If you looking for a “blast from the past” then Royal West Norfolk – otherwise known as Brancaster – is a must visit. If you want a “pure” golf experience then best you head to the coastal towns of Brancaster and Hunstanton on the east coast of the United Kingdom….it’s there that you will find two delightful golf courses that have had a big effect on the way I view golf design.
Brancaster has to be one of the quirkiest and most unique golf courses around. In fact you would be hard pressed to name half a dozen courses of the same ilk. In this age where golf has become formula based and rule bound it’s refreshing that there are still golf courses around – like Brancaster – that buck conventional thinking. For any budding golf architect (and golfer mind you) a visit to the coastal links is a must….if possible before being over-fed the plethora of standards so evident – and so closely followed – in modern golf design today.
Anyway at Brancaster it all starts at the clubhouse….well sort of.
On the odd occasion the golf course is inaccessible and not because of any rules that govern who can and can’t play. The high tide has been known to engulf the entrance road – which meanders its way through coastal marshland – leaving one stranded the wrong side of the track. Unless you have a real sense of adventure, which you will likely need on the links, you going to have to wait it out patiently….if this is possible.
The clubhouse at Brancaster has just about as much cult following as the golf course. Yes it’s a clumsy looking building ….but that’s not what’s important here. What’s important is that it has a homely feel about it, it’s full of character and incredibly welcoming. There is nothing pretentious about it and much like the golf course it looks like it’s been there forever. It has a heart and soul unlike many of the modern clubhouses being built today.
The walk from the clubhouse to the first tee is equally as character full. You pass over the beach (yes you walk on the sand) and then through a small gate that leads you to the first tee. Hard to forget stuff like this….I miss it just talking about it.
The first tee shot sets the tone for things to come….essentially your shot is played over the 18’th green onto a shared fairway. There you zig-zag your way towards the green complex watching out for general play in your direction. In fact there is a lot of crossing and zig-zagging on the go at Brancaster and this includes walking from the 4th green across the 6th fairway to the 5th tee. Just plain “stupid” or “maybe not so much”….one could argue that it’s stuff like this that makes for an interesting and memorable round of golf and when you back in the clubhouse, enjoying a warm pint of ale, something to talk about with glee – o how different.
Brancaster is typical of a links golf course in that it has non-returning nines. The routing is out and back with holes playing in every which direction. As you head out you have to contend with bunkers often shored up with wooden sleepers, blind shots and fun ground contours. Perhaps the most unique feature though is the wetland / marsh areas that are forever changing in shape and character depending on the tide. The inbound holes are equally as absorbing and traverse some of the more interesting dune land…it’s here that one gets to experience some really cool ground contours that dictate the play and some funky, and very interesting green complexes.
What’s also striking about the golf course is the way it’s maintained. Brancaster does not have a “hollywood” look about it nor should it. The edges may be a bit scruffy, the putting surfaces a bit bumpy and the fairways – at least during the summer months – brown with spots of green. At times you may get an unfair bounce or have to contend with a bunker barely big enough to stand in but then why should this matter….
As your journey ends where it began – with that clubhouse in the distance – you can’t help but ponder how much the game has changed and how different most modern courses are designed and set up today. At Brancaster the game is very much as it was at the start and is brilliant because of it.