Just to set the scene I played Royal West Norfolk (Brancaster) in the final throws of the UK summer after the hottest day for 50 years or so and the temperature was about 25 degrees on the coast and nudging 30 inland. There was always wind off the sea, slightly behind on the back 9 and from the right (the sea). A couple of times this probably approached 2 club strength. I play off 12 and shot +10.
Having been to the beach a few times with my dog I had always wanted to play Brancaster to see what all the fuss was about. How special can a flat(ish) piece of land be in Norfolk? Well, very special is the answer. The whole aura of the place is magical, from the clubhouse which clearly hasn't changed in 100 years to the huge iron gates which both welcome and intimidate you onto the course. There are many quirky features here but my favourite one is having to push your trolley full with the latest advances in golf technology over a 20 yard strip of deep sand which forms the entrance to the beach. You get a few curious looks from the holiday makers before you enter through the gate, shut out the modern world behind you and step onto the land that time forgot.
There is a small practice putting green and a net to have a quick warm up. This is all that the place needs to be honest, golf seems to be played here for enjoyment and the scoring a bit of an after thought. A row of lycra clad athletes pounding balls down a range just wouldn't look right here. If you take a few shots to get into the round then who cares just have a look around you and soak it all in.
The 1st and 18th share a fairway so we were waved through by a couple of members on the 18th green – no pressure. The first hole is a gentle dog leg left to a slightly raised green and I was happy to get up and down for a 5. A fairly tough opening hole. Onto number 2, another fairway which is shared. At 449 yards on the card this is a serious golf hole and you need 2 good hits to get near the green (driver, 3 iron). Chip, 2 putts, and another 5. The third hole is where you venture out into the heart of the course and is a great par 4. The green is hidden behind a mound although you can see the top of the pin poking out from the left. Being a newbie I didn't know about
the 15ft deep bunker on the left edge of the green so ended up in here. The sand in all the bunkers is excellent so providing you have a decent bunker technique, although daunting, these can all be navigated fairly well. As has been mentioned nearly all of the bunkers have wooden faces which is beautiful on the eye and gets your heart racing a bit when your ball is bounding anywhere near one.
I won't bore you with a blow by blow account of my round any more but I would say holes 8 and 9 and 14 and 15 are worth the entrance fee alone. Hole 9 is the best par 4 I have ever played with a second shot approaching 170 yards (all carry to a wide narrow green jacked up on wooden sleepers). Oh and that is into the wind. There are a great mixture of holes here, and I can remember the details of nearly every one, a sure sign of a wonderful course. The members are all really friendly and welcoming, as are all the staff (there are no more than a handful) and the whole experience is second to none. I can't compare it to a vast array of links courses but it is head and shoulders above Sheringham along the coast which is in its own right a great course. There is just something about this place you can't quite put your finger on. Cost isn't something I usually factor in when playing the really nice courses but at £85 I'd say this is good value, especially when the food and drink post round is so cheap.
P.S This place must be absolutely brutal in the winter but I would love to give it a go!
Royal West Norfolk is a testing yet incredibly fun layout to play. This can be put down to both the variety and number of quality golf holes it possesses. While the course stretches to 6,457 yards from the tips, its difficulty is largely due to the combination of narrow fairways, deep bunkers, smallish greens and its coastal location, meaning that the air is never still for too long.
The bunkering at Royal West Norfolk is a unique aspect of the course, with timber sleepers employed to form the banks (or walls) of the majority of bunkers throughout the layout. This is actually the first time I've encountered bunkers constructed in this method, and I must say that they fit with the character of the layout and its setting exceptionally well, adding to the many charms of the course. Several bunkers throughout the course are very deep and therefore quite punishing, so it’s best to give them a wide berth to avoid piling up a big total. The most menacing would have to be the cross bunker on the par three 15th, which by my estimates approaches a height of some twenty to twenty-five feet. It is one of several instances where bunkers are set directly across the front of the green they are guarding, thus creating a forced carry to reach the putting surface.
While there are many fine holes to pick from, there are three stretches in particular that I find most endearing, these being 3-5, 7-9 and 11-14.
Of these ten holes, the most well-known (and photographed) would be the par five 8th and par four 9th holes, which both ask for heroic shots over the tidal marsh from the tee, and again for the approach shot into their respective green. Playing these holes when the tide is in not only adds to the their beauty, but also ratchets up the intimidation factor significantly. This is especially true on the 8th hole, where at high-tide the first portion of fairway effectively becoming an island!
Two other personal favourites include the 129 yard par three 4th and the 430 yard par four 14th. At the short 4th a wall of timber sleepers to the bank fronting the green dictates that your tee shot must carry all the way the putting surface. Three deep pot bunkers sit precariously below this wall to gather up any tee shots that fail to clear the timber, making an uphill recovery shot to the blind putting surface from this area that much more difficult.
Tucked just below the foredune, the 14th is a slight dog-leg left to right with the tee shot played into an open fairway. Despite the lack of fairway bunkers to trouble your tee shot, there is little room for error with thick rough bordering both sides of the hole. The blind approach is then played to a narrow, slightly sunken green, hidden from view behind a small ridge. Decorating the right-hand side of this ridge is another wall constructed of timber sleepers, with two small pot bunkers set just below the wall amongst patches of long grass. Despite the visual intimidation of the above elements, should you be successful in clearing them the contouring of the ground will help to guide your ball onto the small, sunken green.
There is a distinct lack of signage to guide you around the layout, and so for first time visitors like myself navigating your way can be, at times, slightly confusing. This is especially so when leaving the 5th green, as you must exit the green to the right and cross the 7th fairway approximately 150 yards in front of the tee to reach the 6th tee. However I must admit that this is a small concern in the grand scheme of things. The only real advice you need in getting yourself around will likely come via the staff in the pro shop: "Just aim for the red flags on the way out, and the yellow ones on the way home!"
A word of caution: the entry road is often flooded at high tide, cutting off access to the golf course entirely, thereby leaving golfers stranded on either side for up to several hours. It’s therefore highly recommended that you check the tide charts when booking a round at Royal West Norfolk to ensure you don’t miss your tee time. Of course should you find yourself ‘trapped’ on the island, another 18 holes is certainly a fine way to pass the time on a summer’s afternoon….
This review is an edited extract from my Blog titled: An Architect Abroad, which documents an extended golf course research/study tour that I undertook over a four month period from mid June of 2014. The full review can be found at: http://wp.me/p6l5Ih-V along with photographs taken of the course. Please also note that my rating of the course has been done specifically against the other courses that I visited on that trip, many of which rank highly in the top 100 listed on this website for the United Kingdom.
Your most lasting memory of Royal West Norfolk is probably going to be the area at the far end of the course, featuring the 8th and 9th holes. Eight is rated the hardest on the course, even though it is a par five of only 494 yards. There is a large tidal marsh area in front of the tee, then a strip of land followed by another tidal wetland with fairway recommencing about sixty yards short of the green.
The 9th hole features the frequently photographed green raised up on land supported by sleepers and nearby the sea inlet and numerous yachts moored or just lying on the sand. This is my favourite hole. Tidal marsh land runs along the first part of the fairway on the right. The ideal shot is a fade towards the hazard, followed by well struck mid-iron over another tidal area to the raised green.
Royal West Norfolk has history written all over it. The first Captain was none other than Horace Hutchison who had a hand in the design along with Halcombe Ingleby. The greens are excellent, the fairways are lovely crisp turf, the wind is always a factor and there are some brilliant if somewhat quirky holes. I loved every minute of it.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every English course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
I’m sure the short reachable island fairway par 5 is a favorite of many visitors as it’s quite unique. I found it tough to choose the right club hitting both my driver and 3 wood too far on the wrong line to play the hole effectively in both the morning and afternoon rounds. Maybe next time.
The conditioning of the course was excellent, especially right after the winter. Playing fast and firm again exactly as you expect a links to be. Highly recommend adding a visit to any golf itinerary in the area.
RWNGC takes your breath away from the time you drive through the reeds flanking the approach road.. The first 9 holes play away from the clubhouse generally with the benefit of the prevailing wind. The views are extensive across marshland inland and across dunes to the sea. The only sound is generally the whistling of the wind and the sound of club on ball. The enjoyment increases by hole until the 8th is reached which I think to be the best hole I have ever played. A shortish par 5 with an initial drive over marshland to a fairway at a right angle. Then to decide –along the fairway towards a summer house to finish with a short iron or cut the corner over more marshland to the green. Sublime. The 9th is also a classic par 4 requiring an accurate second shot to a raised green fronted by enormous vertical railway sleepers at the bottom of which lies hostile terrain.
The back nine plays generally against the wind. The par 3 15th of approximately 180 yards required a driver for most of the party I was with so the extent of the test on the return can be gauged. On days when the wind is up it would take a hearty constitution to want to play the course again in those conditions. All my party found the course more challenging than Hunstanton. All confirmed they would never forget the experience.
Downsides? The nature of the soft coverings on the fairways is a surprise and is different in constitution from most links. It is difficult to compress the ball and takes some getting used to. It also looks like the club are erecting a modern construction in the middle of the course which, at this stage, looks a complete eyesore and completely out of character with its surroundings. But seeing how the club has maintained its antiquity in all other areas I suspect there will be a plan ensure that the building does not interfere with the club’'s reputation.