Rockliffe Hall is set close to the meandering curve of the River Tees just to the south of Darlington. It’s undoubtedly the most exciting golf resort to have opened in England’s northeast. Rockliffe Hall, the tastefully restored 18th century country house, is the centrepiece of the resort and it is surrounded by 350 acres of majestic County Durham parkland.
The estate has been privately owned throughout most of its history and the current owner, Steve Gibson, knows a thing or two about football. Not only does he own Rockliffe Hall but also Middlesbrough Football Club, whose training HQ is sited within the Rockliffe property. Gibson commissioned one of England’s oldest and most established golf course design firms to fashion a championship course as an accompaniment to the five-star facility. Hawtree Limited has been in the golf course architecture business since 1912 and it was their associate architect, Marc Westenborg, who was also responsible for the highly acclaimed redevelopment of Dooks Golf Club, who laid out the course at Rockliffe Hall.
Opened in 2009, the multi-million pound course is one of Europe’s longest tracks, measuring a whopping 7,879 yards from the tiger tees. Built with championship golf in mind, Rockliffe Hall is a stern test, not only due to its length, but also due to its strategic and occasionally penal design.
Lakes, wetlands, woodland and bold bunkering (especially around the greens), coupled with deep tangly rough combine to make Rockliffe Hall a supreme challenge. There’s even an island green at the par three 5th, which many consider to be Rockliffe’s signature hole, but the 242-yard one-shot 15th is the most daunting par three on the card, where water cuts in along the hole’s right side… a par here is one to be cherished.
Our advice is to choose one of the five tee boxes carefully and keep any macho tendencies for a different course. Some think Rockliffe Hall is a potential future Ryder Cup venue and we have no doubt that it is a tough enough test, even for the world’s best golfers.
In 2013 Rockliffe Hall hosted the English Senior Open, which Denmark’s Steen Tinning won by one shot from Spain's Santiago Luna. The English Senior Open returned to Darlington in 2014 when Argentine Senior Tour rookie Cesar Monasterio cruised to his maiden European Senior Tour victory - thanks in no small part to carding a course record-equalling nine under par 63 in the second round.