Felixstowe Ferry

Willie Fernie, Alister Mackenzie, Henry Cotton, Guy Campbell
An historic 1880s links course around the famous Martello tower.
North side of Felixstowe, Suffolk
David Spencer
01394 286834
Robert Joyce
Green Keeper
Glenn Rayfield
Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,
Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,
Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,
Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,
Access Policy:
Visitors welcomed
Dog Policy:
well-behaved dogs welcomed
Open Meetings:
Coronation Cup - August
Fees in 1960s
Fees today
£50 - 2016


Felixstowe Ferry GC has a rich history as one of the most fashionable early golf clubs.

Lord Elcho MP, President and founder of the London Scottish Golf Club at Wimbledon, knew Felixstowe well as he was a frequent guest of Colonel Tomline at Orwell Park for what was considered to be the best partridge shooting in the world. Aged 62 in 1880, he accompanied Tom Dunn the professional at Wimbledon to lay out the Felixstowe course across the sand dunes around the Martello Tower, still standing from Napoleonic times.

Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,

Martello Tower at dusk.

Initially 15 holes sited on excellent golfing land between the sea and the road, the course was gradually reduced to nine holes as this, the fifth oldest club in England, became increasingly popular and the cross-over holes became dangerously congested!

The Club made something of a coup in appointing Willie Fernie, the 1883 Open Champion, as their greenkeeper/professional. He also laid out the nearby Aldeburgh course in 1884 before moving back to Troon, where he stayed until his death in 1924 at the age of 73.

Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,

Willie Fernie at Felixstowe

Bernard Darwin, the doyen of golf writers and honorary member of Felixstowe, remembered: “Willie Fernie, whom I saw with my own eyes – he was my earliest hero when I played as a tiny boy at Felixstowe – was a beautiful, easy and graceful golfer with an air of almost insolent confidence. I can see him very plainly coming out of his shop by the Martello Tower (a little paradise of pitch and cobblers’ wax and divine scents), a white apron around his waist, a shiny-peaked yachting cap set rakishly on his head, in his hand a half-finished driver which he waggles lovingly and knowingly.”

Initially the Martello Tower was also the clubhouse but when the East End House became vacant, Colonel Tomline (Club Patron) offered it to the Club as the men’s clubhouse, which it remains to this day, although now for both sexes !

Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,

Julie Wade, British Open Champion

The Club helped to pioneer ladies’ golf with a ladies section being formed in 1894 with a separate club house and a six hole course on the seaward side of the main links- sadly now all lost to the sea.

It was from the Ladies’ Section that the most famous player of the Club emerged, Miss Julie Wade, who played in the Curtis Cup three times, the first in 1988 at Royal St George’s and won championships all around the world including the British Open Championship in 1990.

A number of links courses located perilously on obvious ‘invasion’ land were requisitioned during the world wars. This course was taken over by the military during both conflicts and suffered badly by being almost destroyed twice in the process.

James Braid may have had a design input to re-build the course in 1920, with an extra nine holes on the inland side of the road, but historians now believe it more likely that the Colt, Mackenzie and Allison – the well known golf architect practice, were responsible. Bernard Darwin in Country Life credited Dr. Mackenzie with “fusing the old and the new with the greatest ingenuity”.

Another popular club called Eastward Ho! (Not to be confused with Royal North Devon at Westward Ho! or the present Eastward Ho! club in the USA) was simultaneously constructed nearby, designed by James Braid. Nevertheless it was requisitioned by The War Agriculture Committee in 1940 and went under the plough.

At the end of the War one of the Eastward Ho! members acquired  the Felixstowe Club and along with a group of golf enthusiasts, invited Henry Cotton and Sir Guy Campbell to rebuild the  course, also changing the Club’s name to Felixstowe Ferry GC. In 1965 the members acquired the freehold of the clubhouse and ground.

Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,

View from 13th Tee

I played the course for the first time recently in December 2014 with the hospitable Captain who cleverly introduced me to play from the thirteenth tee in order to avoid a number of four-balls who had come up from further South to escape the quagmires that were their home courses on the Essex clay.

We therefore played across the oldest and driest part of the course first, crossing proper links land with ribbons of dune. These holes, “the back six”, are truly imaginative and testing with a highish proportion of fescue/bent grass turf.

From the high thirteenth tee we can view the whole course and a pebble beach protected from the course by a sea-wall built in 1971 and extended in 1987. Prior to this, the course was regularly flooded when a storm coincided with high tides.

Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,

13th green by Martello tower

Down the prevailing wind, the hog’s back green at 338 yards distance could beguile the warmed up tiger and for mere mortals poses interest depending from where on a tumbling fairway one is playing to it.

The fourteenth, now re-routed away from the public right of way along the sea wall, is an excellent strategic hole with the teeing-ground beside the Martello Tower. This location gives a drive at an angle to the fairway which, depending on one’s length, needs a choice as to how much of the dogleg to cut off so as to leave a flat stance on the valley fairway for one’s approach to a new re-sculptured green complex designed by Martin Hawtree in 2003/4.

Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,

Dexter on 14th fairway

The fifteenth is also played down the prevailing wind to also a new Hawtree designed raised green nestling within the dune in front of an attractive white house. We then turn 180 degrees and play the two toughest holes, the 200 yard sixteenth and 440 yard seventeenth, into which both greens a low running ball is the best option, also best played with a touch of fade to the seventeenth ‘gully’ green.

At the first tee, it is well worth waiting for any cars to come past on the road before playing, as even the slightest of draws may put your insurance in danger but this is still a fine hole of 428 yards to a sloping green and quite testing as an opener.

The next two holes 550 and 301 yards are both doglegged on the original drier and freer draining ground, before play moves over the road for nine holes where a winding creek comes into play repeatedly on this flat part of the course, where good drives are needed to pick out the correct line from the tees.

The short 5th is a replacement for an attractive par 3 which went straight out from the Martello tower that unfortunately was lost to the sea in 1963.

Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,

View of 14th fairway from on top of Martello tower

There are three par fives within four holes with two of them running alongside the dyke that separates the Martello course from the nine-hole King’s Fleet course opened in 1997 on land acquired to the north, which has ensured good extra income to the Club. Back on the Martello course, the tenth at only 487 yards is perhaps the most interesting of these par five holes with water influencing both the drive and pinching the approach to the green.

Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,

Clubhouse behind 12th green

The par three twelfth in front of the clubhouse, has a the tee-shot that has to clear the earlier mentioned road and protective wire netting as well as three bunkers in front of the sloping green, all positioned well above the teeing ground. These hazards can give the illusion that a longer ball to this green is needed than is actually the case.

I was advised that the greenkeeping here had previously adopted the 1980/90s fashion of high inputs of fertiliser and water which unfortunately turned the greens’ grass species to annual meadow grass (Poa Annua). The result was to make them more receptive and softer than usual links greens, perhaps encouraged by the installation of an automatic water sprinkler system for the greens in 1988.

The present keen course manager says the course is now in “recovery mode”. He has halved the fertiliser and pesticide use and with over-seeding of Browntop Bent grasses some progress is being made. Apart from anything else this seems to make commercial sense to create an all-round-the-year course for all those Essex golfers who want a firmer winter course to visit while their own “Poa quagmires” on clay are providing less fun.

Felixstowe ferry golf club, martello tower, willie fernie, fine golf courses,

Balfour, caddies, Elcho, Tomline 1890

As Donald Steel (a member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel), in the finest ever written and photographed golf book ‘Classic golf links of GB&I’ (1992) wrote: “Felixstowe embodies the quality of survival that many of our links have had to possess although the Rt Hon. A.J. Balfour, Prime Minister 1902 to 05 and captain of the R&A five years after being captain of Felixstowe in 1889, may well have had Felixstowe in mind when he wrote, ‘My ideal in life is to read a lot, write a little, play plenty of golf, and have nothing to worry about.’ And so say all of us!”

Whereas the early members and the Club’s distinguished history formed part of the Victorian/Edwardian golfing boom, the escalation of the container port of Felixstowe in modern times has allowed many of the present membership to derive their livelihood from the Port and its environs, giving a different social structure from which the Club has prospered, while always offering its invigorating air and an ever present wind.

Thanks to “The story of Felixstowe Ferry GC 1880 – 1980 by EJ Savage, 1980 – 1990 by AW Cornish. Also the Ladies Section Centenary 1894 – 1994 by Mrs K Long.”

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2015


Reader Comments

On December 28th, 2018 Derek Woodrow said:

Hi Lorne
I played Felixstowe twice this last summer. it is in very good nick, Glenn is doing a good job, much work had been done in the bunkers with several new pot bunkers now in play and greens as good as ever.
Many thanks for your reports they are wonderful
Best regards

Leave us a Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

FREE, every 2 months
The FineGolf Newsletter

It will keep you up to date with what new course reviews and articles have been published