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
The first Links course I ever played. How lucky am I. What a course. Quirky, Entertaining and a test.
Nothing has changed here in the 127 years since it was founded in 1892. Perching there is the understated and sentimentally shabby chic clubhouse sitting, almost precariously, on the water’s edge. With a little squint you can make out a few wind-whipped flagsticks on the holes that stretch directly east from there and, depending on the time of day, it may seem as though they rumble out on an impossibly slim peninsula.
I have only played this course in late August when the high tide creates almost a 9-metre swell which fills in the marsh completely and shows the course in its most enigmatic state. Its peak is often around 8.30am, so anyone wanting to play the course when the salty waters engorge the course fully had to be down the road by 7am as access becomes impossible for several hours.
Both the course and the clubhouse have stood the test of time and are relentless with their pursuit of preserving the past. However, it is said that Martin Ebert has drafted a master plan for improvements. This further buts RWN into a category of its own, in that it has unmatched quirk, antiquity, history and will be of championship standard.
The facilities at RWN are good with a grass range close to the Pro Shop and a small chipping green nearby. In recent years, the club has even invested in an indoor simulator. Something that very much comes in handy when you have made the trip to the course, only for the wind to be unplayable and the tide in behind you. Playing Augusta at Royal West Norfolk in the rain and 50mph winds is a strange scenario to find oneself in.
As with Sunningdale and many old school traditional English clubs, a dog is a prerequisite. They’re great company and love the links just as much as we do. I have played RWN with my best friend, K and his father. I thank them and their family for their relentless hospitality and tremendous cooking and wine!
The entrance to the course is unique, a wrought iron gate. Two granite gateposts bear the names of members who fell in the two Great Wars. Pushing hard on the heavy handle, that gate squeaks open and you step across the threshold. Let the games begin.
Ah, to be playing Royal West Norfolk this fine July day. To set out for the links and plant soft buried steps as we cross the powder sand, twixt the club and the first tee. And look on, to the shared fairway. The first tee and green nestling into the dune side. The course disappearing into the horizon before us. Squeezed between the salty marshes on the landward side, lapped by tides, and the rolling, wave like dune, that never breaks on its emerald beach below.
Just beyond the ragged, fraying shore. Under the plaintiff clarion cry of a castaway gul, silhouetted against the furious dawn sky. A crucible of nebulous fire. House martins are dipping and darting over the wind washed grasses. Their full speed murmurations fantastic and evanescent.
The course is a borrowed promontory amongst all this wonderful nature. Exquisite. A symphony of harmonies by the lake like lazy sea. Sighing gently on the newly sodden sand. This is a feast for the whelk fed golfer.
I can’t wait to come back and play it. Achingly I had to stop by the gate. No visitors until September. It looked in fine condition. Immaculate. I will be back.
Beautiful Links. The familiar links bunkers and hard fairways combined with the rising marsh at high tide makes the course truly incredible at times. Play it on the wrong day and the wind will make you pay.
The par 5 8th hole at Brancaster is one of the best - or at least fun - holes I’ve ever played. And it’s so deceptively simple you could miss how effective it is. Or so deceptively effective that you miss how simple it is. It’s like velcro in this respect. The 3rd & 9th holes are also not far behind, and what they each have in common is basic yet optimised use of natural features to provide strategic options, from both the tee and the fairway. My favourite stretch was unsurprisingly 3-9. The back 9 can’t maintain the quality, despite containing some diverse and fun holes.
On the day we played several fairways were effectively out of commission due to maintenance work. We were not advised of this work beforehand and there was no green fee reduction for the lesser experience. It is quite a trek to get to North Norfolk and we’d actually flown into nearby Norwich specifically to play here. However, this isn’t the course’s fault, so no hard feelings. And I accidentally took a Royal West Norfolk coffee cup home with me, so we’ll call it quits. I guess the simple lesson is, when traveling for a special round, be sure to ask about any scheduled maintenance.
It’s difficult - or at least unorthodox - to review this course without making a mention of near neighbour Hunstanton. Most reviews tend to describe Brancaster as the “quirky” option and Hunstanton as the more standard “championship” course. There is some truth in this but I feel it tends to lend a lazy characterisation that is unfair to both. Brancaster has several orthodox holes and Hunstanton has a few odd ones. The sum of this stereotyping perhaps tends to favour Brancaster amongst the cognoscenti. I feel there’s very little in it and I can’t decide which I prefer. Here the highlights come earlier in the round, whereas at Hunstanton they are more evenly distributed and the 16-18 finish is more memorable.
Royal West Norfolk perhaps just shades it for me. Definitely. Hunstanton perhaps just shades it for me. Maybe. Be sure to play both
I've been lucky enough to play this course probably a dozen times over the past 5 years and although the course has suffered due to the droughts of the last two summers, it doesn't take away from the fact that it's a world class course, and is even better when played in matchplay.
The first starts off innocuously with an 80 yard fairway but many a ball is lost in the dunes to the left by being too aggressive. The easy bail out then brings the two greenside bunkers very much into play with out of bounds just over the green.
The third hole is world class, a drive over the edge of the marsh, with the goal being to keep the ball as close as possible to the hazard to have a second shot straight down the green. The second shot is blind and the further left the drive, the more the wicked greenside bunkers come into play.
The first of the par 3's, all of which play into the prevailing wind, is only 125 yards long but many a shot balloons up and lands shot, rolling back down the revetted slope into one of the three bunkers sitting 25 feet below the height of the green. To me, Brancaster has maybe the best set of par 3's in the country, even better than Rye which is let down by the 17th.
The 6th is a long iron to a long narrow green with a dune on the right and the marsh on the left. The 10th, which is often overlooked, looks simple on a calm day but once the wind starts blowing, it can rack up some huge scores with the deep bunkers to the right of the green and the chip from the left side no easier as the green is raised, slopes towards the bunkers and the wind feeding the ball back towards the bunkers. The final par 3, the 15th, has one of the highest faced bunkers in the country outside of Cornwall, although the bunker is some 50 yards short of the green.
Much has been already talked about the 8th and the 9th, no bunkers required but tests every facet of the game from distance control on the tee shot, power on the second shot to spin control on the approach to 9.
The return continues in the same vein with a lovely raised punchbowl green on the 12th, a wicked short par 4 13th where long is dead, the 14th along a dune with another punchbowl green to finally the 18th with it's lovely sleepered approach shot.
Afterwards, there is no better view in golf than having lunch upstairs in the bay window, looking down the 1st/18th fairway to the right and the beach to the left before setting off for a second 18 in the afternoon.
I know Brancaster well. Its a very nice Club which happens to have a good course. Not as good as Hunstanton or to be truthful, Sheringham. Now, I know that it's not received wisdom to speak this truth but truth it is. Yes its par threes are excellent, although Swinley's are, at the very least, equal. It's unbearable in July and especially August when the hordes descend and looking the fairway from the first tee is a mixture of beachballs, seemingly wild and uncontrollable dogs and blinking families haplessly trying to rid their candles of sand. It's like shooting ducks.
Extraordinarily overrated as a golf course.........but not as a Club.
Hi Leslie, what is it about Brancaster for you that makes it extraordinarily overrated as a golf course? And what makes it such a good club?
Nice click bait Leslie, it's worked on me. I don't think I have read a more infuriating comment on this website. Just nonsense.
Links gem. Played in September in windy sunny conditions. Rewards long hitters with plenty of birdie opportunities. One of, if not, the best links course in England. Will definitely return. Absolutely loved it.
Played the course in the first week of September, a bright sunny day with a howling gale. The first nine was a doddle, the back nine against the wind was pretty much impossible.
The condition of the fairways were probably the worst I have played on fo5 some years, extremely soft and some which were undergoin* maintenance were absolutely dreadful.
The greens were excellent as were the beautiful bunkers for which I am awarding the course it’s 3 stars. The chap in the pro shop was very welcoming and friendly.
A major problem on the course was a lack of signage between holes, very poor and something easily rectified.
Given the poor state of the course perhaps we could have been given the option not to play or be given a pro rata discount. Having our money taken only to discover how bad the fairways were was sharp to say the least.
If you are in the area perhaps try Kings Lynn GC instead, half the price, twice the quality.
I think the eight year waiting list to join RWN is to get a park8ng space for walking your dog and not for the overated quality of the golf course.
I also played this course in the first week of September. Perhaps 6 fairways were effectively out of action due to the maintenance work and this was a real shame. We were not advised of this until we were just about to tee off (and I had flown in especially to play the course), and there was also no reduction in green fee to reflect the playing conditions.
Having said this, the course was of a very high quality - form is temporary and class is permanent - and a 3 ball rating, along with a claim that King’s Lynn is twice the quality, is Boris Johnson on Have I Got News For You funny
The members here are among the luckiest souls that play the game. One of my favourite aspects of British golf is that certain clubs give you a glimpse of the origins of the game on a level that is rarely matched. Images of golfing museums like Royal North Devon and Prestwick came to mind as I stepped inside the clubhouse at Brancaster. Furnishings from 1892 are still in place, and things don’t change much at all as you escape from modern day. I understand that when the club installed showers a few years ago in the locker room, that the news made the local paper!
The tide that surrounds the golf course is as mythical and fabled as the golf itself. A day doesn’t go by where the impact and timing of the tide doesn’t cross your mind, as you may not be able to exit the property until the tide goes back out. I could think of worse things than being stranded at a world-class golf course for 4 hours.
The course is outstanding and comfortably in the Top 15 in England for me, which is very strong merits. Martin Ebert has drafted a master plan for improvements and no doubt the course will only get better. I truly enjoyed the outward routing of the front nine, which included many shots over those trademark railway sleeper-ties, especially at the par 4 3rd and the epic par 3 4th hole which arguably is destined for greatness. On a couple of occasions, the routing turned back towards the clubhouse, primarily for the shorter holes before embarking on the showcase 8th and 9th holes at the end of the property, which meander through the tidal areas and you literally have to see it to believe it.
The vision of Holcombe Ingleby in 1892 to create these holes and find that routing is truly spellbinding. With the tide fully in, both your tee shot and your second shot on the par 5 8th hole must navigate diagonal platforms of fairways cutting through water ways. The back nine heads back towards the clubhouse from the end of the property before the bold 12th hole makes a left turn and cuts straight across the property with the bonus of an elevated punchbowl green. The short par 4 13th hole brings you back across the property before continuing for the house. Iconic railway ties, some enormous in stature will frequently give you that “wow” feeling as you brace yourself for the examination. When the back nine at Brancaster is into the wind, you’ll use every club in the bag in less than 2 hours. The 1st and 18th holes share a fairway and the adventure ends back at the beach entrance.
Both the course and the clubhouse have stood the test of time, and are relentless with their pursuit of preserving the past. With upcoming improvements to the course on the horizon, it further puts Royal West Norfolk into a category of its own, in that it has unmatched quirk, antiquity, history and will be of championship standard. This old course is no push over whatsoever. You have to see it all to believe it – and who cares if you get stuck with the 9-metre tide – it could be the best part of your trip.