Hunstanton is the ancestral home of the le Strange family; Hamon le Strange invested £30 to get the original nine holes ready for play; George Fernie was the architect. Hunstanton Golf Club was founded in 1891 and Hamon became the inaugural club president. In 1907, James Braid revised the existing layout and extended the course to 18 holes, alterations which cost a total of £25. James Sherlock made further subtle modifications in the 1920s and the two closing holes were updated by Ken Cotton in 1951.
This natural course is a simple out and back affair, interrupted only briefly in the middle of the outward and inward nines by a few short holes that zigzag at right angles across the central dunes. The River Hun and the Wash frame this narrow strip of links land, but you are only offered a few glimpses of the sea from the course itself.
Hunstanton and Royal West Norfolk are always rated close together in today's ranking tables but, when Darwin wrote about Hunstanton in his book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, things were different: “Hunstanton is very amusing golf; it is more than that, for it is for the most part very good golf. Perhaps it is a little unfairly overshadowed in public estimation by its near neighbour Brancaster, which is altogether on a rather bigger and grander scale.” Nevertheless, Hunstanton is a connoisseur’s golf course, jammed full of memorable quality golf holes. The members are quite rightly proud of the greens, they are tricky to read, fast, hard and true. The rippling fairways are tightly mown and gently undulating.
Two of the world’s best lady golfers have played and won here at Hunstanton. In the year before the Great War, Cecil Leitch beat G Ravenscroft 2 and 1 to win the Ladies’ British Amateur Championship and in 1921, the great Joyce Wethered beat J Stocker to win the English Ladies’ Close Amateur Championship. More recently, in 1972, Hunstanton hosted the Ladies’ British Amateur Championship, when Mickey Walker went on to win, beating Claudine Rubin of France.
A feat of incalculable odds also occurred at Hunstanton. In 1974, the amateur Bob Taylor holed in one during a practice round for the Eastern Counties Foursomes. The following day, in the actual competition, he again holed in one. The very next day in the same competition, he once more holed in one. If a hole in one on three consecutive days is not enough, you’ll be amazed to hear that it was achieved each time on the same hole, the 16th, a 191-yard par three!
This is a full-blown championship golf links; an absolute must-play for serious golfers. Make your score on the outward nine, the back nine is much more difficult, except for the par 3 16th, a simple hole in one opportunity.
Martin Hawtree recently produced a course master plan for the club and much of this
work has completed, including re-bunkering of the par fives and improvements
to the 1st, 7th, 10th and 18th.
Hunstanton lies just a wee bit behind Royal West Norfolk in the rankings but its regal neighbour had better watch out as this course is heading places under the able direction of secretary Bob Carrick, who took great delight in showing me several before and after pictures of extensive bunker work that was recently carried out on the course. Gordon Irvine – the Master Greenkeeper who played a leading role in the restoration of the old Askernish course – has been working with in-house staff to upgrade some of the more tired aspects on the course and the results of their winter endeavours were only too apparent to see on the 2nd and 15th holes where some wonderful pot bunkers have been formed and some subtle mounding installed around the greens.
Hunstanton was once renowned for the quality of the greens – they were a tad slow when I played – and the club are determined to restore that reputation, especially now that they have a respected agronomist on their side.
Fairways are laid out along and across a spine of sand hills that run the length of the course and this topography results in wonderful holes like the short par four 6th where its pulpit green sits on top of the dunes. The par three 16th attracts much talk about a fantastic hole in one feat when it was aced three days running in 1974 but really – with no disrespect to Bob Taylor, the golfer involved – it should be lauded in its own right as an absolutely fantastic short hole with a wickedly contoured green that’s surrounded by brilliantly-positioned bunkers and it's one of the best downhill par threes I’ve ever played.
The challenging back-to-back par fives at holes 8 and 9 provide a real sting in the tail on the front nine and the long, blind par three 14th nods favourably to old-fashioned golfing traditions that would never be considered in a modern day routing.
The traffic light system on the closing hole (where fairway lights turn to red if somebody crosses the fairway to access the beach huts) also tickled me as it proves the club is more than capable of embracing new technology if that’s what it takes to preserve the time-honoured golfing pursuits of its members.