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Hunstanton

Yardage
6911(blue)
Par
72
SSS
74
Built
1891
Architect(s)
George Fernie, Holcombe Ingleby, James Braid, Frank Pennink
Nature:
Renowned traditional championship running-links with excellent renovated fine grass greens.
Location/Address:
Top side of Hunstanton on north west Norfolk coast. Postcode PE36 6JQ
http://www.hunstantongolfclub.com/
Secretary
Jenny Andrews
Telephone
01485 532811
Professional
James Dodds
Green Keeper
Peter Read
Access Policy:
visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
welcome on a lead
Open Meetings:
Hunstanton Bowl - July
Fees in 1960s
50p
Fees today
£90

Review

Hunstanton stands again as one of England’s very finest running-game courses with four not-to-be-bettered two-shot holes where, if the wind is from the west, most people would gladly accept fives. FineGolf  is pleased to be able to award the very highest rating of providing a five star “Joy-to-be-alive” feeling.

Nevertheless, reading any number of articles on Hunstanton (locally pronounced Hunston) from a lifetime’s collection left to Finegolf by George Mobbs, it is interesting that those from the 1990s hark on about the renowned fast greens.

hunstanton golf club, finest golf courses

Beach huts beside the 18th

The greens then were 100% annual meadow grass (Poa annua) and the greenstaff were encouraged to cut the greens low for speed.

This policy required lots of expensive fertiliser and fungicide chemicals to boost growth and protect from disease and an enormous amount of water to keep the stressed grass alive. The greens that looked immaculate and all one colour,  were soft and receptive with approach shots needing to be pitched near the pin, while putting fast during the summer months though bumpy in winter. In fact they fitted with the fashionable trend of the 1980/90s era of ‘target-style’ golf.

Unfortunately, reality tends to eventually catch up and after some naturally dry years in north Norfolk and with the Poa greens being attacked by disease (fusarium in the winter and anthracnose in the summer) the greens, as Jim Arthur would have predicted, died.

hunstanton golf club, finest golf courses

The clubhouse behind 18th green

Sensibly the Club, now in the era since the Millenium of ‘the return to a running-game’ started the process of reseeding with fine grasses and changed the greenkeeping regimes to support perennial fine grasses rather than annual meadow grass (Poa annua).

Seven years ago to accelerate the progress, Gordon Irvine MG, (often described as Jim Arthur’s heir, and one of Europe’s leading golf course consultants) who previously recovered the greens at Royal Cinque Ports and is now also helping Notts (Holinwell) to go down the fine grass route, was retained to work with the greenstaff and give them leadership in natural greenkeeping techniques, backed up with the necessary investment in machinery and product.

It is wonderful to report that a renaissance has occurred and the club has achieved a successful changing of the grasses back to fine bents/fescues without the members being inconvenienced.

Any number of friends have been amazed at the quality, firmness and trueness of the greens, today comprising 80% indigenous browntop bent/red fescue grasses and cut at 4.5mm in the summer to give a speed in keeping with normal running-game courses which will vary with dryness while giving consistent roll-out.

The second advantage to the club membership is the reduction in maintenance cost, with lower inputs of expensive fertiliser, water, chemicals and mowing time. 

The fairway grasses, where ryegrass had become prevalent, have also been re-seeded with fine fescues while the increasingly fescue-dominated aprons to the greens are being extended backwards and the traditional running shots can be enjoyed once again. 

It is  good to see a lot of bunker refurbishment has softened the very steep faces. There has also been re-grassing of their surrounds with more native links grasses, along with a policy of connecting them to the fairways to help the ball gather into them. How many times do we see the parkland influence of a fringe of semi-rough in front of bunkers for ease of maintenance these days? Hunstanton is being led back to a proper links running-game presentation.

hunstanton golf club, finest golf courses

The drive on the 1st tee

All of this change is obvious from the first hole onwards where new bunkers on the right, advised by Martin Hawtree, have tightened the drive and the famed cross bunker has been freshly faced with old railway sleepers, making the hole not only more attractive, but helping focus one’s mind to tackle what is once again a very fine championship links.

A ribbon of high dune runs down the centre of the whole course in a similar way to the far-end stretch at Burnham & Berrow and though most holes are in parallel with the coast, there are three that play across the ridge.

The thirteenth is a particular favourite where an accurate drive over the hill is needed to set up a long iron into the prevailing wind across a boondocks of hillocks, before seeking out, like at the eighth at Royal St George’s, a distant nestling green.

A 1914 map survives of the course, that was first laid out by George Fernie of Troon in 1891 as nine holes. Holcombe Ingleby, who designed Royal West Norfolk, was captain from 1891 to 1894 and is bound to have been involved in expanding Fernie’s nine to eighteen holes by 1896. From this map we can see that three holes at the far end of the course and the seventeenth and eighteenth are now completely different. It is not clear who was responsible for designing these five holes, though I have read that James Braid may have helped advise on the three distant from the clubhouse, which were changed in 1923 and it is probable that it was Frank Pennink who designed the new seventeenth and eighteenth in 1950. Martin Hawtree has further re-modelled the eighteenth green, while Gordon Irvine has created a fine bump-and-run practice area under the clubhouse.

The new softer bunker at the seventh.

These five changed holes are interestingly the ones that in many ways most classically challenge the golfer, without having the stand-out characteristics of for example the difficult plateau green at six, the valley at fifteen or the terrifying carry to the green at the par three seventh with its fast, undulating green which used to be sleepered at the front. The bunker has now been softened after a player’s ball bounced rather hard back off the sleepers and the new design does have the advantage of creating more front pins positions.

The most accomplished design is at the seventeenth ( 447 yds) where a brilliant long iron is needed to find the narrow long green between purgatory beyond the left ridge and an almost impossible pitch from the fall-off right, where deciding between a wedge, a bump-and-run or putter will test anybody, let alone the playing of it!  I believe members usually take the percentage option of bringing the ball back off the bank behind. This green now runs truly with almost 100% fescue grasses, while the lower lying, damper fifth green with a higher percentage of Poa annua gives a more challenging putting performance.

Some thirteen of the greens are predominantly flat and now the fine grasses are giving a true roll-out, Hunstanton is a very good course on which to improve your putting!

The attractive clubhouse with a wide verandah in front of the upstairs dining-room stands proudly behind the first tee and eighteenth green and gives a glorious view of the course and the Victorian beach huts sheltering along the eighteenth fairway. For better design of the 18th green and safety reasons the first tee has been moved to the right.

hunstanton golf club, finest golf courses

The intimidating approach to the 17th green

This is holiday country of a most exquisite and unique kind and using that word reminds one to mention that a thirty-year-old, Bob Taylor of Scraptoft, Leicestershire, had a hole-in-one on three consecutive days at the sixteenth hole (188 yds) while playing in the Eastern Counties Mens Foursomes in 1974.

This classic double-tiered green is surrounded by eight now refurbished bunkers to Gordon Irvine’s design and laid before you from a high tee and playing with a north-easterly on the first day, Bob used a one-iron. One can imagine the god-like comments in the clubhouse that evening. The wind then changed around for the next two days and he used a six-iron and I am not sure what level of mortgage was required for the bar bill by the completion of the third day’s dramatics!

The local Le Strange family were the leading founders of the club and it is strange that the club have never been honoured as a Royal club when one considers the strong royal connections to nearby Sandringham, with the King in the 1930s being a patron. It seems the simple reason may be that a request was never made!

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Dexter in front of 16th before bunker refurbishment

The Brabazon Trophy has been played here five times and the first Schweppes championship in 1967. It is the regular venue of the Grafton Morrish, another scratch foursomes event for public schools, comprising teams of three pairs each and therefore arguably of even higher excellence than the better known Halford Hewitt of five pairs played at Royal Cinque Ports.

Finally, to re-emphasise the return of this club to a high “joy to be alive” factor, they have retained Bob Taylor (the ecologist rather than the hole-in-oner!) and it was glorious to see a dell of wild purple orchids short of the fourth green flourishing. The sea can be ‘felt’ from many of the holes, though the views are not dramatic, as for example as those are up the road at Brancaster but there is a holiday calmness to Hunstanton and it doesn’t yet have the invasion of wind turbines out to sea.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith and updated in 2018

 

Reader Comments

On October 2nd, 2012 Sean Arble said:

I too was pleasantly surprised when last fall I discovered a marked improvement in Hunstanton’s greens. By next summer the surfaces should be top notch.

Great piece Lorne! I would add that in my experience Hunstanton is one of the most hospitable clubs in England.

On March 29th, 2018 Paul Maxted said:

Had a fantastic day there last year when I was told Royal status was not requested because when the King played there he was not allowed to take his caddy/professional into the bar as he was not then considered to be a Gentlemen. How true this is I don`t know but I gained the impression there was a certain feeling of one-upmanship held over Royal West Norfolk. It is a good story.
Dear Paul,
This is a similar story as to The Berkshire one. What can certainly be confirmed is the support Ian Symington, the RWNGC Secretary, has given to Hunstanton during recent difficulties. Even with the inevitable social and course design comparisons, nevertheless the healthy competition around fine grassed agronomy generated recently has raised standards at both courses with both links now giving running-golf rather than Hunstanton being a target-golf course, as it was until the shaved greens died and a new fine grasses policy was followed.

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