Founded in 1892, Royal West Norfolk Golf Club is a classic, nothing much has changed here for 100 years. Squeezed beautifully between Brancaster Bay and the salt marshes, Royal West Norfolk truly is a peaceful golf links, except when the wind blows and boy, is the wind bracing here!
Check the tide times before you plan your trip to Royal West Norfolk Golf Club. The course plays on a narrow strip of links-land which gets cut off at high tide, turning it into an island. If you are lucky enough to play the course during high tide, you are in for a real treat; the downside is that you will need plenty of golf balls.
Prior to your game, grab a quick drink in the oak-panelled Smoke Room inside the Victorian clubhouse and check the wind speed on the gauge next to the bar. If you want to eat after your round, make sure you order before you play, otherwise you will only be offered a choice of delicious cakes.
“In the days of the gutty it was most emphatically a driver’s course,” wrote Bernard Darwin in his book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, “since nobody could get over the ground without exceptional hitting. Even now, when the pampering Haskell has noticeably reduced its terrors, it is still a driver’s course, in the sense that it is one on which one derives the maximum of sensual pleasure from opening one’s shoulders for a wooden club shot.”
Out on the course, you feel delightfully isolated; often all you can hear are the seductive sounds of the wind, the seagulls, the clinking of stays and the flapping of boat sails. Essentially, the course is a traditional out and back links; huge sleeper-faced bunkers, fast greens and that beautiful links turf. A magical place to play golf. However, three-ball play is only allowed at the discretion of the Secretary and four-ball play is forbidden.
“Few things are more terrifying than the first hole at Brancaster on a cold, raw, windy morning,” wrote Darwin, “when our wrists are stiff and our beautiful steely-shafted driver feels like a poker. There is a bunker – really a very big, deep bunker – right in front of our noses.”
Beware the weather at Brancaster though; it can take you by surprise. We played here in late spring and ignored the black clouds to the west. After all, we were on the 15th and the sun was shining. By the time we reached the 17th it was raining and by the 18th, we faced a full-blown tempest. When, soaked to the skin, we arrived to knowing smiles in the clubhouse, the wind gauge was fluctuating between 50 and 55mph.
It is great when expectation levels are matched by experience. Brancaster certainly lived up to its fine reputation. We played on a fine sunny day on tinder dry fairways. The run outs made club selection tough especially down breeze which on our round happened to be the back 9. Plenty of others have written detailed course reviews so I will just add, friendly welcome and fantastic views followed by a loverly lunch in the timeless clubhouse all added up to a great days golf and a must play if you get the chance. I for one can not wait to visit again.
Like the smooth worn wood of the creaky wooden chairs in the clubhouse this course reeks of age and legacy and ancestry and....fun? Can you have creaky fun?
The first impression as you drive up is similar to that of Royal St George's – an isolated slice of coast, reached only by the most dedicated, who are then received with a warm, comforting sense of timelessness. You can't see the course itself as you pull in, but the large, proud clubhouse has a prominent, windowed, second floor pointing not at the beachfront upon which it sits, but away from the water, over a small tree-lined inlet and along the coast, gesturing reverently at the hallowed track of land that's juuuust out of sight over the brush. The entrance to the clubhouse is an unmarked door to the right where the clubhouse interior reflects the impression outside.
Old, grand (in a rustic, rural kind of way), but certainly not stuck or stuffy. The walls are clad with dark wood, knakered lockers and nonchalantly filled trophy cabinets, all unassuming and unimportant. Captain boards straddle either end of the space with 'Sir's' and 'H.R.H.'s' etched in gold letters, but not in an ostentatious way. Instead the feel was of welcoming relaxation, almost like coming home. Maybe its a personal thing, but it instantly become one of my favourite clubhouses. The furniture was dark hard wood, well thumbed and laid out around circular tables, a pot of coffee that must have sat there for 3 hours was steaming away at the side. The whole place gave an air of confident, natural, service – of course you can have a BLT, of course it's warm in here, please help yourself to a branded, clinking cup of filter coffee.
The walk to the course itself is across a very sandy inlet, along a narrow path to a memorial gate, opening which leads to a truly secret garden. Despite being pretty open on the inland side, the property feels like a contained grassy enclave. While the dunes protect you from the very worst of the wind, on a blustery day, with some classic British conditions, the course is, to quote a fellow visitor 'brutal'. So much so his group called off the second 18 of the day as we walked to the tee, but, as the locals know, that can all change in an instant and 3 holes in wet weather gear was stripped to polos and the course bathed us in it's spectacle.
RWN is one of the most fun courses I've ever played. Holes that cross fairways, incredible green complexes and some wonderfully unique holes like the par 3 4th, hit across and over those teeing off on 5, onto a castle like turret green, surrounded by wooden planking and some deep pot bunkers pressuring you not to leave it short. We played at a time where water was never truly a factor which made the course eminently playable. No shot, bar a slice into the sea or a duff into the long stuff was truly dead. It is strategic, quirky, and appropriately punitive. It rewards risk, but doesn't punish harshly if your execution is at odds with your ambition. It can be played with the big stick, or picked apart with good iron play. The par 5 8th is an incredible hole of strategy, requiring a conscious choice off the tee and a commitment to a line and club. But most, if not all, holes require similar thought and admiration. Its age let's it get away with blind shots and a frankly dangerous layout to provide moments of 'What do I do here?' and 'Where am I aiming next?' alongside genuine moments of awe and wonder. Looking up and taking it in significantly adds to the experience.
It's less refined than equivalent links like nearby Hunstanton and certainly less than courses like Lytham but it's a great test and if you can bring yourself to play matchplay or have a few wagers during your round it will most certainly throw some upsets into the mix.
I loved it and couldn't wait to play it again. The whole experience from unravelling myself from the long journey to putting my shoes back in the boot was awesome. Unassuming, unpretentious and unbelievable fun. If you want to 'make a score', or 'test your golf' you can certainly do that, but I think you'd be missing the point. Royal West Norfolk puts the emphasis on 'Playing' in the more traditional, whimsical sense and I for one thoroughly enjoyed it.
Brancaster on a mild windless cloudless day in March was akin to being taken back to summer holidays as a child, the rose tinted reminisces of timelessness playing with a bucket and spade. Just this time you are playing with a 58 degree wedge in cavernous sleeper faced bunker so big you think you are on your own private beach.
The opening hole is the best first hole I have ever played, I am an avid believer that the course shouldn’t hit you where it hurts from the getgo, Brancaster facilitates a welcoming drive to warm the cockles. The big bunker in front of your nose is really for show and isn’t really in play except to awake the senses, however after getting the drive away the second shot is a pure test of golf and nerve. The thick dunes and out of bounds to the left and two pot bunkers to the front right of an elevated green collect anything slightly miss hit.
The first hole provides you with the true kernel of how the course defends itself on days where the wind has itself gone on holiday. The course provides ample room off the tee, but place the drive in the wrong location then accessing the green can be nigh impossible with the next. For example a pulled drive on the 3rd, leaves a shot over a monster bunker to a green of minimal landing area from that errant angle.
The only real danger from the tee also arrives on the 3rd and is situated to the right of the majority of the outgoing holes, being the marsh. Although fenced to the course it isn’t actually out of bounds which is something that really adds to the character of the course. The tide was out on our round so the threat of water on the 8th and 9th holes had receded, which meant that errant shots fell into the dry marsh, providing a welcomed escape from what would have been card wreckers.
A thoroughly enjoyable course with a lovely welcome from the pro, secretary and steward. A delightful course made very memorable by the surroundings and welcome.
Played Brancaster on my Birthday and boy was it a treat!
We were the first off on a Thursday morning and were greeted by a lovely chap in the pro shop who told us a bit the history of the club and showed us some amazing aerial pictures of the course on the computer and an equally friendly barman who gave us a little local knowledge on how to approach some of the holes.
The course itself was in fabulous condition, lush fairways and fast & true greens. We also had it almost exclusively to ourselves which was brilliant as I often stopped to take photos of the stunning views.
A simply gorgeous golf course with fantastic staff, easily one of the best golf courses I've played
You can tell why this golf course is so highly ranked and deserving of the No.1 rank in Norfolk. With stunning views, excellent fairways and majestic greens, this golf course was a treat and one that I am already desperate to play again. If you enjoy playing links style golf courses, then this course is perfect for you. It's inches away from the Norfolk coast and gives the golfer excellent views of the sea and surrounding areas. You constantly find yourself looking at the stunning scenery throughout the round, in awe that this is actually real. I must say how welcoming and friendly the staff are in the proshop and clubhouse. The man in the proshop was more than happy to talk about the club's history and assured that I'd fall in love with the beauty, impecable fairways and incredible views this course has to offer.
I agree with your "real" comment. As mentioned a few years ago in my review, when I first saw this course from the top of the dunes, I thought it looked like an attempt of a golf course that just wasn't done quite right. The criss cross of some fairways, the strange looking bunkers, the slimness of the land, the dogs. I played it soon afterwards and it went straight to top 10. World class.
A beautiful sunny day in November, 10 degrees, and a 3 club breeze. What a lovely layout, a longer front 9 that plays far easier than the shorter back 9 coming back into the stuff cold breeze! I happened to play awesome on the back 9 though so that was a treat!
You start with a gentle par 4 doglegging around the dunes, simple tee shot to the double fairway shared with 18, but the longer the second shot you leave, the more scary it is! A small green with huge dunes/OB left & right isn’t much better!
2 whilst being a long par 4 is a breather hole, plenty of space, and plays far shorter downwind.
3 is a very interesting par 4, where the second shot plays over sleepers blind to the green, crucially you can see the top of the pin easily, which is a prerequisite an approach for me. I really quite liked this quirky design.
4 is a little par 3 over sleepers once again, a wide green, and unless very windy, a simple task.
5 is a very very intimidating tee shot for a good player, never mind a hacker, playing over a cavernous bunker blind, but with a good aiming point to try and kick a goal through, not just 1 solitary marker post, and the fairway and landing area is generous.
6 plays back to the clubhouse, the only front 9 hole that does so, and is a brilliant hole, back into the wind with a false front and OB just left of the green. A real beast.
7 & 8 are par 5’s and where you must make your score. 7 you can hit driver and reduce it to nothing but it brings a lot of trouble into play - I just hit 3i then 5i downwind, and there was no danger in doing this and an easy birdie.
8 is a very very quirky par 5, you can not hit driver, which I don’t like, but if you’re going to stop me from hitting driver on a par 5, it best not then require a 3 wood 2nd and a wedge to the green. To be honest, 5i 5i would hit this green in 2, and you absolutely need to play this with caution as the fairway is a table top and danger lurks both sides.
9 is the signature hole, and in high tide would present a huge challenge for the average player to hit the second shot over, if you can’t carry the ball 120y over water, you’re in strife.
10 is a gentle par 3, but back into the wind makes it play far harder.
11 is probably the hardest 480y par 5 you’ll ever play into the wind, I couldn’t get home in 2 and in no wind I average easily over 300y off the tee!
12 is an interesting mid length 4, a blind second shot to a green in a bowl, a birdie chance.
13 is an excellent short 4, in the right conditions easily reachable off the tee, but the green complex is excellent and fraught with danger!
14 is a brutal 430y par 4, I nutted driver and still had 3i in!! It’s a seriously intimidating second shot, what I would say is there is more room around the green to miss than you think there is, and if you get it right, the ball feeds in on all sides.
15 is 180y par 3 that plays a lot further, and has one of the deepest bunkers I have ever seen 30y short of the green, if you go in there and you aren’t skilled and powerful at exploding the ball out of sand, you’re done. A great hole for me, maybe a bit too difficult for a shorter hitter.
16 is a great second shot up the hill, a short 4 that plays like a long 4 into the wind.
The view on the 17th tee is epic, my phone battery was done by then sadly! But a downhill tee shot with plenty of space left, and a simple second shot in.
18 is an easy tee shot with a lot of space, followed by a second over another huge sleeper bunker, but a fairer one to where if anyone goes in, they can get out.
I thought this layout was simply brilliant, and all the people we spoke to were very friendly.
Hunstanton also lovely, but I don’t feel like bar a few holes I would need to play that again, and I would get bored relatively quickly, I could play RWNGC every day for the rest of my life and have an absolute blast.
It’s not perfection. But it’s close!!
The location, all I can say is wow. One side of the thin slither of land is salt marsh, the other side beach. Truly a gem, and hope the course survives for a long time and it doesn’t go underwater.
I’ll be back someday and hopefully soon!!
Brancaster as its known by the locals is a grand setting for a game of golf. After you have driven in past the sign warning of the tide times and when the access road is passable you know you are going to be in for a treat. Play was only allowed in foursome or two ball, and we chose the later. I found the course to be very traditional as expected, very much imagine still laid out in its original manner, a clever use of the land. Some of the hidden dips that guard the greens add significant length do grateful we had a bushnell as on a number of occasions second guessing our eyesight would have proved disastrous. A great friendly welcome in the clubhouse with lovely food, served in a glass annexe that over looks the links.
Brancaster is a fantastic golf course and quintessentially old school. The board in the club house listing past captains is the most distinguished one I've ever seen - royalty, numerous dukes, admirals, even a VC winner - and really enforces what a special and historic place it is.
It's certainly worth making the effort to visit north Norfolk to play Brancaster and its neighbour Hunstanton.
I played Royal West Norfolk on a sodden October day with the wind howling and only a few other brave (stupid?) souls out on the links. However, I was so glad to have made the forty-minute drive up from Cromer where we were staying for the weekend.
What a fantastically fun experience Brancaster is.
From the need to arrive at a certain time to miss the tide cutting you off from the mainland to the shared fairways, the railway sleeper bunkers and a clubhouse lost-in-time. I loved the whole experience.
The course is a super test with some truly standout holes, especially around the turn where you play across tidal marshland to greens that are protected by sleepers. The fourth, eighth and ninth are some of the best holes I have ever played.
The tee shots on the way back in up on the top of the dunes provide stunning outlooks along the beach and back across to the village.
From the moment you walk across the sandy walkway and through the cast iron gate it is a golfing joy that everyone should attempt to experience if they can. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Old school. Quirky. Charming. Over rated. These all seem appropriate ways to describe this place.
Firstly the course. We were lucky to play on a hot June day, with firm running conditions and the turf starting to brown nicely. From the moment you step through the wrought iron gate that separates the course from the beach, you know you are in for something special. The shared fairway of the 1st and 18th stretches out before you, a secret world hidden by the dunes. The first couple of holes are unremarkable but get you going, the 3rd is the first test, asking you to cut the corner and flirt with the marshland to the right.
The 4th was my favourite hole, a short par three to an elevated fortress green, protected by wooden sleeper ramparts and pot bunkers stationed in front like sentries. This hole plays back into the wind, actually more of a left to right cross wind when I played, and it's a great test of controlling trajectory and ball flight with a short iron.
The par five 8th is most mentioned hole, with a nervy carry over the marsh required off the tee. As the fairway is angled across you, the challenge lies in judging how aggressive to be with your line off the tee (and then executing the shot!). A good drive puts the green easily in range with your second shot. The 9th asks exactly the same question, but this time is a shortish par 4, with a carry off the tee and another to reach the green.
I found the front nine thrilling. Downwind, the scoring was obviously easier, but nevertheless demanding, with a marshy grave awaiting any shot leaked right. The back nine then turns back into the wind, with the dunes and beach OOB down the right side. The back nine is less interesting and is more of a slog into the wind. It makes good use of the dune ridge to create elevated tees and greens, and relies more on bunkers to scare you (some are cavernous). The 18th is a bit of an anti-climax, a drive into the wide double fairway then an approach to a green guarded by a long trench-like bunker which wraps around the whole front half of the putting surface.
RWN is different to many links courses in that running the ball into the green is not usually an option. There are invariably hazards blocking your path, whether marshland, bunkers, sleepers or dunes. Add in the wind and it is a very stiff challenge - this is not a course for high handicappers.
Walking into the clubhouse was like stepping back in time. A little dilapidated, it is wonderfully atmospheric. It seems the club prefers to spend its money on the course and excellent practice facilities, which I can only applaud. Overall, top 20 in England feels a little high to me, but it offers a terrific experience at a unique venue