Critics have described Slaley Hall as the ‘Gleneagles of the North East’, the ‘Woburn of the North’ the ‘Augusta of the North’ and the ‘Gleneagles of the South’ but it was Golf World which described Slaley Hall as the “Manchester of the North East – every time a tournament goes there, such is the deluge.” Regardless of the weather, the Hunting course at Slaley Hall is a challenging layout, located in a county devoid of many top-notch golf courses.
The Hunting course opened for play in 1989 and was designed by Dave Thomas. The resort at Slaley Hall is now part of the QHotels portfolio, formerly the De Vere Group. It’s a big golf course, carved through a dense pine forest. Rhododendrons and cherry trees provide welcome seasonal colour, but it’s the pines that will punish the wayward shot, for they are predominant throughout the round.
Dave Thomas is renowned for designing unique and interesting holes and he’s done himself proud at Slaley Hall. His bunkering design is masterful. No doubt there was some land to be moved, but he appears to have skilfully used nature’s features effectively, especially the streams on the front nine.
As we have already said, the Hunting course is a big course, measuring over 7,000 yards from the back tees. The layout plays across varied ground, and whilst the majority of holes are park-like in nature, there are some holes that have distinct moorland characteristics with springy crisp turf. Either way, the Hunting has been immortalised by the European Grand Prix, formerly called the Slaley Hall Northumberland Challenge, and it’s seen some famous champions, including Retief Goosen and Colin Montgomerie.
There’s an American feel to the course and the resort in general. With plenty of tees to choose from, make sure you select wisely, because the Hunting plays its length. The layout is invariably in good condition and there is absolutely no doubt that the Hunting is one of the better young courses in England.
I have read recent reviews for the Dave Thomas designed Hunting Course which somewhat dampened my expectations. So it was good to end up being pleasantly surprised at the quality of this 30 year old track. The last review was in September 2018 since when maintenance has clearly improved, and the two nines swapped around.
The course at 6500 yards off the yellow tee blocks is long and demanding, but the holes are well set out over a large formerly-forested area. The new front nine is just ok, but the back nine presents a huge challenge. There is not a bad hole from 10 to 18, with the only easier hole being the inviting downhill par five 13th. This was followed by a brutish par four at 14 with water down the left and a fiendish pin placement on a down slope at the back left of the green. As if this wasn’t tricky enough, the 180 yards of the 15th all over water to a front edge flag was a real test, and there two holes are stroke index 15 and 16.
And to finish, the Stroke Index 1 18th was an uphill 440 yard beast. The narrow fairway is flanked by water on the left and has a stream cross where average golfers would land their second shot. And continuing up the slope, the sloping green is fronted by two huge bunkers. A bogey to finish is a good score, a par is quite exceptional.
The course design is more than good, and although the realistically priced green fee produces a high throughput of players, it is an excellent venue and good value for a day’s golf. But if you’re expecting to play to your handicap around here, it has to be your A-game all the way.
Having read the mixed reviews for the Hunting Course at Slaley Hall my expectations were not high but I left rather underwhelmed. Its set in beautiful hilly countryside and uses the undulations to great effect on some holes, I just felt there were too many dull holes which were just a long grind albeit with some good strategic bunkering in places. It’s generous from the tee and the bunkers although numerous are not too hard to avoid, the best sequence of holes is from 5-9. Despite this years heatwave the general condition was good but some of the tees looked tired and the green complexes had bare areas in places, greens were pleasantly fast and had good roll. One big negative was the pace of play, if you’re playing between Friday or Monday expect a 5 hour round even with a buggy. The attached hotel sells a lot of cheap weekend golf packages and has no handicap restrictions for what is not an easy course, watching players hitting 100 yard drives then waiting for the green to clear before hitting their 2nd does little to improve perceptions of the course. If you’re in the area it’s worth playing but not worth a diversion.
Once upon a time this was the top course around, but has sadly been left behind in recent years by Close House, Northumberland and Rockliffe Hall. The course is starting to show a lack of investment with signs of tiredness. If wanting to play three courses in the region swerve Slaley and play Colt, Northumberland and Goswick instead.
I have to disagree. i played the Colt course at Close House and the Hunting course at Slaley on successive days last month, and considered purely as golf courses the Hunting course is in my view clearly superior. The facilties are another story (the attitude and training of the staff at Slaley could certainly be better) but once out on the course I don't think there's any doubt that the Hunting course is better designed.