front, so the big shot to the green is risky.
The back nine at Gorleston is what you can call a stronger challenge; more than 500 yards longer than the front and yes there are two more short par-4’s at 10th and 17th but the course’s two par-5’s (15th and 18th) are here too.
After a very welcome stop at half-way hut by the 10th green, my next observation is that the par-3th 11th is very similar to the 7th hole – this is another all-carry shot to a strongly bunkered green but as the yardage is only one yard difference, it is a very familiar shot to the tee shot a few holes earlier.
I like the 12th hole at lot – a par-4 at 383 yards but as the teeing ground is way right of the hole direction, a dog-leg is created which is made for the controlled fade shot.
My next talking point comes at the next two holes; the 13th and 14th – these holes are on land that the club bought in 1974 (the start of future proofing due the obvious threat of land loss at the coast). For me these two holes are very much the same; the land is basically square with woodland in the middle and what has been created are two big dog-leg holes turning right and at 419 and 409 yards can be described as mirror images. I would suggest that the 14th should be changed and maybe take the hole through the wooded area to add variety in these newer holes.
The furthest place from the clubhouse is the 16th tee and the start of a great run-in to end the round; 396 yards for this hole with some great bunkering just short of the green. The 17th has plenty of character – just 309 yards in length and the play is to lay-up short of the deep crater 100 yards out – then the sensible approach is towards the rear of the green but this will leave a tricky downhill curving putt. The last hole at 529 yards and uphill for the second half of the hole is a three-shotter really and a strong end to the round.
Lasting thoughts are that this is a club that I may well like to join one day – it is certainly suited to a ‘later in life’ feel and as mentioned at the top, the charm and pace here are clear. In saying that, I would also recommend the course to any visitors and if you set expectations ahead of playing, then Gorleston will deliver golf with a smile on your face without a doubt.