Newark Golf Club was founded in 1901, with members having the use of a rather elementary 9-hole track. Tom Williamson, the long serving professional at Notts Golf Club, suggested a number of course improvements, including the construction of new greens and bunkers, which resulted in a substantial increase in the overall length of the layout.
More than thirty years later, Tom Williamson was consulted again when the club was considering a move to its present location in 1934. Tom – who was the Notts pro for fifty-four years, starting in 1896 – advised on the suitability of the new site and his fee for laying out the new course at Kelwich amounted to £45.00.
Unsurprisingly, much has changed over the years at Newark. Donald Steel altered six greens and seven tees during the 1970s. Another three putting surfaces were replaced in the 1980s, when the pond at the 4th was also dredged and enlarged. During the 1990s, scores of trees were transplanted around the layout to great effect.Today, the course measures 6,468 yards, playing to a par of 71. Holes to watch out for include the tough par four 4th, played over water from the tee, and back-to-back par fives at holes 6 and 7. On the back nine, there’s an interesting little loop at 12, 13 and 14, with the last of these holes doglegging sharply left to the green.
All courses have front and back nines. None that I have played have more contrasting front and back nines. The front nine at Newark is tree lined, relatively long and, at least to me, uninspiring. The back nine is a winding out and back loop with contrast, shape to the holes and much more interesting.
The course starts with a long straight par 4. It’s certainly not a gentle opener. Two is a medium par three, and the only hole played across the grain of what becomes very much an up and down layout. Three was the only hole with any shape on the front nine, a medium short par 4 with bunkers protecting the corner and a drop down to the green which meant stopping your shot was important.
Frankly I then found four to nine rather dull. Four is a long slog of a straight par 4, stroke index 1 not because of any great complexity, but rather because it’s long and often into the wind. Five is a long par three, but not really very exciting. Six and seven are the opposites of each other. One is long, the other short. Both are par 5s. I can’t remember much about eight and nine, save that they both felt straight with loads of trees left and right.
The back nine is played out to a different angle, instead of being up and down it is out and back. Thus ten is a dog leg left, with the first hint that not just the concept of the course but also the soil may have changed. There’s a bit of heather. There’s wispy grass. The shape of the hole is not dictated by a line of 50 year old trees.
Eleven is a short par 5 with the interest at the green side rather than off the tee. Twelve I liked. Driveable for the longer hitters, tempting for the medium ones and perfectly capable of being played sensibly with an iron and a wedge. A well protected green means the approach has to be right. Thirteen as a bit of a reversion to the long and straight, but instead of trees forcing a low hack out its longer grass which is the hazard, tempting players to bite off more than they should. I have no problem with being punished for errors, but don’t force only one option for each error.
Continuing the “we’re no longer a straight course” theme fourteen is an 80 degree dog-leg left. Get your drive right and it’s a short iron in. Go short side and out of bounds awaits, go right and it’s a longer shot. Fifteen is the first of a couple of similar short holes. It’s well protected front right and medium left and especially with a front pin position difficult to get near.
Sixteen is a big sweeping dog leg right. Bunkers on the corner protect the tiger line, bushes and another bunker protect the straighter drive that goes too long. Even a decent drive will require a long second.
Seventeen has a well protected offset green which very much slopes up front front right to top left. There’s actually plenty of room, but temptation can get the better of the gung-ho golfer. And finally 18. Another dog leg left, best played with an iron off the tee to open up a comfortable second.
The greens were decent, though not as quick as they looked. The conditioning was not bad at all. I just wish they’d be super bold and take out a thousand trees on the front nine and give the greenkeepers some space with which to play and thus some space with which they can use their imagination. Trees can shape a hole, they should not frame it.