Hartlepool Golf Club is located on the North Sea coast to the north of Hartlepool and this par 70 course bears the design stamp of Willie Park Jr. and James Braid who reworked some of the holes between the dunes.
According to the book James Braid and his Four Hundred Courses by John F. Moreton & Iain Cumming, “if you can find the course, the entrance being under the railway through a horseshoe arch, you will meet a “mixed” course, partly “links” in the dunes, mostly on quick-draining agricultural land.
Originally nine holes, Hartlepool in 1911 became a full eighteen holes, the designer being Willie Park Junior. In the autumn of 1929 Braid was engaged to provide a bunkering plan, a brief widened to include any alterations he thought fit. Braid, respectful of his countryman’s designing skill, concentrated on the central holes: 9 becoming a dogleg, 10, another par 4, pushed into the dunes and containing a blind second shot, 11 a daunting par 3, which grew to 240 but which is now 216 yards, across a ravine along the shoreline, and 12, also a par 3, played from a high tee, in the opposite direction, to a green down below and well-bunkered. And all his bunkering recommendations were promptly carried out.
Since Braid’s time, changes have been few. A new clubhouse after World War II necessitated renumbering. The selling of the old clubhouse meant the loss of the old 1st, 17th and 18th high up there on the plateau land in the south part of the course. A new 2nd and 3rd were constructed in 1963. The 17th was lengthened in 1983.”
Hartlepool is a slow burner of a golf course. It takes three or four holes to really warm up but once it does it produces some excellent true links golf.
There are a handful of holes at this East Coast gem that provide golf approaching the highest order. It's just a shame it cannot deliver this for the full 18 holes.
As with many links courses the poorer, less interesting holes are found furthest away from the coastline and this is certainly the case at the James Braid influenced Hartlepool. The opening four holes are played on flatter, softer ground but these are quickly forgotten once you reach the par three fifth which is played over a wasty dene to an isolated green at the tip of the headland with the North Sea acting as a stunning backdrop and a sandy beach way below. There's nothing for long or left at this cracker of a hole.
A blind drive is a feature at the next with large sand dunes lining the left and smaller ones to the right which you must hit over and through. A small marker post is your only other guide as to where to aim. What waits in store once the fairway comes into view is exceptional. The large dunes continue all the way along the left of the hole with a tumbling fairway to the right which ends abruptly with more hummocky but rougher ground beyond. You are then faced with an approach to a table top green that sits perfectly into the landscape. Whilst it is a little on the short side at 332 yards it really is a hole that wouldn't look out of place at somewhere like Ballybunion.
Undoubtedly the best hole on the course is the bunkerless 14th. This stallion of a par four dog-legs right-to-left as it wraps itself around the dunes that protect the course from the beach. Longer hitters are rewarded with a glimpse of the green whilst those unable to drive over 200 yards face a longer and partially blind second shot over the hillcrest to a green edged brilliantly into the far corner of the course. Hartlepool is far from a championship links but this hole is capable of testing the best.
From here on in the course gradually returns to blander terrain reminiscent of the opening few holes. But that's not to say these are poor holes. In fact the 15th is a joy, played from a high tee to a fairway that sweeps left to right it invites you to bite off as much as you dare with bunkers on the corner for those too greedy.
Hartlepool may not deliver on a consistent basis throughout the full 18 holes but there is more than enough here to warrant a visit from lovers of links golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.