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".
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!
We finally got round to playing Seaton Carew in early April on the way back from Fife. I am adjusting for the fact that I played like a drain and was soundly beaten and that our round was very slow due to being stuck behind a county match, but I must admit to being underwhelmed, certainty compared to some reviews claiming it should be top twenty in England. I'm not influenced by the industrial setting since both seascale and Silloth show that a great course doesn't need bucolic setting. The opening was plain and confusing, we're still not entirely sure which holes we played. It is one of those links courses where you neither see the sea nor experience much change of elevation. The par 3s were interesting however, and there is a strong if fragrant finish. If a 3.5 rating were possible I would give that, of its type, Goswick is a better course yet still only a strong 4. Worth playing but I feel it's very over rated.
‘Doctor’ (2nd) is a wonderful par three, unchanged from 1874 except the sleepers in the bunkers have been removed. The green is elevated and has four bunkers at the front, two on the left and three bunkers plus grassy dunes on the right.
‘Lagoon’ (9th) exemplifies the precision shot making needed at Seaton Carew. All along the right is a large swampy area that runs to within about eighty yards short of the green. The last sixty five yards of the fairway are very narrow with thick grassy mounds along the left and back of the raised green.
Normally the 17th on all four combinations, ‘Snag’ is one of the best holes. The green is raised with two bunkers on each side and at the front. There is a nasty, hidden bunker at the foot of the large mounds on the left edge of the fairway, about twenty five yards short of the green.
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 wasn’t really prepared for how good the Old Course at Seaton Carew would be and this mightily impressive track really surprised me! There may be no tall dunes to weave in and out of but there are plenty of subtle changes in elevation to sustain interest in the terrain from start to finish.
And forget about the old, heavy industrial backdrop to the layout as you’ll need all your concentration to deal with the job in hand. An earlier reviewer mentioned how “everything was laid out in front of you,” well I’m sure elite golfers love to play here because of the intrinsic fairness of the design.
Having said that, “Lagoon,” the par four 10th, was my favourite hole on the card, as its split-level fairway forces golfers into a semi blind approach to the green for tee shots played to the left of the hole.
I also loved the strong finish to the round, where a trio of testing par four holes follow “Cosy Corner,” the third and final short hole on the course.
I was told that most of the greens were dug up and re-laid under the watchful eye of a former St Andrews greenkeeper a decade or so ago and these big, wonderfully contoured putting surfaces are what really make the Old Course such a delight to play.
Signage could be improved a bit in places as there are sometimes several options available when heading for the next hole but that’s a minor quibble when you can play one of the very top courses in northern England for a very reasonable green fee.
I’d love to return again to play the four Pennink holes which are laid out closest to the coastline but until then I’ll remember the other eighteen holes at Seaton Carew very fondly.