Located in the heart of the Lincolnshire countryside, Thonock Park boasts two 18-hole courses, along with first-class clubhouse facilities and eight boutique guest rooms. The club lies just over a mile away from the European headquarters of PING, with the company’s European Fitting Centre situated next to the driving range at Thonock Park.
Golf actually goes back on this site to 1894, when a course was first established on the Thonock Estate by the mildly eccentric landowner Sir Hickman Beckett Bacon, who was installed as the club’s inaugural president. He inherited Thonock Hall in 1872 and he lived there until he died in 1945. Unfortunately, this building had to be demolished in 1964.
An 18-hole course was created just after World War II and it remained in play for almost forty years until a new layout was fashioned by Brian Waites (the long-term pro at Notts) not long after Karsten UK Ltd acquired the club in the mid-1980s. A decade later, architect David Williams and Neil Coles fashioned a second course, now named Karsten Lakes.
Fairways are routed around five sparkling lakes, three of which play a rather prominent role, most notably at the par four 6th “Neil’s Challenge” which demands an aerial approach across water to the green, then at the following hole, the par three 7th “Thonock Lake”, where the green for this short hole lies behind the same intimidating expanse of water.
There’s no shortage of bunkers on the layout either and they’ve all recently undergone a full renovation by Swan Golf Designs, with a number of the sand hazards removed, re-shaped or re-built to improve drainage and overall playability.
Feature holes include the 444-yard 4th “Grove Farm” which doglegs slightly right to a heavily sand-protected green that’s further fortified by a sneaky bunker at the front. On the back nine, the 419-yard 15th “The Stables” also veers right off the tee, with a nest of bunkers to the left of the green awaiting those playing too safe to avoid water on the right.
Architect David Williams kindly supplied the following comment:
“I worked with Neil Coles on the design of the second course at what was then Gainsborough Golf Club. The original 18-hole course was owned by PING and Neil was a very good friend of the managing director. We were commissioned in 1995 to design the second course at the club, a championship length course as opposed to the existing shorter course.
The course was built by American contractors American Golf (East Sussex National, among their other UK courses) and it was originally named the Karsten Creek course, after the founder of PING, Karsten Solheim. It has since been re-named Karsten Lakes and the original 18-hole course was changed to the Thonock Park course.
Karsten Solheim actually visited the course during construction, during his annual visit to the UK for the Open. I recall being asked by his son during the visit whether the course would be open for play the following July, when Karsten would be making his next visit. I stated that the construction work would be finished that autumn but, as all the fairways were seeded (not turfed), they would not be ready until the following autumn.
On hearing this, his son asked whether we could turf all the fairways to ensure that it was be ready for the following summer as only the tee, bunker and green complexes were being turfed in the original contract. Unfortunately, there was not enough high-quality fairway turf being grown in the UK at the time so I had to reply that sadly, it wasn’t possible.
As a compromise, it was agreed to add fairway irrigation to the project, to speed up the grow-in process the following year but, if I recall correctly, Karsten wasn’t well enough to visit the UK that summer, and passed away shortly afterwards.”
Architect William Swan kindly commented in March 2021 following the bunker renovation:
“The course now has forty-five bunkers (reduced from 63) with a sand area of approximately 4000m2 (down from over 11,000m2). Despite this reduction the bunkers now play a much more strategic and visual role on the course. My personal favourites include the uphill par five 5th hole where the new frontal bunker at the green asks the golfer to decide which is the best line of approach depending on the pin position, and the par four 15th where knowing the pin-position dictates the preferred line of play from the tee.”