East of England - Top 20 Golf Courses 2017
This release for England’s East region is the penultimate of seven area updates that will feed into our England, Britain & Ireland and World Top 100 rankings later this year. The East region has a veritable smorgasbord of golfing choice, from the links and downland courses of Norfolk, the heathlands of Suffolk, to the many fine parkland courses in Hertfordshire. There are no Open Championship venues in this region, but two highly respected Norfolk links courses head the table.
Two years ago, we surveyed every club in England and we issued individual news releases for each of the thirty-six English counties we’ve defined on the Top 100 website. This time we’re issuing just seven English regional news releases for: East Midlands, West Midlands, North East, North West, South West, East and South East. For the first time we’re producing a ranking list on a regional basis and these tables are supported by a complete re-evaluation of each English county.
The East of England region incorporates the counties of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. It’s a large region with a land area that extends to more than 7,000 square miles. Nearly six million people live in the East of England and their golfing needs are served by more than 250 golf clubs.
Our new East of England regional Top 20 features two courses that are currently ranked in our GB&I Top 100, and thirteen that are listed in our current English Top 100. The East is the third strongest golfing region in England (based on the number of nationally ranked courses) behind the South East and South West.
Two Norfolk links courses, each laid out in the 19th century, head our East of England table. The traditional and magical out and back links at Royal West Norfolk Golf Club (#1) is routed delightfully between Brancaster Bay and the salt marshes. This characterful antiquity features huge sleeper-faced bunkers and greens and beautiful links turf.
Hunstanton Golf Club (#2) is located a couple of miles to the west of Brancaster between the sea and the River Hun. It too runs in an out and back fashion, occupying a glorious stretch of natural golfing country. A feature of the course is an almost uninterrupted dune ridge which runs from the clubhouse to the ninth tee.
Two Suffolk heathland courses appear next in the rankings. Founded in 1884, Aldeburgh Golf Club (#3) is one of the oldest golf clubs in Suffolk and is separated from the tidal Alde estuary by an unusual strip of coastal heathland. Although the Championship course itself is ostensibly heathland, its close proximity to the estuary and the North Sea provides a salty whiff of sea air.
The Purdis Heath course at Ipswich Golf Club (#4) is a delightful James Braid design from 1928 and it oozes style. The location is so peaceful and tranquil that you’d never believe you are just a couple of miles outside the busy town centre. The layout and routing is so good you could easily assume that you're playing at one of Surrey's premier heathland courses.
Next we have a pair of almost diametrically opposed Hertfordshire parkland courses. The Grove (#5) at first glance appears uninspiring, but once out on this modern course you can’t help but be impressed by the immaculate grooming and the clever Kyle Phillips design, which uses the natural contours of the land in an understated and strategic way.
The Golden Age Ashridge Golf Club (#6) is set around enchanting valleys and amongst thousands of acres of National Trust-owned woodland. The scene is set as you drive to the clubhouse. The long approach road takes you through parts of the ancient Ashridge estate, giving you a fleeting glimpse of the 8th and 9th holes between beautiful mature trees.
Back in Norfolk, Sheringham Golf Club (#7) is located high on the clifftops on an undulating thin sliver of downland, which is wedged between the chalky North Sea cliff edge and the North Norfolk Railway. Steam trains and vintage diesels occasionally rattle past adding to the palpable charm at this wonderful and varied downland course.
The private Centurion Club (#8) is located to the west of St Albans in rural Hertfordshire and it’s the youngest course in our East of England Top 20. Opened in 2013 and fashioned by Simon Gidman (formerly an assistant of the Hawtree design team) it burst into the limelight earlier this year when the inaugural Golf Sixes event was hosted here.
The Heath course at Woodbridge Golf Club (#9) is magnificently sited on high ground as Bernard Darwin eloquently describes: “Woodbridge has everything in the world that one could desire except the sea. It has sand and bracken and gorse, beautiful turf and the smoothest of greens. There is a delightful feeling of being on a hill-top, there is a fine big view, and there is peace and quiet and rusticity.”
We agree with Frank Pennink that Harry Colt and Charles Alison’s Thorndon Park (#10) is: “The best course in Essex… The old turf, the spaciousness, a lake, a stream and the woods, all lend themselves to the making of an ideal, inland course. The carry over the lake at the 3rd, the views southward from the 8th green to the Thames and Kentish hills beyond, give variety to the more intimate, woodland settings of other holes.”
Two Golden Age parkland courses are set within easy reach of London and they both don’t get the love they deserve. Laid out in two distinct loops, with a selection of solid two-shot holes, each differing in character, requiring shots utilising every club in the bag, Hadley Wood (#11) was perhaps the blueprint for Alister MacKenzie’s thirteen principles for the ideal golf course.
The High course at Moor Park (#12) was fashioned by Harry Colt and it oozes style and quality. Sufficiently protected from the metropolis by mature trees the High course is an elegant layout that provides a stern challenge in lovely, undulating parkland surroundings.
The 9-hole course at Royal Worlington & Newmarket (#13), located near Mildenhall, is a layout that divides opinion. It is widely considered to be the paragon of golf course routing, and the “Sacred Nine”, as it is fondly known, highlights two things according to authors of the Confidential Guide to Golf Courses: “First, how man’s hand can lead great playing interest to even a modest property and secondly, how many inept attempts at good design exist elsewhere.” Ed Battye, the founder of Golf Empire, commented as follows in a recent review: “Believe me, this is the real thing. Or at least anyone who doesn’t like Royal Worlington & Newmarket has a different definition of ‘golf’ than I do.”
The cliff top Royal Cromer (#14) was originally designed by Old Tom Morris, but the club has had to make significant changes over the years due to coastal erosion, with architects JH Taylor, James Braid, Frank Pennink and Donald Steel involved in keeping eighteen holes in play.
The Berkhamsted Golf Club (#15) was inaugurated in 1890, two years after the formation of Royal Cromer, and it’s set 600 feet up in the Chilterns, within one of the largest expanses of heathland in Hertfordshire. If you like golf as nature intended, or if sand bunker play is not a strong part of your game, you'll love Berkhamsted.
Gog Magog (Old) (#16) is the only Cambridgeshire course to feature in our East of England Top 20. The club takes its unusual name from the legendary Gog Magog Hills and the layout utilises the chalky hillside to great effect. There are a number of good holes on the Old course and James Finnegan singles one out: “Next to the 13th hole on my scorecard is just one word: “Terrific!” Two hundred and five yards long, with the tee on much the same level as the green and a gentle dip between the two, the hole at first glance is not impressive. But the green is perched on a modest rise, there is a steep falloff at the left front, a shallow falloff at the right, and a small clump of trees just left of the direct line. In the prevailing breeze, left to right, there is no way to gain the green except by hitting this long shot over the trees; hitting it over and hitting it up.”
According to the club history of Thetford Golf Club (#17): “The course was constructed on an open sandy heath known as Thetford Warren which, as the name suggests, was ground used to breed rabbits for their fur and meat. After the First World War the Forestry Commission planted extensive pine trees on the surrounding land now know as Thetford Forest. At the time it was the largest man made forest in the country. From being a heathland course it has gradually become a forest course.”
The tournament potential of Hanbury Manor (#18) was quickly recognised and in 1996 Trish Johnson won the Women’s European Open by five clear shots. The following year, the Men’s PGA European Tour arrived in the shape of the English Open and the tournament remained at Hanbury Manor until 1999. The course is most notable for its contrasting nines, the outward half largely plays across open country and the home nine is routed through stately parkland.
The course of Thorpeness Golf Club (#19) was laid out by James Braid on predominantly sandy soil so, in a similar vein to nearby Aldeburgh, it’s a natural maritime heathland course with crisp turf, heather, gorse and seaside winds. Thorpeness is located a mere 400 yards from the North Sea so expect a stiff challenge when there’s a freshening breeze.
The historic market town of King’s Lynn is the gateway to the North Norfolk Coast for many golfers travelling to play Royal West Norfolk and Hunstanton. The vast majority take the ring road around the town and most are completely unaware that one of East Anglia’s finest courses at King’s Lynn Golf Club (#20) lies hidden away in the trees a couple of miles north of the town centre.
East of England - Top 20 Golf Courses 2017
|1||Royal West Norfolk|
|4||Ipswich (Purdis Heath)|
|12||Moor Park (High)|
|13||Royal Worlington & Newmarket|
|16||Gog Magog (Old)|
Click the following links to see in detail our latest Best In County rankings for the six East of England counties:
|1||John O'Gaunt (John O'Gaunt)||No change|
|2||Dunstable Downs||Up 1|
|3||Aspley Guise & Woburn Sands||Down 1|
|4||Bedford & County||No change|
|6||Bedfordshire (Championship)||Up 1|
|7||South Beds (Galley Hill)||Down 2|
|8||Leighton Buzzard||Down 2|
|9||John O'Gaunt (Carthagena)||Down 1|
|1||Gog Magog (Old)||Up 1|
|2||Saffron Walden||Down 1|
|3||Gog Magog (Wandlebury)||No change|
|4||Links Newmarket||No change|
|5||Ely City||No change|
|6||Brampton Park||No change|
|7||Elton Furze||No change|
|8||Thorpe Wood||No change|
|9||St Ives||No change|
|10||St Neots||New entry|
|1||Thorndon Park||No change|
|6||Frinton (Havers)||No change|
|9||Canons Brook||Up 7|
|10||West Essex||Down 5|
|12||Boyce Hill||Down 1|
|14||Toot Hill||Down 1|
|15||Thorpe Hall||Down 3|
|16||Stoke by Nayland (Gainsborough)||Down 2|
|19||Five Lakes (Lakes)||No change|
|20||Woolston Manor||No change|
|1||The Grove||Up 1|
|3||Centurion Club||No change|
|4||Hadley Wood||No change|
|5||Moor Park (High)||No change|
|7||Hanbury Manor||Up 1|
|8||Sandy Lodge||Up 1|
|9||Brocket Hall (Palmerston)||Down 3|
|10||West Herts||Up 3|
|11||Porters Park||No change|
|12||South Herts (Vardon)||Up 2|
|13||Brocket Hall (Melbourne)||Down 3|
|14||Dyrham Park||Down 2|
|15||Old Fold Manor||Up 1|
|16||Brookmans Park||Up 1|
|17||Essendon (Old)||Up 2|
|19||Batchworth Park||Up 3|
|20||Moor Park (West)||Up 5|
|21||Welwyn Garden City||Down 1|
|22||Brickendon Grange||Down 1|
|23||East Herts||Down 8|
|24||Bishops Stortford||Up 5|
|29||Essendon (New)||Down 5|
|30||Hartsbourne (Willows & Firs)||New entry|
|1||Royal West Norfolk||No change|
|4||Royal Cromer||No change|
|6||King's Lynn||Down 1|
|7||Great Yarmouth & Caister||No change|
|9||Royal Norwich||No change|
|2||Ipswich (Purdis Heath)||Down 1|
|4||Royal Worlington & Newmarket||Up 2|
|6||Felixstowe Ferry (Martello)||Down 1|
|8||Bury St Edmunds||No change|
|9||Bungay & Waveney Valley||New entry|
Top 100 Golf Courses