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.
Slaley Hall’s Hunting course is well renowned as a stern test of golf. The layout is an examination of accuracy and perseverance, where many of the questions are posed by the myriad of water features that stitch through the landscape. There is no doubt that this course is routed through one of the most beautiful inland settings in England. The beauty of the surroundings shapes the character of the course and gives the course a memorable and engaging character.
In the recent past, the front nine and back nine have switched over. This change, I presume, was undertaken to create a better finishing stretch and I believe that change (if that was the reasoning) has been a positive one. Rather confusingly however, the dry stone wall with the course name on, now surrounds the 10th tee, not the 1st. This may be something that is attended to in the years to come, as we could quite easily have ventured forth from the wrong tee if the starter hadn’t redirected us.
Slightly disappointingly, we found the course to be in average condition in early May 2022 with the greens suffering somewhat after some work and a recent spell of dry weather. Other courses that we played in the area seemed to have faired better with their greens, and even the Priestman (the second course at Slaley Hall) boasted greens in superior condition.
There is no doubt there is quite a bit of target golf out there on this course, where the landing zones allow very little room for manoeuvre. A common theme is the big hazards at driver distance, meaning shorter layups were the only option. My issue with this was that there is quite often no decision to make and there was only one strategical option. I do love the challenge of a difficult golf course, but I also like options of how to play it.
Holes I particular disliked on these grounds were the par 4 4th, where a mid to long iron is the only real option off the tee, due to a huge hazard in the landing zone. Similarly the downhill par 4 9th is a great test, but the only way to play the hole is to lay up short of the gaping water hazard, leaving a long shot in to the green. Finally, the 11th is very memorable aesthetically, but in all honesty, I feel that it is a poor golf hole architecturally. The downhill 90 degree dogleg requires a shot of some 220 yards over a fairway bunker but no more than about 250 yards to find the area of the fairway where you can see the green. If you don’t find this area, there is a high likelihood that your next shot will be a short chip to this area, as the trees bordering the dogleg are so tall and dense there is no option or sight line to the green.
There are a number of other weak holes, with the 3rd, 7th and 8th featuring in that group from the front nine. The back nine is a more solid offering with only the par 5 13th lacking in a little bit of character. Added to the previously mentioned strategically limited holes, you can hopefully see my view point that there is room for improvement here in relation to the course structure.
Concentrating on the holes I liked, I particularly liked 5 and 6 heading outbound. Coming home, the run 14 to 18 is a brilliant finishing stretch with the 16th, the standout in that crowd. The quite magnificent par 4 wanders out in front of you uphill and to the right, with the green site raised further above the the player while playing the approach. The 17th is a hole I think I could get to like if I played it a few more times, but it did have a feel from the tee of another hole slightly lacking in options. 18 is a brute, 455 yards from the tips and played uphill all the way. Again, the options from the tee are reasonably slim; you quite frankly need to hit the fairway as far up as possible (while avoiding the water hazard that as usual, dissects the fairway). It is a brilliant finishing test however and this final run vindicates the decision to swap the two sides around.
Having played another exacting test at St Mellion (Nicklaus) in the same month, that course is everything I hoped Slaley Hall would be; a tough test with strategic options in championship condition. The Hunting course was a little rough around the edges and it’s lack of strategical options at times, started to wear a little thin. There is definitely a lot to love here, and I’m sure, when presented in its best condition, it would leave a better impression.
Gleneagles of the South it isn't nor would I would use comparisons to Augusta or Woburn, but it is a good course in it's own right. Whilst The Priestman (the second course),routed over the same hillside, is open, with wide fairways and generous sized greens, the Hunting is more demanding off the tee with generally narrower fairways, longer holes, and the water features more in play, making this a real test off the Yellows at 6500 yards, on a wet course with no run at all, in a stiff wind and cold air, making those long par 4's almost playing like par 5's! Par golf this wasn't but I enjoyed the test.
The routing has been switched around and whilst I understand the previous reviewers comments re the 9th (old 18th) the new closing stretch is excellent - strongly designed holes providing a real and varied challenge finishing with a very demanding uphill par 4.
I like the revised routing. It means the course starts with a gentle slightly uphill 352 yard par 4, played to a wide fairway and whilst the green is protected with bunkers front and rear, a good drive should leave only a short to mid iron approach and a par start.
The course then really starts to get going, with 2 back to back par 5's; the 1st played with the benefit of a brutish wind, down the hillside and then back up to a raised green. It's visually appealing with pine trees acting as a pleasant backdrop to the green but at 544 yards, still a tough hole when I played it Tuesday as there was no run. The fact the course was open given the very heavy rain the day and night before is testament to its draining abilities.
Then directly into the wind behind you on the returning 3rd hole, played from an elevated tee, a shorter par 5. And then with the wind at your back for your 4th hole. At 380 yards, this hole presents its own challenges as there is a large pond within driving range, and a 2nd played over the water to a green higher up the hillside.
The course continues to wander up the hillside, with the 1st of only 3 par 3's, a 181 yard uphill hit played through pine trees, before the course opens up again on the 6th, a lovely short par 4 at 327 yards, again an excellent green design, with bunkers protecting a very narrow entrance, both left and right.
What I liked about the Hunting greens were that they were varied in size and shape, with some, especially on the back 9 featuring multi tiers, adding to your shot selection dilemmas.
The 6th green is the further away you go from the property, to the edge of the moors, before an excellent closing 3 hole stretch to the front 9. Framed by pine trees, the 7th is a sweeping dog leg left to the 1st green that you can run a ball straight in at, as the green front is open and flat. Another 182 yard par 3 follows, similar in away to the 5th, played uphill but a green only protecting the front right.
The front 9 finishes with an excellent par 4. At 462 yards, whilst the tee shot is downhill, the pond that features on hole 4, drains through a beck crossing the 9th and again your tee shot could end up in there. The green is outside the terraced bar and restaurant and is long and thin.
The front 9 is a lot more open than the back. Both are parkland although moorland and pines flank the property. The only up/down part of the whole course is holes 2/3/4/9 which all run parallel to each other.
The back 9 starts with a demanding par 4, at 421 yards. It has a wide fairway but on a day with no run, a very long 2nd shot into a green which slopes heavily from left to right and a deep bunker to the right to catch any drifting approach play.
Then the 11th, which plays down and then very sharp right dog leg, flanked by rhododendrons to the right (maybe this is whether the Augusta claim comes from?) With bunkers in play off the tee and lost ball territory right, this is a great strategic thinking hole.
This part of the course sees more hotel guests wandering around, so you may share the 12th tee shot with a segway coasting across the path that is below you. A gentle right to left par 4, followed by another strong par 5. Played downhill the hole is not long at 503 yards, but a long narrow green is protected front right and left by bunkers, with another bunker at the back to catch out any approach shot that fails to stop.
Following a straight forward par 4 - highlight being the tiered green, you then head into an excellent closing stretch. The 15th is the last of the par 3's, played 197 yards, all over water - a carry of c170 yards is required.
The 16th is played down hill and then back up to a green above you, flanked by trees, a pond to the left and a stream down the right. At 406 yards another good challenge, added enjoyment being the green complex with two tiered green flanked with banking to the sides and back providing a bowl setting. I loved the 17th. Off the tee the hole was tight and visually challenging as a gentle fade was required. Once down on the fairway the landing area is larger than it looked off the tee, but then you have a 2nd shot across a brook (a brook or some kind of water features on holes 1,2,3,4,9,11,12,14,15,16,17 and 18) to a green protected front and left/right by bunkers. Getting the right club choice absolutely vital to making par.
I did get lost wandering to 18 as you cross a lane and walk through a housing complex, but the 18th was excellent. Tight off the tee, flanked by trees and rhododendrons, playing uphill, across a brook to an uphill green. At 409 yards, a tough finish. Was happy to walk off with a bogey.
The 2nd 9 set of holes are the strongest of the 2 halves, with no weak hole, it felt overall more secluded than the front 9 (despite the hotel guests wandering around), but the overall combination of both loops made for a good course.
Backed up by The Priestman, which is laid out adjacent to the Hunting, this is an excellent stay and play venue and whilst this has nothing to do with the course design and quality, an overall value for money package, which I would recommend.
I'll certainly return but in the Summer months when my score maybe a little better on firmer faster running fairways!
We played Slaley Hall Hunting on a sunny September day and i have to say i do not concur with the negative views. This is a proper golf course that has no weak holes and all offer a real challeng. The course was in excellent condition, the rough was very juicy and made it tricky while the morning dew was on. One small gripe for me is they have turned the 9s around and for me the finishing hole should be the fantastic 9th. I get the 18 may be the signature hole (another fine hole) but the finish should be in font of the patrons in front of the magnificent Hotel. This course requires thought off the tee and thought approaching the greens. The whole setting is really beautiful and has an elegance that makes this place a special course. Our whole experience of playing and staying at this venue were top notch. From the Green teas this is a beast because while not playing from the green teas the yellows were a real test as well. If you dont like testing golf, dont play here, it is a brute and a thinkers couse all at the same time. The last four holes on the present 9 are real brutes of holes and will test the very best. I will be back.
I played from the green teas once but it left quite a bitter taste in my mouth
HA HA, yes i realised my faux pas after i submitted the review. Its there for evermore now in Slaley folk law history about the Green Teas and not the Green Tees.
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.