The region is truly blessed when it comes to scenery and if the sun is shining you won’t find a better place to get into the swing of things than Goswick Golf Club in Berwick-upon-Tweed. Reputed to be one of Alan Shearer’s favourite spots to enjoy a round – and he’s played a few – this classic links course has been used as a regional qualifier for the Open Championship by the R&A. Set amongst the most stunning Northumbrian coastal scenery, the course measures 6,803 yards from the medal tees and is rarely affected by the weather – a championship course in every sense of the word.
You’ll find an equally appealing course at Brancepeth Castle Golf Club in Durham. It was designed by world famous architect Harry Colt in 1924 and laid out on what was Brancepeth Castle Deer Park, with the former stables and coach house converted into the clubhouse. This beautiful parkland course clocks in at 6,400 yards and offers a great variation of holes, with a deep ravine cutting through a course that provides some challenging tee shots. It’s widely recognised as one of the top 100 courses in Britain and Ireland, with the par three 9th and 10th holes frequently described as two of the best.
While the £8 million course at Close House wasn’t designed by Harry Colt, it is named after the great man and the architecture is a tip of the hat to the man responsible for creating Wentworth and Sunningdale. Situated just 15 minutes from Newcastle, the theme of the course is ‘Old English’ and the land on which it lies is certainly historic, having once been roamed by the Roman Army. Each tee at this ‘mini Gleneagles’ is designed to play in a different direction to the previous one, so you need to take into consideration the strength of the wind and where it’s coming from each time you put your tee in the ground. It’s fair to say The Colt has been designed not to give up its secrets too easily; playing it for the first time will leave you at a disadvantage to seasoned practitioners – by perhaps several shots – but the course will reward you for your powers of observation and willingness to return.
A similarly tricky challenge lies in wait further west up the Tyne Valley at Slaley Hall, where there are two championship standard courses to test even the best golfing brains. The Hunting Course is 7,000 yards of rolling moorland, streams, lakes, towering trees and banks of rhododendrons – but don’t be fooled by its beauty, this course will catch out the unwary with its well placed bunkers and tricky greens. Its sibling, The Priestman Course, located on the west side of the estate, offers panoramic views of the valley and regularly hosts major Seniors events. Wind can be a factor on this undulating course but don’t let that put you off, The Priestman is a classic course suitable for all levels where pars are well earned.
In Teesside you’ll find one of the region’s, if not one of Europe’s, most challenging courses. Measuring a whopping 7,879 yards from the back tees, golf at Rockliffe Hall is a unique challenge just begging to be taken on. Set on the banks of the River Tees, the beautiful course is set in 375 acres of outstanding scenery featuring lakes, wetland and woodland and has been tipped to one day host the Ryder Cup. After playing a round here, you’ll know just why.
Further north you’ll find another highly regarded course at Bellingham. Dubbed Northumberland’s friendliest club, the par 70 here has plenty of variety thanks to a pleasing mixture of testing par threes, lengthy par fives and a memorable collection of tricky par fours that make up a course surrounded by natural beauty. The 18th is particularly treacherous and if you can emerge with your scorecard unscathed you’ve survived a true test of golf.
It’s very easy to get caught up in the game and forget that the main reason we trudge for miles, swinging a piece of metal at a small white ball, is to escape from the pressures of everyday life and have fun. For a reminder of why we love this silly game take a trip to Matfen Hall and play their high quality, nine hole, par three course which is pure enjoyment from tee off to the very last putt. Whether you’re grabbing a quick twilight round or enjoying a sunny morning of golf with a group of friends, take time to remind yourself why we love this game.
We’ve only scratched the surface with these suggestions of where to play, there’s a whole host of courses to enjoy across the region and golf is a great excuse to get out there and enjoy some fantastic scenery. Keep playing and practising and who knows, you might get lucky.
Ask the Expert
Every golfer wants to improve their game and with that in mind we’ve asked Paul Terras, for some practical steps you can take to help drive down the handicap this summer.
1) Practise your short game. Spend time on the driving range hitting 50 yard, 70 yard and 90 yard shots so you have a better chance of making them when it counts.
2) Accelerate the putter. Lay a club shaft down on the green in front of the hole so that you have to hit your putts harder in order to get the ball to pop over the shaft and into the hole. Training to hit your putts more firmly will help you make those short putts.
3) Keep your balance. When you’ve completed your golf swing, stay still and hold the finishing position at the end of your follow-through for a few seconds. This will make you more aware of your stance and help you achieve a more balanced swing.
4) Plan your round. Know your limits and don’t go for shots beyond your capability, keeping this in mind will help you avoid the card wrecker score.
5) Book a lesson with your PGA pro to get the basics correct before the start of the season.
Bellingham Golf Club, Northumberland, NE48 2DT 01434 220152 www.bellinghamgolfclub.com
Brancepeth Castle Golf Club, Durham, DH7 8EA 0191 378 0075 www.brancepeth-castle-golf.co.uk
Close House, Heddon-on-the-Wall, NE15 0HT 01661 852255 www.closehouse.co.uk
Goswick Links, Berwick-upon-Tweed, TD15 2RW 01289 387380 www.goswicklinksgc.co.uk
Matfen Hall, Northumberland, NE20 0RH 01661 886400 www.matfenhallgolf.co.uk
Rockliffe Hall, Hurworth-on-Tees, DL2 2DU 01325 729980 www.rockliffehall.com
Slaley Hall, Hexham, NE47 0BX 01434 673154 www.devere.co.uk