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.”
Visited and stayed at the venue playing the Lakes course and the older Thonock Park (formerly Gainsborough GC).
I would thoroughly recommend that this is a great place for a weekends golf and accommodation. The staff here could not have been any friendlier and there is certainly a real feel good vibe to the place, every interaction I had was superb.
Onto the course, there are a variety of tees that can extend the course to close to 7000 yards, but as we were playing for fun we mixed them up, and played the course at around 6500.
After a very dry spell of no rain, the fairways played fast and firm, almost links like, and iron shots had to be clipped. The greens were very good as were the approaches and surrounds (clearly a good irrigation system in place)
The bunkers have apparently undergone an overhaul and look amazing, thankfully I did not visit too many but the few I visited played nicely.
As you would expect given the name and style here are a few holes with water in play, that attract the most wonderful variety of wildlife, providing a warmth to the otherwise tranquil setting.
The par 3s are strong and visually good, my favourite stretch of holes was 11-13 a par 4, 3 and 5 all scorable but fraught with danger and greens to send errant shots into very cleverly located run off areas. Although I do have a soft spot for the shorter Par 3 17th, a great match play hole and one that proved to be crucial in our own little match.
The layout combined with the weather we experienced had an American feel to it, not too everyone's taste I know, but for me as good if not better than any similar style course in the UK I have played to date.
Better known for being the home of Pings Fitting Centre, the 2 course Thonock Park, previously Gainsborough Golf Club, is pleasant enough, with good clubhouse and 8 boutique guest rooms, making for a pleasant overnight stay, playing both courses.
I wouldn't otherwise make the trek to the middle of Lincolnshire - apart from Lee Westwood was hosting a Ping Corporate Golf Day, so that was an added draw.
The Karsten lakes course, named after the Ping founder and with lakes a plenty is the newer of the 2 courses having opened for play in 1997, The Thonock Park course dates back over 100 years.
Holes 6 and 7 are where the water actually comes into play the most - the approach on the par 6 is played diagonally across the expanse of water and then the par 3 7th, is all carry to a green flanked by 3 bunkers, short, left and right.
The other large water area, frames the 1st green, 2nd and 9th fairways, providing a challenge off the tee, as the fairway dog legs and hugs the lake on this hole.
The water is also played over on the short par 3 17th.
At over 6700 yards off the white tees, and 6900 off the tips this is a challenging course, harder than it's sister course, Bunkers have been renovated and whilst some have been removed those that are left are now more in play, both actually and visually. The rough was also very penal and none of this was helped by a very windy day.
It's a shame my best memory of the day was Lee's short game masterclass, plus also the fact he topped a driver when hitting a ball off the deck, as opposed to the golf course. And like I said above, without the incentive of the Golf Day or having a fitting at the Ping centre, I'm not sure I would take the trouble to head here again.