From 1923 to 2010, members at St Ives (Hunts) Golf Club played over a 9-hole parkland course at the outskirts of the historic market town. In 2006, the members decided to move, and the following year they purchased Giffords Farm near Needingworth, a 230-acre property located a mile or so west of St Ives town centre.
Course architect, Cameron Sinclair, was commissioned to lay out the new St Ives course. Sinclair (along with Donald Steel) joined the firm of Cotton, Pennink and Lawrie in the mid-1960s, he then moved to become project architect with Graham 'Swampy' Marsh in 1987 before setting up his own design company in 1990.
In August 2010, Swedish professional Robert Karlsson, who played a five-hole exhibition match to mark the layout’s opening, finally cut the ribbon to herald a new era for St Ives (Hunts) Golf Club.
East Anglia is notoriously flat, but the Giffords Farm property offers some ground movement. The site’s heavy clay soil was sand capped during construction, helping the layout to perform as the architect intended. Fashioned in the style of an inland links, St Ives has sixty-five bunkers with shallow revetted edges to help define the style. Tens of thousands of trees have been planted on the property’s boundaries and some gorse introduced to provide further depth perspective.
Configured conventionally with four par threes, ten par fours and four par fives, St Ives bucked the 1990s new-build trend in the new millennium by avoiding unnecessary length. The course measures a relatively modest 6,758 yards from the tips and is routed in two distinct 9-hole loops where water dominates, especially on the outward nine.
USGA specification greens are carpeted with velvet bentgrass, which provides a dense grass sward that not only tolerates very close cutting, but also requires less water and gives some protection from invasive, thuggish grasses. The result is that St Ives consistently boasts some of the truest putting surfaces in East Anglia.
Big skies are the order of the day here at St Ives Golf Club, where panoramic countryside views combine with the wind to provide a thoroughly engaging golfing experience at one of the most progressive clubs in East Anglia.
I played here in the summer, in really perfect conditions and was really pleased with my golfing experience. The fairways and greens were a thing of beauty. The 600+ yard par 5 was particularly my favourite hole due to the challenge and visual excellence. I really enjoyed most of the par 3s' and 4s', and as someone who prefers links style golf courses, this golf course did not disappoint. The driving range and club house were really enjoyable and the food was magnificent.
It's hard to look at St Ives and not mention the great facilities they have there. From the modern clubhouse with a gorgeous view back over the course, to the Titleist national fitting centre based in the driving range, to Paul Ashwell, the head professional, one of approximately 50 professionals awarded master professional. Known for his short game coaching, Paul has coached many England teams throughout his 30+ years experience also coaching the Cambridge University team. Because of this, many good golfers (many tour pros too) will come and visit this complex and not step foot on the golf course.
There aren't many golf courses in England which boast the inland links style quite like St Ives does. With a lot of water, great greens and a vast amount of bunkers, it's a prime example of the cliché about course length and difficulty. 6700 yards off the tips for a par 72 is by no means long, but with how open the golf course is, it brings the elements of a true links and the wind will always play a big part here at St Ives.
I feel like the course is overshadowed to an extent due to the fitting centre and world class coaches. The quality of courses in Cambridgeshire doesn't quite match the neighbouring Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire offer which does surprise me to an extent this is as low down the rankings as it is. At the end of the day personal preference will always dominate peoples perceptions whether it's a ranking website, or arguing with your friends about how this course is better than that course, but I do feel St Ives offers something unique in a county where it's much needed.