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2 miles from Hartlepool
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Dr Duncan McCuaig founded the Durham and Yorkshire Golf Club in 1874; this was the first golf club in the North East of England and originally it was laid out as a 14-hole course. Other golf clubs in this area were formed towards the end of the 19th century, so in 1887, the club changed its name to Seaton Carew Golf Club. The course was extended to 18 holes in 1891.
Another doctor called MacKenzie came along in 1925 and modified the layout. Ten years later, Dr Alister MacKenzie went on to design Augusta National, home of the Masters. Continuing the doctor theme, the 3rd hole called “Doctor”, a short par three, remains as per its original design and serves as a tribute to Dr McCuaig, Seaton Carew’s founder.
There are now 22 holes at Seaton Carew, following Frank Pennink’s addition of four new holes. The members now have a number of playing options. The Old course, an out and back layout, is the original MacKenzie design. The Brabazon course incorporates 14 of the original holes; Pennink’s four new holes come into play at the turn. The Brabazon, an uneven par 73 (35 out, 38 back), is now considered the championship course and is tougher and longer than the Old course.
The club claims that it can make five different 18-hole layouts, but we're bemused as to how and why. According to Frank Pennink's Choice of Golf Courses: "Seaton Carew has the special merit of always being dry and playable, and four new holes near the sea should raise their already enviable status to a links of major championship quality. They will replace the 7th to 10th." Clearly the club decided to keep all holes open to confound all but the most knowledgeable scholars by devising a few too many permutations.
In 1985, Seaton Carew hosted the Brabazon Trophy (English Amateur Stroke Play Championship), producing a tie for first place between Peter Baker and Roger Roper.
Don’t be put off by the industrial surroundings of chimneys and chemical works; this excellent golf course is one of the best on the East coast of England, a real MacKenzie treat. There are a few ridges of sand dunes and the fairways undulate gently, but otherwise this is a relatively flat links course, always at the mercy of the wind.
The 17th hole, called “Snag”, is one of many great holes at Seaton Carew. The late Derek Hornby, a historian and author of the History of Seaton Carew poetically describes the 17th. "The seventeenth's dangers are countless, beginning with whin, gorse and dune, the rough and gathering bunkers, and the green's undulating tune, to veer even slightly is fatal, the cost is distressingly high, many the card that's been torn up, just here with home oh so nigh".
Greek philosopher Plato said: “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and, although he lived centuries before golf was invented, it is as if his words were intended for Seaton Carew Golf Club.
A recent review on GolfShake describes its course as “probably the ugliest in England… a dystopian landscape consisting of a nuclear power station, defunct oil rigs and heavy industry.”
Others label it a “North East gem” and “one of the North East’s best courses”.
The truth lies somewhere between the two. The vista of Seaton Carew conjures thoughts of Kevin Costner’s ill-fated Waterworld but, for us, its course encouraged wonderful memories of rounds at the likes of Goswick and Perranporth.
The fact is that the club’s founding members worked in shipbuilding, iron, steel and chemical manufacturing and so it is right that there should be a glimpse into its industrial past.
But it also has very high aspirations for the future.
With its 150th anniversary on the horizon, it appointed Royal St George’s deputy greenkeeper Tom Coulson to recreate aspects of the MacKenzie-designed course to their original state.
He has begun his work on the bunkers and I can testify that he has paid particular attention to the huge one on the left-hand side of the fourth fairway where I remained for three shots.
Meanwhile, Mrs W demonstrated that staying on the fairway can reap significant rewards at Seaton Carew by hitting a straight tee shot and sublime approach before sinking a birdie putt.
Sand is even more in evidence on the outstanding par-three third which has a green raised above EIGHT huge bunkers. I was very pleased with myself when I nailed my par.
Seaton Carew is a curiosity – the sea cannot be seen despite it being adjacent to a huge beach which attracted many a family on the day we visited.
It stands next to rows of shops, offering rock and buckets and spades to excited children but it was as if they had vanished after we had turned into the golf club.
Despite its plans, Seaton Carew is far from grand. Its clubhouse has a 1970s working men’s club feel but the food is appetising and plentiful and the welcome is very friendly.
The course layout caused me some angst because it is 22 holes and the one chosen for our mixed open was the Micklem as opposed to the feted Old course.
Club officials insisted that it should still count as a tick-off in my top100 quest because 14 holes of the Old are used on the Micklem and the latter is the track England Golf has designated for the 2021 North of England Open Amateur Championship.
For the sake of completeness, I asked the chap in the pro’s shop if I could play the remaining four holes of the Old after our round but he pointed out that they were undergoing maintenance.
In other words, the Micklem was the only version of the 22 available and, in any case, the starter said it was the toughest.
Actually, he indicated we might struggle but the truth is that if you keep the ball out of the rough and bunkers Seaton Carew offers many opportunities.
True, the rough is thick in parts but only penalises the very wayward. The greens are more receptive than many links and, while a bit slow, belied MacKenzie's tough reputation by being fairly easy to read.
Indeed, we loved our game at Seaton Carew, enjoying the battle with the narrow entrances to greens which are often two-tiered, the rolling fairways and the quirkier holes which include a few risk-and-reward doglegs.
And we were lucky to be accompanied by a couple from the area who knew where the ball should be placed to avoid it sliding into trouble.
Sadly, before my advisor could claim his 10 per cent caddie's fee, a potentially winning round came to grief on the tricky last hole where the fairway is barely visible from the tee and both balls were snaffled by bushes to the right.
This prevented us from emulating an earlier competitor whose overhit approach to the 18th had scattered the folk lunching outside the clubhouse.
Overall, we had a very positive experience at Seaton Carew but my biggest beef remained that sea views are interrupted by the course boundaries which appeared to be overgrown.
Nevertheless, I live in hope that the enthusiastic new greenkeeper may have ideas in that direction and look forward to returning to see his progress.
Neil, firstly congratulations on another fine opening line. You’ve upped the ante by throwing in a quote from a Greek philosopher!
I’m yet to play Seaton, but I recently hosted a member from there who reliably informed me that each course combination always includes the best run of holes at the course, so hopefully you didn’t miss out by not playing the primary routing.
As for your comments, Royal Porthcawl has Port Talbot steelworks in the distance whilst there’s no sign of the sea from Royal Lytham, so it’s not always at the major detriment of golf courses to be lacking in these areas. These are world top 100 courses after all!
As always, I look forward to continuing to watch where your travels take you next.
Thanks, mate. Always loved a good intro - only required 40+ years of practice. I didn’t have a problem with the backdrop at Seaton Carew but heavy industry is more obvious than I have ever seen before so has to be a feature of any review. However, I thought they missed a trick with sea views - probably because I love them so much and have been spoiled by playing so many links recently. There’s romance to seeing sand, sea and a golf flag, I reckon. But it’s all subjective.
I know that Royal Cinque Ports overcame the issue with the sea views by putting a couple of tees on the beach practically. Princes have also elevated some tees to do the same, I remember this particularly on their Himalayas nine. Is the beach close enough to the golf for Seaton to do similar? I’ve heard excellent things about their new Course Manager. Maybe he has something up his sleeve?
Hello gents... just thought I'd offer a bit of a response to the post/responses here. Disclaimer - I'm also a member at Seaton. ;)
First, about the layouts. I think most members would say the Micklem course you played is their favourite. It includes the Gare/Chapel Open/Beach holes, and also means you don't play 3 par 5s in 4 holes (as on the longer Brabazon layout). Also skips the weakest of the MacKenxie holes on the Old layout. I prefer to take guests along when it's on the Micklem layout.
Onto the views/lack of! Let's be honest, the local surroundings do their best to distract/spoil the amazing course that's there. The oil/petrochemical/nuclear sites are probably all there is in terms of skilled employment in the local area. So, while they're invaluable, you can't help but look south while walking the front nine and imagining what it must have looked like before all that was there! That said, this winter the buckthorn bushes are being removed in their entirety, opening up the eastern elevation and views out to the sand dunes/beach beyond.
The future... as you've commented, the recent appointment of Tom from RSG (along with the support he's getting from various committees) make me more optimistic than ever about the future of the course. It's conditioning is the best I can remember, and the improvement programme Tom's devised has only just begun (the 3rd and 4th you mention being massive steps forward). Here's hoping this continues, as the golf course should/will be good enough to distract you from the local surroundings, rather than the other way around!
If Mad Max built a golf course he would build Seaton Carew. It is really difficult to separate the course from the locale, every shot seemingly against an industrial background. Picking a line involved identifying an industrial monolith on the horizon, a cement factory, a colliery wheel, something that looked like an enemy ship from Star Wars.
The course however was fantastic, true links, tight fairways, pretty much out and back. We played the Micklem set up, which shares the first 5 holes with the Old Course before diversifying and converging again on the 15th for the final few holes. I'd specifically like to replay the 13th, now knowing the line for the drive which was about 30° from where I thought it was. The 14th was a lovely tight par 4, not over long, but certainly testing.
Seaton Carew is played within a good drive of the sea, but one never sees water, which disappoints somewhat. Nevertheless, it is great value and I will be returning.
Atmospheric, welcoming and characterful. Three words that describe the course and club at Seaton Carew. The industrial backdrop provides a unique and highly contrasting landscape that adds hugely to the experience. Both in the clubhouse and the pro shop, smiles and warm wishes were bestowed on us unknowing of our transitory itinerary and it was clear that this club is at the heart of the community here in the North East of England.
This place is steeped in history and from its inception in 1874 until the addition of Frank Pennink’s additional 4 holes, it has been carefully crafted and the club have innovated and made the best out of the land at their disposal. 22 holes and a number of combinations of course are now available to the members which provides a versatility and an interest that most one course clubs can only dream of.
My favourite holes were 3, 12 and 17 of the Micklem layout that we played. We walked the other 4 holes so we had seen the whole property. Hole 3, named Doctor is one of the most incredibly bunkered par 3’s I have ever played. The green is raised above the surrounding land with a necklace of punitive pot bunkers wrapped around it in a show of jaw dropping design. This hole is as it was originally designed and is named in credit to the courses founder, Doctor McCuaig.
12, named ‘Gare’ reminds me of the 10th at Chambers bay; a visually intimidating par 4 that narrows as you approach the green, utilising the dunes to constrict the belief from the player in intimidating fashion.
Finishing with a bang, hole 17 named ‘Snag’ is just a top quality golf hole. Favouring a right to left shape from the tee, you are then faced with the requirement of negotiating the most incredible tiered green site that leaves no margin for error. There are few, if any weak holes, but these three compete for me as the standouts.
All in all, Seaton Carew is worthy of its position in English Top 100. It is a memorable course with character, a rich history and clear identity. Enjoyable from beginning to end, I’d love to come back again some day and play the course in one of the other configurations.
I had the pleasure of playing Seaton Carew in mid October. We had a very warm welcome from the club shop assistant who kindly moved our tee time forward so we would not have any issues with the fading light.
I must admit previously I had overlooked Seaton Carew on many occasions due to the understated look of the clubhouse, putting green and car park. Taking my golf more seriously and now playing better courses it was imperative I play this top 100 in England track.
I played the Bishop layout (one of 5 different 18’s at the course). The course is a classic links out and back usually playing into the wind out and with wind behind on the back. It is imperative to start well and the opening stretch is where most of your chances will occur. With none of the opening par 4s playing over 400 yards the difficulty mainly lies in finding the fairway and negotiating the often strong winds.
A major highlight are the greens at SCGC. They are mostly narrow, long (a lot of the greens can have a 2/3 club difference), flanked by dastardly pot hole bunkers, undulating and devilish in nature. Two putts is never a given and there are several areas on every green that will ensure a treacherous end to the hole. The condition of the course is also worth noting. Considering the recent bout of wet weather and it being October ‘up north’ the greens and fairways were exceptional and bunkers were also of the highest quality. It really felt like summer golf with the firm bounces and run on the fairway. Utterly remarkable for this time of year.
To the course, holes 1-6 were just about good but from hole 7 onwards the course comes into its own. Fairways become smaller and more undulating and the rough more perilous. From here on in it is necessity to hit fairways and you certainly feel the demand standing on each tee. In the middle section my favourites were ‘Mashie’ a knee trembling par 3, ‘Gare’ a beautiful but extremely tight par 4 playing towards the sea and ‘Beach’ with the buckthorn running along the whole of the right hand side. All great holes.
The pinnacle though at SCGC is the final three holes. With ‘snag’ being the courses acme. From the tee thick rough and large buckthorn await you down the right and large dunes to the left. A frightening view. The danger is not over with the approach requiring a mid iron into the tiniest of greens, surrounded by the deepest bunkers on the course. Many a card will have been ruined coming home and you will struggle to find a tougher and more testing end to a round of golf.
Overall this is a high quality links and by far the best course in the Durham Tees valley area. The only downsides are that the ugly industrial skyline dominates a lot of the holes and there are no views of the nearby sea. Its not quite in the upper echelon of courses in GB & I as it’s comes up short visually and has an average opening stretch of holes. However it’s certainly one of the best in England. Easily worthy of an overnight stay. Its fun, demanding, memorable, great value and in excellent condition all year long.
Seaton Carew I apologise for my ignorance I will not be ignoring you any longer.
I played the Old layout at Seaton Carew on a still, somewhat misty morning with a gentle zephyr out of the north east - all in all benign conditions. The pin positions were, I was told by the member in our four ball, tough, but their relative toughness did not compensate for the lack of wind. So all in all an easy day.
I liked the course, and I played well. My two non-member companions liked the course, though played less well. The key, at least to me, was to keep the ball in play, work out what to avoid and concentrate, above all, on hitting the green properly whether that be through a judicious pitch and run or via a more lofted iron (perfectly feasible on a still day). Missing the green is the cardinal sin as the bunkers are proper traps and escaping, on relatively quick greens and quick run offs invites a second or third shot from a different bunker.
Very much an out and back course I found the most memorable holes to be the three par 3s: all very different, all challenging, and all good. If I had a criticism it would be that some of the holes felt quite similar and don’t individually stick in my mind.
Course condition was generally good (it was certainly nice to see green grass as opposed the increasingly burnt fairways of the south east of England.) Greens were lovely and true and, in the nicest way, unreceptive except to the highest hit approach shot. Welcome brilliant and as has been said, great value. Go there, play it, and come back. I certainly hope to.
A course perhaps well known for its uniqueness in having 22 holes, meaning there are up to 5 (!) different layouts possible, Seaton Carew goes under the radar as a links course, perhaps because of its remote location in the North East of England.
Like Royal Birkdale on the opposite coast, or Paraparaumu Beach on the other side of the world, there are no ocean views on the course, but you are well aware of your proximity to the sea, with the firm and true links playing surface, with fresh sea air a constant.
You are faced with challenge from the start, with no less than 9 deep bunkers surrounding the par 3 3rd ‘Doctor’. Alastair MacKenzie had a big impact in the design of this course and in general, you can see a lot of his design principals, such as on the 10th ‘Lagoon’ hole that features a split fairway. If a player takes on the wider left side of the fairway they are then faced with a blind approach shot with a green sloping away from them, but if they take on the tighter right side they are faced with a more straightforward 2nd shot.
In general, the tee shots are fairly straightforward, I hit driver on every par 4 and 5 (although I did have an uncharacteristically still day), and most of the challenge is in the approach shots. This makes the course very playable, but also tough as a small greenside miss can leave a very tricky up and down- the 17th ‘Snag’ is a perfect example of this.
The greens are interesting, very large and with interesting contours. Being a good lag putter would be an absolutely crucial skill to have here, and hitting a green in regulation doesn’t always mean a straight forward par. My favourite green site was the ‘Crocodile’ 11th, which is punchbowly but the actual green has so many undulations.
The finish is strong, with buckthorn in play on the right side of the fairways, and I was told they are hopeful of plans to cut some of this back. It is an exciting time for the club in general- they have recently also hired a new head greenkeeper, whose previous role was at Royal St Georges, preparing the course for the next Open Championship.
As mentioned I got a beautiful still, (mostly) sunny day, and would enjoy another visit with wind to see the course bare its teeth. I would encourage anyone to take a visit to Seaton Carew, the hospitality and welcome from everyone at the club was outstanding. I also think the members can count themselves very lucky- not only do they have a top-class links, but a course that provides endless variety with the different pin positions, and even routings available.
Played it (the Brabazon) in June as part of a 3-day tour. Weather good.
A very good test of golf for all bar the pros. I played with a scratch player and his driving was a wee bit off and he struggled. Traditional links with some terrific holes. My favourite going out was Dunes the 4th. Coming back the dog leg 11th. Fairly open going out but the last few holes were tight.
This place is definitely worth a visit and cracking value for money. We paid £50 inc lunch. If it was on the south coast you'd be paying nearly £100 for the same quality. Locals very friendly and clubhouse food good. Ideal as part of a golf tour
If you are in the north-east play this course. Very easy to deal with, very helpful in the shop and club house. I played on a sunny October day with a very stiff breeze. The playing surface from tee to green was in really good condition. The rough is intelligent, it is thick enough to be a penalty but not so thick that one has no chance of finding the ball. I cant recall a weak hole and cant wait to play again.
Located close to Hartlepool in the North-East corner of England Seaton Carew, where golf dates back to 1874, has a reputation for being a bleak, chilly and grim links.
I have played this austere course a number of times and can categorically confirm that on each and every visit… this has indeed been the case! Of course, I relate this to the weather and not the actually links itself which is superb.
On my most recent visit it was one of the more pleasant conditions I have experienced here; the wind was gusting to a mere 75mph on this occasion. At least three of the flagpoles had lost their flags, balls were moving on every other green and sand, blown from bunkers, was constantly in the air as it swept viciously across the course on the stiff breeze.
Come to think of it, I’ve always played Seaton Carew under a grey sky with a fierce wind howling across the links and a threat of rain in the air. Add to this a Nuclear Power Station and various other factories, which are a constant view on the horizon, with smoke billowing out of the many chimneys and you do indeed have a somber outlook.
Obviously the weather isn’t always like that (I hope anyway) and what lights up this links is the quality of the golf. There are 22 holes in total which can be configured as five different courses but mainly done so as three; The Old, The Brabazon and The Micklem. Regardless of the composition you play it will provide a great and true test of your game.
The holes are lightly bunkered from the tee but this is more than made up for close to and around the greens where approaching from the correct side is paramount, especially in the cross-wind that is often present. Fairways are relatively flat although some do play alongside and over ridges. The green surrounds and bunkering is of a particularly high standard as are the putting surfaces too.
Seaton Carew may not be as easy on the eye or have as an attractive location as some other links courses, although there is some stunningly beautiful duneland behind the 10th green on the Brabazon layout, but there is a real masculinity to the course and every time I play it I come away with greater respect and admiration for it.
Seaton Carew doesn’t quite make the top bracket of links courses in the UK but it is knocking on the door and is certainly one of England’s strongest venues. This is reflected in the number of championships it has hosted over the years. The Brabazon Trophy has been played here but this is just one of a series of R&A and England Golf events held over the years.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I played Seaton Carew on a blustery April afternoon, accompanied by two club members (thanks for the round Mick and John!). Although surrounded by heavy industry and the Teeside nuclear power plant, the course is a wonderful links which tests all aspect of your game. Course conditioning was very good, with the greens especially in excellent shape. Located a reasonably convenient driving distance from Ganton and the moorland courses outside of Leeds (Alwoodley et al), Seaton Carew forms a very distinctive cog in a golf trip to NE England. The green fees are very reasonable, while the staff and membership are extremely welcoming. Put this one on your list if you enjoy links golf!