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.
Set out at one of the most remarkable places a golfer could ever hope to encounter, Brancaster is an absolutely charming course to play – even when faced, as I was a couple of days ago, with a 30mph wind all the way home from the 10th to the 18th!
It really is a special place, which is evident as soon as you turn into the car park beside the weathered old clubhouse.
I liked the quirkiness of the four old-fashioned fairway crossings at the 2nd and 17th, the 4th and the 5th, but, even more than that, I loved the sleepered bunkering that appears throughout the layout because (unlike one or two more modern courses that have employed such a design feature in recent years) it complements the landscape perfectly.
The very short 4th is a brilliant par three, played to a green seemingly jacked up by railway ties and this was my favourite hole on the course – until I came to the unique pair of holes at 8 and 9 that play across tidal marshes.
I’ve never before faced such naturally intimidating features (the tall rushes of Royal North Devon are probably the wildest I’d come across until then) and was glad I’d a strong wind at my back to help me make the long carries from the tee and to the green. Incredibly, I’ve since been told these holes are even MORE scary when the tide’s in, covering the marshes!
The back nine was tough going, playing against the aforementioned sea breeze, but that didn’t stop me admiring the ferocity of the challenge at the par three 15th, where the tee shot has a long forced carry over the tallest wall of wooden sleepers that I’ve ever seen in my life – it must be all of 30 feet high!
The downstairs Smoke Room in the clubhouse has to be the most informal club lounge I’ve ever relaxed in after a round – there’s even a dozen gents lockers located in one corner of the old room! Too bad that dogs which often accompany golfers out in the links have now been barred from sitting with their master as they enjoy a post match refreshment as that would just add to the laid back atmosphere of the place.
By introducing a revised green fee structure this season, secretary Ian Symington hopes to steer more visitors into playing foursomes golf on the course and I have to think that particular golfing format seems most appropriate for Royal West Norfolk.
Seeing as it was built for the Ryder Cup somehow I imagine it has.