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.
Where to start. A golf club that doesn't like visitors has its own clubhouse just for members and has two golf club names attached to it. The Artisans who live in Brancaster join Brancaster Golf Club and the exclusive list of paying members (and their dogs) who make up Royal West Norfolk Golf Club.
I am lucky enough to have played this course, a family friend is the pro. It's a stunner of a golf course, the layout being unlike any other. When the tide comes in, the golf course becomes impossible to drive to and the course turns into a different animal, a few holes turn into islands and become so much more difficult to play, but spectacular if you're lucky enough to witness it. There are a few great holes at RWN and a few world class ones, one of which being the par 5 8th? hole. A tee shot over the waste area onto a plateau fairway, then the decision to play up the same strip to shorten your third into the charming green or to go over another strip straight for it. Even more stunning when the tide comes in and fills the area up so you can't play out of it! I remember playing a par three with a ridiculously deep bunker I thought wasn't even in play it was a good 40 yards short of the green. It wasn't until I played it again straight into a brutal wind, safe to say I was naive!
Although playing this in December, the condition was immaculate. considering I could not see another human on the course whilst we were there, it doesn't get too much attention from visitors, or it's membership who prefer to smoke and drink in the company of the fire and mans best friend in the clubhouse!
The facilities at RWN are good, a grass range close to the pro shop with a small chipping green beside, and an indoor simulator to play a variety of courses with an indoor lesson room with cameras and launch monitor which I had a good few lessons from Simon, the experienced local pro.
Although the score has to remain fair with other courses I've played, the practice facilities and the reception there don't compete with the likes of courses with a similar rating on here, but we do play the golf course and not on the range!
Played Course: December 2016
Between tees & Congestion: 9
TOTAL SCORE: 41/50
The setting, with the marshes on one side and the North Sea on the other, is lovely. And the throwback clubhouse and the high tide stories only add to the charm. Brancaster was the best conditioned course of the dozen I played in England in September 2018. On top of all that, there are some outstanding holes (4, 8, 9, 12 and 13 come immediately to mind). But other holes were too similar and thus less memorable. (A day after playing, there were half a dozen I couldn’t recall.) Still worth the drive from London….or any place else.
Is there anywhere more serene than this glorious links course on a sunny breezy day. Unique in its use of so many sleepered bunkers and the use of marshy inlets requiring long carries off the 8th and 9th tees. And when you go into the clubhouse you’re back in the 1930s but in a good way! You’ll need your best game here but it is just a great experience to have played this magical course.
Royal West Norfolk, or Brancaster as it’s known to the locals is a completely unique experience and something I’d recommend as a “must play” for all keen links golfers. Before turning up, you’ll need to check their website for the high tide timings to make sure you don’t get stranded on the course (I could think of worse places to get stranded) and everyone should pay a visit to the clubhouse which is steeped in history and features bucket loads of old school charm. As you cross the beach between clubhouse and course to enter via the beautiful Memorial iron gate, you’re already aware that this isn’t going to be any typical day’s golf.
The quirks on the course start immediately with a fairway at the 1st that shares its short grass with the 18th. This is instantly followed by the 2nd where the fairway crosses diagonally across the 17th so keep your wits about you for these opening holes. Plateau greens are numerous across the layout with some greens, most notably the 3rd and 4th being shielded by a wall of wooden sleepers protecting the approach with a nasty line of three pot bunkers waiting to collect anything that connects with timber. “Goalpost” style marker posts mark the preferred line of the blind tee shot on the 5th, another quirk that I’ve not seen before on a golf course and something that seemed novel until you read the pro’s comments on the course planner which states that your drive should be to the right of the marker posts due to the slope in the fairway. Royal West Norfolk doesn’t do things simply.
Lovely but challenging holes continue, and the course then takes on a change in appearance as you’re asked to negotiate marshland later in the front nine. Distance accuracy is paramount as you cross that marshland twice as it intersects the hole between tee and fairway and then again between fairway and green on the par five 8th. The clearances aren’t insignificant either, so I did wonder how the more senior members approach this hole?
To continue on this golf course architecture merry-go-round, the green on 12 is semi-blind as you hit into a wonderful punchbowl green. Then comes a set of bushes that you have to negotiate when playing into the 13th whilst those brilliantly eccentric timber faced bunkers are a constant threat, some of them huge, particularly the behemoth in front of the short 15th. Just when you’re thinking that the only thing missing is views of the beach and the sea, you’re then presented with a scenic beach backdrop against the tee shot on the 17th.
Royal West Norfolk has pretty much everything that you’ve seen replicated in latter day links designs. I loved the quirks and the relaxed nature of the club whereby taking your dog on a lead for a stroll around the course is very much welcomed. It’s a great course that deserves to be known as one of the best links layouts in England and well worth the drive to northern Norfolk. Combine it with Hunstanton and you won’t regret it.
On our annual GBI trip in June, we played RWN twice. Not having laid eyes on it in more than 30 years, it certainly deserves its “quirky” reputation! Unfortunately, both days were very windy, and underscored the out and back, with and into the wind layout, which made it difficult to enjoy.
The walk from the historic clubhouse to the first tee is unbelievably across the beach entrance before you enter the course between a large memorial gate that honours the clubs fallen heroes from the world wars; it sets a tone that you will be in for a unique and memorable round.
After a simple but alluring start the 3rd raises the bar and is one of the best holes you will not only play at Brancaster but on any links course anywhere. It’s a risk-reward driving hole where you must start your ball out over the marsh, known as Mow Creek, in order to set up the shortest and best line into a superb raised green complex. Danger lurks on both sides, especially the left, of the reversed two-tiered green that is hidden some 30 yards beyond a wall of wooden sleepers; only the top of the flagstick is visible.
All the short holes have merit but it’s perhaps the fourth that catches the eye the most with its putting surface once again fronted by wooden sleepers and three deep bunkers short of that. It’s only 120 yards or so but can strike fear into even the most accomplished player. Whilst we’re talking about the one-shotters the false-fronted sixth is also tricky and unusual for the walk you must make across the 7th fairway to reach the tee. Another good looking green, with glaring bunkers, greets the golfer at the 149 yard tenth as you now head for home hard against the shore.
Wooden sleeper faced bunkers are a feature throughout. Thankfully they haven’t been removed, like at many other courses, as they not only add to the visual appeal of the course but dictate the strategy on many holes. At no time do they ever looked forced or out of place, they fit in very naturally with their surrounds, and whilst at times they limit a running approach this means you must display a variety of iron shots.
This is a course that has absolutely nothing to prove, is infinitely playable, and brings a wide smile to your face. It allows you to wallow in the satisfaction of playing an eccentrically old fashioned golf course, albeit with modern equipment, on a wonderful and historic piece of golfing land; there's an unbridled enjoyment to golfing here.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Interestingly or sadly, depending upon your point of view, I know that I have played 409 golf courses over my golfing career to date. These include all 14 Open venues and the vast majority of links courses in Great Britain and Ireland - reckon I have around 20 to 30 left to play. So, I am often asked which is my favourite course. I have a definite answer - "if I had two days left and tomorrow was my last day to play golf, I would choose Brancaster". I would happily hole out on the 9th, look around at the view, and call it a day. To leave home for a round at Brancaster (125 miles in my case) is a journey of massive anticipation. It is unique and cannot be adequately described in words. Just make sure you play there once on your life.
I have played 433 courses in 25 countries on five continents and Brancaster is in my top 10!!
Maybe I am being subjective ... or just maybe it is the most underrated course in the world.
If you are a lover of traditional golf clubs and links golf at its best, please visit this one! nothing will disappoint although beware they still operate "two ball" only times so check in advance. Also the tide will isolate you on this strip of land for around 4-6 hours when the tide comes in so check the tide tables too! If you are in the clubhouse the staff will announce you when you have only 30 minutes left before the tide isolates you!. Quirky but so much fun on pure links ground in total isolation and great (tricky) greens!
This is a fantastic course and one which I had a lot of fun on. I played 54 holes over the course of 2 days with some members in some interesting conditions. This is a true links course where we really bared the brunt of some fierce winds on the first day, with the wind up 1-9 were great to play (downwind - bar the par 3 going back in) but when we turned for home, playing into the wind was a real challenge for myself, but forced to play low shots under the wind, which was great fun. The raised greens and undulating fairways were a treat and on Day 2 when the wind wasn't as fierce, it played great while still being a real test. The clubhouse is really like going back 100 years, but I would go back for the golf alone, my favourite hole was the long par 4 played across 2 fairways and over 2 lots of marshland, a highlight out of at least 10 standout holes. The only downside of this links course is that you don't have a good view of the coast/beach for quite a lot of the holes, but that is just a personal preference. I travelled from Bucks to play this course and it was well worth the journey.