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 Golf World 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 that is still a relative golfing backwater.
Developer Seamus O’Carroll bought the 340-acre Slaley Hall property in 1984 for £1m and he commissioned Dave Thomas to design a course with tournament play in mind. In 1989, nine holes opened for play and the second nine opened the following year. In 1991 the receivers stepped in when debts reportedly peaked at £27m. Remarkably, the financial storm was weathered and the resort (formerly part of the De Vere Group) is now a flagship property within the QHotels portfolio.
The Hunting course is a big layout measuring in excess of 7,000 yards from the tips, with holes carved through a dense pine forest and others routed through more open moorland. Rhododendrons and cherry trees provide welcome seasonal colour, but it’s the pines that will punish the wayward shot, for they (and some water features) are the predominant hazards throughout the round.
Bunkering is relatively light, but the earth certainly moved for the former Ryder Cupper with the mounding in the style of its era. However, Thomas skilfully used nature’s strategic features, especially the streams on the front nine. The course plays across varied ground, and although the majority of holes being park-like in nature, there are some that have distinct moorland characteristics.
Immortalised by the now defunct Great North Open (formerly known as the European Grand Prix and the Slaley Hall Northumberland Challenge), the Hunting course has seen its fair share of big-named champions during its European Tour tenure between 1996 and 2002, including Retief Goosen, Colin Montgomerie and Lee Westwood. The Hunting is certainly not Augusta, or even Gleneagles, but it is one of England's better modern layouts.
Quite a pretty course, I played it in May several years ago when the rhododendrons were in bloom. Note - having flowers on the course does not make it "the Augusta of the north".
Some interesting holes, and a large number that blend into one. The length and the challenge keep the interest up.
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.