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.
Rockliffe Hall is one of England's most luxurious golf resorts with a genuine five star hotel and excellent golf and spa facilities. The golf course is thought to be the longest in Europe at 7877 yards from the Championship tees used during the European Seniors Tour events in 2013 and 2014. Surprisingly the monstrous length didn't exactly hamper the two winners, both shot nine under par 63's on their way to victory. Despite the headline length, there are another four teeing areas to choose from, ranging between 7230 and 5800 yards, giving ample opportunity to choose a tee that best fits your game.
The course certainly rewards good driving with relatively generous fairways in terms of width but the rough will often punish the most wayward shots. Mark Westenborg did a fine job with the bunkering which is big, bold and plentiful, not to mention visually intimidating.
Numerous ponds and lakes come in to play on a regular basis, providing a challenge on over half the holes. Two of the standout par threes make great use of the water hazards. The 5th requires a mid or long iron to an island green and the tricky 190 yard 15th requires a fine shot to reach the green which is heavily protected by a huge bunker at the front. Anything off line down the right will find a watery grave.
The greens are fast, true and interesting with numerous well designed run-off areas to punish an approach that misses the target. One of the best examples is the par five 16th. This heavily contoured, bunkerless green with low lying ground to the front and run-offs to the side and rear is certainly one that sticks in the memory. The 17th, is another great hole which makes you think from the tee as it curves left around a pond. It can be demanding if you take on the water but plotting a safe route is the primary objective. Even if the water is safely negotiated, can you avoid the bunkers which lie in wait on dry land.
Rockcliffe Hall is a strategic and at times penal layout but without question fun to play. It certainly got the better of me on my first visit but I can't wait to give it another go.
Maybe some bias as a member but feel the course is under rated. It’s a stiff test but always in good condition and outstanding facilities. Modern style Championship course, can be a struggle when the rough is up and having a bad day, but i’d easily have it as the best course in the region. Play Close House a lot but value for money wise and the Colt (at Close House) being a tough walk i’d play Rockliffe much more often.