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Bamburgh Castle

Yardage
5645
Par
68
SSS
68
Built
1904
Architect(s)
George Rochester
Nature:
1904, cliff-top, fine grassed, hilly, running course with some of England's finest golf course views
Location/Address:
Northumbrian coast 5 miles from A1.
https://www.bamburghcastlegolfclub.co.uk/
Secretary
Barry Walker
Telephone
01668 214321
Professional
-
Green Keeper
George Milliken
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
well behaved dogs are welcome
Open Meetings:
various
Fees in 1960s
25p
Fees today
£60 - 2020

Review

Being a Southerner with Scottish connections my long term view of Northumberland golf has been to speed past on the A1, dropping off to play the excellent running links at Goswick and on occasion The Northumberland .

Bamburgh Castle from the clubhouse. CLICK to ENLARGE

Nevertheless, having visited recently the Dunstanburgh links and the Bamburgh Castle cliff top courses let me amend that prejudice and recommend that a visit to this coast for a few days will give touring golfers the most enormous amount of good value enjoyment.

The setting of the Bamburgh Castle Course, played over the craggy Budle Hill, on a fine day gives some of the finest golf course views in England. In view are the famous Holy Island, the bird sanctuary at the Farne Islands, the Cheviot Hills and of the castles at Bamburgh, Dunstanburgh, Lindisfarne, Haggerstone and the distant Ros.

The Armstrong family

Whereas many links courses views of the sea are intermittent and hidden behind dunes, here, the spectacle of the seashore around the Budle Bay is seen in all its glory from every hole.

The club has always been where the ‘Gentry’ of the area and ‘Trade’ meet and ever since Lord Armstrong, who restored Bamburgh Castle in 1896, supported its creation, the Club’s aura has been of a happy family holiday occasion.

The clubhouse in 1908

The clubhouse that has been upgraded gradually over the years, with a major internal refit recently, still has the humble single-story external aspect that Lord Armstrong built in 1904.

Cragside the Armstrong family residence

Electricity was added in 1933, fifty three years after it was installed in Lord Armstrong’s home Cragside in 1880, the first substantial home in the country to have electric lighting.

Russell Flint watercolour of Holy Island from Budle Hill

There is little of anything famous associated with Bamburgh Castle Golf Club apart from perhaps the Russet Flint water colour of the view to Holy Island that is in the clubhouse and so the celebrity culture end of golf passes it by. But there are so many elements that go to make up the challenging running game here, that it gives a high feeling of FineGolf’s ‘joy to be alive’ that those who love the traditional values of golf will be rewarded.

Harry Gibb

Long term servants of the Club like Harry Gibb, an Alnmouth boy, who was professional, greenkeeper and then also secretary towards the end from 1919 to 1948 and George Milliken the continuing greenkeeper here since 1977, are examples of understated individuals who are more interested in helping the club and its membership than their own egos and are the backbone of this type of club that helped it to survive the inevitable financial problems over the years, which eased after Sunday play was allowed from 1960.

George Rochester

The oldest course in the North East is Alnmouth Village founded in 1869 where Mungo Park was an early pro and in 1904 their then pro George Rochester laid out the Bamburgh Castle course predominantly on land owned by the Cruddas farming family.

George Cruddas made a lot more money, than the small rent the Golf Club paid, by leasing out the quarry to the left of the third fairway to a German owned rock mining company in 1910.

Quarry railway engine

They built a small railway track along the beachside of the third and fourth fairways, parts of which can be seen to this day, but luckily for the golfers blasting stopped during the Great War and was not re-commenced afterwards.

Apart from the incredible views it is the rock outcrops across the course that gives it its predominant character with fairways wending between, alongside and over them.

I have read others suggesting that the fact that holes one and two are par threes and sixteen to eighteen are short par fours, that the golf challenge comes in the middle of the course.

The first hole played over the Dinkie

This start and finish is certainly unusual but no less challenging for that. The eighteenth (Hare law) at 338 yards may be a weak finish but the first (Dinkie) 180 yards played over a ball gobbling ravine and the second (Picnic Bay) 213 yards are undoubtedly a tough start particularly into the wind which is ever present and effected by the tides.

The 16th green approach with castle behind

The sixteenth (Castle Keep) at 286 yards has a tight uphill drive to a dogleg valley fairway and a ledge green giving risk/reward and plenty of options, while at the seventeenth (Kittling Hill) 257 yards, the grandeur of the castle is set out ahead of you from a high tee from which one chooses how much of an out of bounds corn field wall should one play over that runs in echelon up to the right hand side of the green.

The glorious 17th

This hole and the eighteenth are well bunkered, whereas bunkers are sparse across the rest of the course with all its natural hazards.

The 4th green above Budle Bay.

There is nothing predictable about this layout with six par threes and two par fives coming one after the other at holes three (Quarry) 532 yards and four (Cheviot View) 487 yards.

The course is only 5645 yards in total and par 68, SSS 68. Ok, not of a modern championship length, but why anybody should demand 7,000 yards and par 72 to have enjoyment is beyond me.

What is it that makes it so much fun? You guessed it. The fundamental aspect is the firmness of the fine grassed greens that don’t allow you to lob in your wedge and stop it dead by the pin. You have to use your imagination in using the running turf with many creative and perhaps lucky shots.

The 15th green

For example, the fifteenth (Castle View) 417 yards is straight downhill with an enormous pit across the fairway thirty yards shy of the green that slopes away from you. Your pitch has to be point perfect to fly the pit and not bounce through. If the green was receptive annual meadow grass (Poa aanua) ‘target-golf’ most of the skill would be removed.

From the side of the 14th green with castle behind

The par three fourteenth (Farne Islands) 164 yards where the bottom of the pin is blind hidden in a dell green on top of the hill, is glorious in its required exactness and quirkiness.

The very fine par three 8th. The Cheviots behind

The par three eighth (Island) 162 yards, is among many of the holes you will remember for years, is played from a high tee across a valley to a green on the top of the next hill surrounded with rocks. Only the green will do but it looks at you invitingly and set from back to front will accept your well struck shot, which is best left below the pin.

The ninth (Newtown) 359 yards, with an extraordinary green, starts a loop to the twelfth (Lindisfarne) 423 yards played on new farm land added in 1907 and it is of a more lush variety on a course where holes one to five are of a ‘links’ feel along the beach that is some way below you. On the rest of the course there is only a thin covering of soil across the well draining rock encouraging fine perennial grasses that give a firmness and bounce.

The par three 10th

The tenth (Fox Coverts) 193 yards used to be blind but has now been opened up through the rocks as a classic short hole to a shelf green under the eleventh tee (Shada Wood) 358 yards from which one hits towards what seems like a wilderness of wild flowers and heather to the edge of a left hand dogleg around another hill. This course is abundant in interesting wild flora and fauna.

Another indication of the golfing challenge is that the twelfth (Lindisfarne) is the longest par four at 423 yards but because it is reasonably straight forward and downhill to a largish green, though with plenty of movement, it is a high stroke index 14.

Bamburgh castle from the village

I was honoured to play round with Barry Walker, the Club Secretary and to be joined out on the course by the Chairman Keith Whitfield who have both given an enthusiastic and business-like leadership to the upgrading of the overall facilities in recent years.

They have identified two further major course improvements and with Mackenzie Ebert advice will hopefully remove the one bad hole, the sixth (Plateau) 223 yards and turn it from being straight up hill to being across and under the hill to a presently unused natural dune complex.

Aerial of clubhouse and southern end of course

The thirteenth (The Whins) 411 yards and stroke index 2 has a drive to near a bank at the bottom of a hill over which one hits a blind second between banks of whins. Although I pleasingly put my one iron second shot on the green I have to admit that the hole would be improved by taking the green further back, having cleared the whins at the top of the escarpment, thereby opening up another glorious view to Bamburgh Castle. It will mean a bit of a walk back to the fourteenth tee but one’s bag can be left there with no more than a couple of clubs needed to be carried forward to the green.

This club is in good hands with a membership waiting list over most of the last 30 years. The small greenkeeping team following an austere, conservationist fine grasses maintenance programme with little need for expenditure on fertilisers, pesticides or water, are respected by golfers across the region who flock to play Bamburgh Castle when their own courses are too soft and muddy.

The electric fences around the greens were removed in 1968 when sheep were excluded. There used to be a lot more heather that has now suffered from the invasion of gorse and bracken that was kept under control by the sheep.

I first became aware of George Millikens’ work when I dropped in while driving to Scotland – the club is only a few miles off the A1- and checked out the fine grasses on the eighteenth green and I couldn’t wait to come back and discover the intricacies of Budle Hill and enjoy the 360 degree views.

Read also the well written, 220 pages, and hard back: Bamburgh Castle Golf Club, the first 100 years 1904-2004 by Gordon McKeag, who along with a successful business career became chairman of Newcastle United FC, President of the Football League and held a number of senior posts at the Football Association. Copies are available from the Secretary@bamburghcastlegolfclub.co.uk priced at only £

Reader Comments

On December 24th, 2019 Alasdair Macarthur said:

Hello Lorne, we met in Goswick car park, where I am a long distance member, living in Herefordshire. However being associated with Golf in North Northumberland since I was 15. Bamburgh Castle and Embleton golf coarses are in my inner self. So thank you for your assessment of Bambourgh Castle. We sing from the same hymn sheet. This morning I cyber drove and putted every hole thanks to your perfect description of the coarse. Happy Xmas and god bless.

On January 3rd, 2020 Nick Gould said:

Lorne,
I played a very enjoyable 18 holes here during a week’s break this summer, if only I lived closer as it was a course I’d love to play more often.
I was playing a half set of Swilken blades, a wooden 3 wood and an Edinburgh Golf “Rapier” putter, which were perfectly suited to the course.

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