North East England - Top 20 Golf Courses 2017
The North East is the third of seven English regional updates that will inform our higher-level rankings later this year. It’s not the most popular destination for travelling golfers, but there are several courses in the region that fall into the must-play category, three of which are former Ryder Cup venues located in Yorkshire.
Two years ago, we surveyed every club in England and we issued individual news releases for each of the thirty-six English counties as 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’ll produce a ranking list on a regional basis and these tables will be underpinned by a complete re-evaluation of each English county.
The traditional definition of England’s North East includes only the counties of Durham and Northumberland (plus associated metropolitan areas), but for simple geographical purposes, we’ve included Yorkshire, England’s largest county by area, in our North East region. Yorkshire is so large (by English standards) that it is split into four separate counties and North Yorkshire is, in fact, England’s largest county by area, extending to nearly 5,400 square miles.
Consequently there are many golf courses in our North East region, serving a population of around eight million people. In Yorkshire alone, there are around 200 golf clubs and approaching 100 others across Durham and Northumberland, so it was a tough job to select just a score of courses to form our inaugural North East Top 20.
Our new North East regional Top 20 features one course that is currently ranked in our World Top 100, three that are presently placed in our GB&I table (all located in Yorkshire), and eight that are ranked in our English Top 100.
It will come as no surprise that Ganton Golf Club heads our North East regional table. To classify Ganton as a heathland course is a misnomer – one could just as easily categorise it as an inland links, as it’s situated in the rural Vale of Pickering, nine miles from the sea. This sandy, gently undulating site was once a North Sea inlet. Consequently, it has some characteristics of a links and a heathland course.
Ganton may not fit squarely into any recognised genre, but this 1949 Ryder Cup venue has been a permanent fixture in our World Top 100 rankings down the years. The strategically placed and menacingly deep bunkers are world-famous and the course’s core strength lies in its stellar collection of two-shot holes.
Two Leeds-based courses fall into positions #2 and #3 and Alister MacKenzie designed both. Alwoodley Golf Club was the home course of the famous doctor and it was his inaugural design that dates back to 1907. Moortown Golf Club famously hosted the second official Ryder Cup match in 1929 and the course is probably best known for its par three 10th hole, called Gibraltar, as it was constructed over a rocky plateau – it’s now one of the world’s most celebrated short holes.
Also located in Yorkshire, Lindrick Golf Club #4 is the third course in the region to have hosted the Ryder Cup. The 1957 match concluded with the first British win over the USA in 24 years – a further 28 years would pass before a combined European team wrestled the trophy from America. Numerous famous architects have left their stamp on this fast-running moorland cum heathland course, which is laid out over prime common land. Apart from the Ryder Cup, Lindrick hosted the English Women's Amateur Championship in July 2017 (won by fifteen-year-old Lily May Humphreys, carding a score of one over par for 72 holes) to add to an impressive list of professional and amateur tournaments the club has hosted down the years, including the Curtis Cup.
Durham’s Seaton Carew Golf Club (#5) started out in 1874 as the Durham and Yorkshire Golf Club, becoming the first golf club in the North East of England. Unjustly criticised by some commentators for its industrial backdrop, Seaton Carew is a highly unusual links in that the club claims it can make five different 18-hole configurations from its 22 holes. The original course (known as the Old) started out as 14-holer but was modified and extended to 18 holes by Alister MacKenzie in 1925. In the 1970s Frank Pennink added four new holes near the sea to replace the Old course’s 7th to 10th holes and this course became known as the Brabazon. The club hosted the Brabazon Trophy (English Amateur Stroke Play Championship) in 1985, producing a tie for first place between Peter Baker and Roger Roper.
The unheralded Northumberland links course at Berwick-upon-Tweed Golf Club (aka Goswick Links) appears in our inaugural North East rankings at #6. One recent reviewer described it as “not only a true test of golf but it also asks you to hit a wonderful variety of strokes, both along the ground and through the air. There is much more movement in the land than you might expect from your initial impression of the course with some superb changes in elevation throughout the 18 holes.”
A modern design, also located in Northumberland, makes the rankings at #7. The Colt course at the Close House Hotel is where Lee Westwood is the property’s attached tour pro, and Lee reckons that: “Close House is a perfect members course that has the capability of staging a major tournament in years to come.” The Journal’s Tim Taylor was also impressed: “If Scott Macpherson is not the 21st century's re-incarnation of Harry Colt, then I don’t know who is. A drop dead gorgeous course and you can see from the way Macpherson has subtly set his jewel into the breathtaking countryside alongside Hadrian’s Wall, that he is a student of Colt’s gentle way of doing things.”
Back in Yorkshire, and straight in at #8, Fulford Golf Club is where an unusual event, more famous than the actual golf course itself, took place. Major Charles MacKenzie, brother of the legendary Alister MacKenzie, laid the course out on predominantly sandy ground in 1935. The fairways wind their way between avenues of trees. But there's one particular tree at Fulford that will remain a monument to Bernhard Langer for as long as it lives. During the 1981 B&H International, the flaxen-haired German hit his approach shot to the 17th into the branches of a large tree. Amazingly, the ball remained lodged. Rather than taking a penalty drop, Langer decided to shin up the tree and play the shot from where it lay on the tree’s bough. From a precarious and unusual stance, Langer chipped out and to everyone's astonishment, the ball landed on the green. A plaque on the same tree now commemorates Langer's remarkable feat.
Pannal Golf Club (#9) was once very much in the limelight, hosting the English Women's Championship as long ago as 1927. The club also held the inaugural PGA Matchplay Championship in 1955, the PGA Seniors Championship in 1985 and the Ladies British Amateur Championship in 1991. It’s a typical example of a Yorkshire moorland course, exposed to wind, but protected from that element by plentiful trees. But it wasn’t always that way. In the days of Bernard Darwin: “It stands high up on a breezy down, where there are some steep slopes and big valleys, and pretty clumps of gorse, and the wind, I should suspect, always blows keenly. At least it did so when I was there, and I can still feel myself walking against it with bowed head, and then being blown along by it as if I were a feather.”
The course at Hallamshire Golf Club (#10) was formerly part of the Duke of Norfolk’s estate and it was laid out in 1897 when 100 acres of land was leased for golfing purposes. The club made the astute decision to purchase the course outright in 1912 and then hire Harry Colt to remodel the layout. One of our regular reviewers commented as follows: “Hallamshire is a great example of using every bit of land available and producing a testing but very enjoyable layout with a variety of short and long holes. A must play for anyone, oh and the views are pretty amazing too!”
Our full North East England Top 20 follows. We’ve played each and every course listed in the Top 20 and we’ve also played every course within our Durham, Northumberland and Yorkshire Best In County rankings. We can safely say that the North East of England is one of the country’s strongest and most diverse golfing areas.
North East - Top 20 Golf Courses 2017
|7||Close House (Colt)|
|13||Slaley Hall (Hunting)|
|17||Bingley St Ives|
|20||Moor Allerton (Blackmoor & High)|
Click the following links to see in detail our latest Best In County rankings for the three North East counties:
|1||Seaton Carew||No change|
|2||Rockliffe Hall||No change|
|3||Brancepeth Castle||No change|
|6||Ramside Hall (Cathedral)||New entry|
|7||Ramside Hall (Prince Bishops')||Down 2|
|9||South Moor||Down 1|
|10||Castle Eden||Down 1|
|2||Close House (Colt)||Down 1|
|3||Slaley Hall (Hunting)||No change|
|5||Bamburgh Castle||No change|
|7||Dunstanburgh Castle||New entry|
|10||Close House (Filly)||New entry|
|9||Sand Moor||Up 1|
|10||Bingley St Ives||Up 1|
|12||Moor Allerton (Blackmoor & HIgh)||No change|
|16||Woodsome Hall||No change|
|21||Scarborough North Cliff||Down 2|
|27||Crosland Heath||Down 2|