Ipswich Golf Club at Purdis Heath is a delightful place, oozing style, peacefulness and tranquillity. You would never believe you are just a couple of miles outside the busy town centre. In fact, you could easily assume that you're at one of Surrey's best sand belt courses.
The club was originally founded in 1895 and in those days the members played on Rushmere Heath – a delightful spot – now the home of Rushmere Golf Club. In 1926, they decided to move and acquired more than 200 acres of ideal golfing land. “James Braid designed this course and in 1928, at the age of twenty-one, I joined Braid with J. H. Taylor and Abe Mitchell at the opening of the course and clubhouse,” wrote Sir Henry Cotton in his guide to Golf in the British Isles: “The clubhouse was built as a large country house so that in case the golf project did not succeed, the property could easily be sold – such was the uncertainty about the growth of golf when I came into the game!”
In a similar way to Muirfield, Ipswich is laid out in two broad loops but the difference is that the loops run in different directions to those at Muirfield. Here at Purdis Heath, the outward nine is on the inside running anticlockwise and the inward nine wraps around the outside running in a clockwise direction. This classic design ensures that the elements hit you from all directions. Additionally, Braid made full use of the natural contours of the land by laying the course out on the high ground around two lakes.
Undoubtedly Ipswich is a first class golf course, which changes character seasonally. The autumn colours are sensational and in spring, with the rhododendrons in full bloom, there's no better place to be. There are many fine holes, but one of our favourites is the charming 15th, a short par three where the tee shot must carry across water to a green, which is savagely protected by bunkers and flanked by trees on both sides.
In addition to the Purdis Heath course, Ipswich has a delightful 9-hole short course called Bixley, which was opened by Sir Henry Cotton on the 40th anniversary of the opening of the main course. The new course was intended to relieve the Purdis Heath course and give beginners the chance to learn. “My only possible criticism of the new nine-hole course is that it is too tough for most players, although great fun for a real golfer to play,” wrote Sir Henry Cotton.
We think Purdis Heath is one of the best, and certainly one of the most underrated courses in the land. It's quite staggering that a course of such quality has never been voted onto a GB&I Top 100 list. A nine-hole warm-up on the Bixley course before tackling Purdis Heath after lunch cannot be bettered anywhere in the whole of East Anglia.
The Purdis Heath layout at Ipswich Golf Club is an intimate heathland course played over rolling terrain and through beautiful, tranquil woodland in the heart of Suffolk.
It’s very easy on the eye and recent bunker renovations have elevated this course to one that is now knocking on the door of the country’s elite inland venues. As to whether it will gain entrance is an altogether different question.
Some may suggest its location doesn’t do it any favours and the old adage that “If it was on the Surrey sandbelt….” may have an element of truth in it but that never really washes with me. I’m more inclined to reason that if a course is good enough it will be recognised as such regardless of where it is situated.
In my opinion if Ipswich can’t quite be talked about in the same breath as the Surrey and Berkshire powerhouses (not that this unpretentious club claims to be) it isn’t too far away and is clearly going in the right direction.
It should also be noted that there is a second course, the 9-hole Bixley, which although I didn’t get to see on my flying visit is reported to be of a similar ilk to its big brother and well worth playing if one has the time.
Back to the main course and each hole is different; the natural contours of the truly majestic property were used exceptionally well by James Braid in 1926 to create a highly enjoyable golfing experience. There are a number of wonderful green locations; some perched up high, others etched seamlessly into the hillside and of course the memorable sunken green at the fourth. Ipswich mixes it up very well and oozes character.
The heavily bunkered course is routed quite superbly and is one of those where you truly get lost. After half-a-dozen holes you could have asked me to point in the direction of the clubhouse and I wouldn’t have had a clue. In fact it wasn’t until looking at the overhead plan of the course after the round that I realised the 10th green is actually quite close to the clubhouse; I would have otherwise guessed that we were at the farthest point away from it! The back nine then wraps itself around the inner front-nine in what is roughly a U-shape for the entire layout.
There are clearly some extremely fine holes but it just doesn’t quite have that killer instinct which I personally look for in a truly top class golf course. The 18 holes as a collective are far from easy but the fast running nature of the firm fairways along with the downhill changes in elevation on some of the longer two-shotters do make it play shorter than the already modest yardage of 6,439 (par 71) suggests. I’m certainly not an advocate of adding length to courses but it did feel at times that it just need to pack that extra punch.
To say it’s more a case of style over substance at Purdis Heath is admittedly harsh, and is not quite what I’m getting at, but the missing ingredient is definitely a bit of bite. I’m sure others, who’ve played the course more times than me, will disagree but I can only speak from experience.
Regardless of this minor niggle I thoroughly enjoyed playing here on what is undoubtedly a much unheralded course and one that is clearly on the rise. Expect to hear more about Ipswich Golf Club in the future. Much more.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I played Purdis again on our annual visit in October and I’m most impressed by the bunker renovations which have improved the course significantly. For me Ipswich is now underrated and should site alongside the likes of the Addington and West Hill. I liked it before the renovations and now I love it. It’s not quite in the top league but it’s not far off.