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Norfolk's Dynamic Duo: Part I - Bold BRANCASTER New
« on: September 18, 2011, 07:04:23 PM »

It is an odd coincidence of golf architecture history that a man later to become a Member of Parliament, Mayor of Kings Lynn and a High Sheriff, should at a much younger age, be involved with the design of a course such as Royal West Norfolk.  Although, as a two time Amateur champion and the club's first Captain, one suspects Horace Hutchinson was involved in some capacity.  Much of the original design has been lost, some due to coastal erosion/storms.  Additionally, some of the holes which do remain, such as 1 & 2, have been heavily altered.  For instance, the 2nd used to be a long par 3.

There is a sense of lost in time about Royal West Norfolk which is probably due to the remote north Norfolk coast on which Brancaster is located. Being situated between Brancaster Bay and the broad saltmarsh; the isolation of RWNGC is not merely that of a fanciful nature for the club website provides a link to a chart of high tides.  The tide waits for no man, even W Churchill paid the price for ignoring nature.

It may well be the case that this perfect solitude has ensured the course would remain of its time despite the plethora of changes.  Adding to that sense of lost time, entering through the gate provides a somber reminder of the devestation of war.  Some three dozen or so members of the Brancaster Village Club and RWNGC who lost their lives in the world wars are honoured. 

Once through the gate there are few celebrated courses of Brancaster's stature which on first sight is so unimpressive.  The opening drive is to an expanse of land shared with the home hole; very flat and completely non-descriptive.  While it is true that in general Brancaster offers very little challenge in the way of wonky lies, it wasn't always the case that the opening drive was so prosaic.  One of many changes made to the course is the opening shot.  In days gone by the tee shot used to be much more alarming as the diagonal carry over the dune and sand had to be correctly judged.  While the first shot of the day is of little interest there can be no doubt that Brancaster's opening nine holes is of the highest quality; so much so that it must be included in any conversation concerning the best nine holes in golf.  Below is a view of the 1st in 1913.

On the second tee there is the full realization of the peril the club and course face.  This narrow bit of links is under continual hammering from the sea and will in the not too distance future be the demise of Brancaster.  Still, for now, how special is this beach house?

After the long two-shot second the golfer is faced with the beguiling 3rd.  This is the first of a handful of encounters with Mow Creek (the seamarsh), although I am not convinced there is any benefit in flirting with it.  Staying well left, take aim left of the shed and fire away. While the tee shot looks tricky, its the second which should cause concern.  There is a generous landing area of some 20 yards between the green and the sleepers and it pays to stay right as down the left flank of the green are unforgiving bunkers.

Thought to be the template hole for CBM's Short holes, #4 is the first of a wonderful set of par 3s.  Essentially combined with the 14th green, there are few holes in golf which are so eye catching without the aid of mother nature. 

Such is the fun Brancaster provides that it is barely noticeable we have crossed over other holes twice (if one is hitting it straight) in the opening four.  The fifth tee lies in the low ground over which #4 plays and the drive takes us blindly up to higher terrain.  The angled approach is to a well guarded green.  Bunkers short right cut off the line of approach for the wayward slice off the tee.

I believe originally the 5th was a short hole with its tee in a similar position as today.

The difficult par 3 sixth tee is located across the 7th fairway and hard on the marsh to the left.  The awkward routing is due to a short hole (then the 11th) which was rear and right of the current 3rd green and had its putting surface hard on the water.  This hole was lost to a 1942 storm which prompted the the current 6th to be built shortly after WWII.  The cross-overs are odd even if they don't exactly interupt the flow of the game.  The club bought the land freehold in 1927 and this likely prompted the club to make significant changes by the hand of Hutchinson in 1928.

#7 is a short, but tight three-shotter not without merit.  As can be seen in the background, sailing is popular on this coast.  Brancaster Staithe is home to a sailing club and a particularly favourite trip is to sail around Scolt Head Island. The reserve located on the barrier island can be reached by ferry from Burnham Overy Staithe in the summer months. 

The 7th used to be a short par 4 whose tee was short and right of the current 5th green.  There was a mammoth bunker very similar to what the bunker at 15 used to lool like on the left side of the fairway.  The drive had to thread between the bunker and the marsh.  With huge bunkers previously at the 3rd, 4th, old 7th and 15th and the marsh crossing 8th & 9th its hard to imagine many courses had more bold features as did Brancaster.

The following two holes are justly famous.  The use of the natural hazards is outstanding and combined with the many sleeper bunkers these give Brancaster a sense of originality that is rare.  Essentially, one hits to a rather uncomfortably narrow peninsula fairway on #8.  It is quite easy to go too far left with the result of finding the seamarsh; thus making the ideal drive a fade. 

We now must hit over the marsh again for the second, but mercifully there is a bit of bailout fairway left of the green.  Two confidently struck blows are rewarded with a straightforward green making the possibility of earning a birdie seem much more likely than originally suspected on the tee. 

In an age of open access greens it is inevitable that the penal holes took on heroic personalities all their own.  The fear these holes bred in the great and good men of Great Britain must have been overshadowed by the joy of testing oneself against the odds.  In Bernado's time the ninth was as revered a hole as Sandwich's Maiden and Prestwick's Alps, yet it never inspired anyone to pen a name for the hole. Perhaps an appropriate moniker is Vina; named for the wreck of the SS Vina off Scolt Head Island, for surely the hole ruined many a card.

The hole is remarkably well preserved.

After the brilliant front nine, the holes coming home must pale in comparison, but there are some crackers lined up.  The reason for the lesser back nine is the course lost holes 10-13 to erosion sometime around WWII ( think). The first is #10, a moderate length one-shotter to a raised green with several nasty bunkers awaiting the errant shot.  Below is an example of the fierceness of the sand hazards.  The old 10th was a short par 4 which played from a tee above and right of the current 9th green to a green left and rear of the of the current 10th green.

I believe the next three holes are rebuilds and I think it safe to say these holes are a bit of a weak spot for the course.   While in no way special, the 11th playing into what is often the prevailing southwestern breeze, does have some teeth.  It is a great testament to the club that the sprinklers are used as a last resort.  Some of the fairways are not very generous in terms of width so keeping the rough down is paramount. 

Approach to the 11th.

As is the case for several holes, the tee for #12 is on the dune nearest the beach.  This is the one hole at Brancaster that doesn't set well with me.  The look of the hole to me suggests this should be a par 3.  In fact, I would be tempted to keep the tee in the valley and play it as a long par 3 to the punchbowl green.  Of course this would likely necessitate building a lip to the rear of the green, but that may have the added benefit of protecting golfers on the green in a precarious position for oncoming play down the 7th.   

13 is a visually perplexing hole because it looks much longer than its listed 316 yards.  I don't know if this deception has anything to do with its relatively young age (I think this was rebuilt in the mid 1980s) as indeed this is a fairly recent change to Hutchinson's design.  The thirteenth used to be a longish par 3 presumably playing to a spot below the dune.  Be that as it may, for sure the yardage is accurate and there is no doubt this is a clever short par 4.  It is a simple matter to lay-up left and be left with a wedge, but there is also the option of taking on the gunge down the right and the looming bunker on the corner of the fairway.  If one safely (and quite candidly foolishly) negotiates the corner bunker he is left with a relatively straight forward shot which can be bumped in or flown. 

The feel of Brancaster changes dramatically with the original 14th, the hole is more of the 19th rather than 20th century.  That said, the tee shot is very similar to the 11th.  The clubhouse stands proudly as a guide for the drive.

It isn't until we play the second that the full measure of this fantastic hole becomes apparent.

The 4th green is out of shot to the left.  After approaching and then seeing the large sleepered bunker on #15, one must ask if Brancaster has the most forced carries on any links.  To one degree or another, #s 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 18 all have an aerial element.  Sixteen too, while not strictly requiring an aerial approach, is very much that way inclined with its sharp plateau green. 

#15, the final par 3 of a fine set.  There is a hidden bunker placed perfectly to the right of the green.

While a good hole and a reflection of a solid routing taking advantage of the interesting land on this narrow property, the theme of high tee doglegging back toward the dune is slightly repetitive on the back nine.  Again, it could be that the some of the best distinctive traits about these holes have been lost to erosion.  The one advantage the sixteenth has is the green rests high on the dune rather than at the lower reaches. 

The course begins to fizzle out for the final two holes.  Sure we run the gaunlet of crossing over the second on 17's drive and are witness to the glory that is the home green, but there is the impression that refreshment is overdue and waiting to finish may be a trial hard to bear. That said, jeepers how I admire this wee bit of the course!  Not only is the sleeper bunker a wonder of golf architecture, but the distance deception employed is first class.  By now the golfer should be well aware of this trickery because it was used on #s 3, 10, 14 & 15.   

A last look at the house and what appears to be a different location for the 18th green.

Brancaster is not the sort of club to seek the limelight in hosting high profile amateur or professional events.  It remains as it always has, a functional club to perfectly suit its utterly natural course.  There is so much to recommend the course that one merely has to mention #s 3, 4, 8, 9 & 14.  These five holes on their own are worthy of a lengthy drive to the wilds of Norfolk.  It is very true there are some limitations with the design such as a shortage of movement in the fairways, a lack of a drivable par 4 and reliance on doglegs into the dunes on the back nine, but these are minor quibles when we consider what RWNGC does offer.  Finally, if ever a golfing episode could epitomize what a course and club is about, the tale of Humphrey Ellis cannot be excelled.  At the home hole in a medal competition, Humphrey found himself left with a five footer. A protracted pause for study was succeeded by his pocketing the ball with the candid comment "Itís impossible."  1*   2011

Part II: Hunstanton,49714.msg1125802.html#msg1125802

« Last Edit: December 04, 2022, 07:44:39 AM by Sean_A »
New plays planned for 2024: Fraserburgh, Hankley Common, Ashridge, Gog Magog Old & Cruden Bay St Olaf

Ben Stephens

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Re: NORFOLK'S DYNAMIC DUO: Part I - Bold Brancaster (front 9)
« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2011, 05:17:04 AM »

Thought to be the template hole for CBM's Short holes, #4 is the first of a wonderful set of par 3s.  Essentially combined with the 14th green, there are few holes in golf which are so eye catching without the aid of mother nature.  


Hi Sean,

At last you have finally played Hunstanton + Brancaster. They are both great courses but have their own character! Holcome Ingelby was also a captain of Hunstanton GC as well as MP, Mayor and Sheriff!

Having seen the pictures of the 'new' bunkers at the fourth. I am disappointed to see the large thin bunker being replaced by 3 pot bunkers. I feel the new pot bunkers are out of character compared to what was there before.

Here is an image I took of the fourth last year.,46901.0.html - Link to Boonys photo thread

« Last Edit: September 19, 2011, 05:20:34 AM by Ben Stephens »

John Mayhugh

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Re: NORFOLK'S DYNAMIC DUO: Part I - Bold Brancaster
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2011, 12:32:07 PM »
Another excellent photo tour, Sean.  Many thanks.  This one ticks all the boxes.  Hope I can get up that way sometime.

Great dog photo, Brian.  What a clubhouse view.

Peter Pallotta

Re: NORFOLK'S DYNAMIC DUO: Part I - Bold Brancaster
« Reply #3 on: September 19, 2011, 03:47:16 PM »
Yet again, Sean, my thanks and compliments on a wonderful tour; and to Brian too. The 4th, in the simple 'organization' of elements and the forthright melding of nature and the hand of man, seems not so much the inspiration for a template but as the very definition of one.


Michael Wharton-Palmer

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Re: NORFOLK'S DYNAMIC DUO: Part I - Bold Brancaster
« Reply #4 on: September 19, 2011, 03:51:33 PM »
thank you for bringing back memories that I did not even know where in there, such is the duration of time passed since I was there...awesome..thanks again.
Back on the list of places to play again!!!!!

John Shimp

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Re: NORFOLK'S DYNAMIC DUO: Part I - Bold Brancaster
« Reply #5 on: September 19, 2011, 08:58:06 PM »
Are bran caster and rwngc two separate clubs that share the course?

Nice review. Looks like a fun course.


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Re: NORFOLK'S DYNAMIC DUO: Part I - Bold Brancaster
« Reply #6 on: September 19, 2011, 09:30:42 PM »
Thanks for the photos and the reviews.

I've always been curious about this place.  It was a course that came up quite a few times in the original "best hole" discussion right after the turn of the century.

Here is a photo circa 1912 of the short hole there.  Looks like the there was quite a bit more sandy waste then.  Notice that the caption calls it the 5th hole.  Is this a mistake or was there a change at some point.  (The caption gets the number of NGLA's short hole wrong)

Golf history can be quite interesting if you just let your favorite legends go and allow the truth to take you where it will.
--Tom MacWood (1958-2012)


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Re: NORFOLK'S DYNAMIC DUO: Part I - Bold Brancaster
« Reply #7 on: September 20, 2011, 01:58:09 AM »

That is an interesting photo of the 4th.  Two things stand out: there is no dune ridge to the rear of the greeen, but I spose it could be a combination of the photo taken from a lower spot than mine and the dune has built up over the years; second, the location of hump on the far right (right of #14) makes it seem like this version of 4 & 14 is much smaller than the current version.  Its probably just a photo thing, but the sizing seems very different. 

I do think there were a few hole changes making what was the fifth, the fourth.  I don't know exactly what, but we know Hutchinson did some work in the late '20s.  I wonder if he added some of the iconic bunkering?


As is often customary for links clubs (and sometimes inland clubs) without the local village/town name in the title, many folks refer the course/club by village/town name.  Hence RWNGC is known as Brancaster and Royal St Georges is known as Sandwich etc. 

All - thanks for the kind words. 

New plays planned for 2024: Fraserburgh, Hankley Common, Ashridge, Gog Magog Old & Cruden Bay St Olaf

Jim McCann

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Re: NORFOLK'S DYNAMIC DUO: Part I - Bold Brancaster
« Reply #8 on: September 20, 2011, 06:22:37 AM »

Fantastic pictorial tour of the course that evoked many happy memories from my visit there in April this year.


Your images also brought back wonderful recollections of the clubhouse and sensational views of the strand from
the sun lounge upstairs.

I've inserted a couple of my own snaps below of the par three 15th. The enormous bunker with its tiers of railway
ties in front of the green is one of the biggest sand traps that I've come across anywhere in GB&I.

At 188 yards from the tee in play that day, the pin should not have been a problem to reach but you can see from
the second photo (taken from the left side of the green) that we were playing into the teeth of a 35mph wind - note
the beach huts in the background.

Can't wait to see Sean's pictorial of Heroic Hunstanton now...

« Last Edit: September 20, 2011, 06:33:20 AM by Jim McCann »


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Re: NORFOLK'S DYNAMIC DUO: Part I - Bold Brancaster
« Reply #9 on: September 20, 2011, 04:47:36 PM »
How much better does the old fourth look with the sandy waste area? Also, it looks as if the punishment for coming up short was much greater back then which seems to me to fit better with that length of hole. these days, long is dead but miss it short and there is a lot of ground around and between those bunkers to avoid the sand - and the pitch isn't crazily difficult - I imagine in the old days you were guaranteed to be in the sand and probably a poor lie too...


You have to remember there is a tee down there and loose sand blowing about isn't clever for keeping the grass healthy. 


I agree with you, the Fowler style trench bunker is more in keeping with the sleepers.

New plays planned for 2024: Fraserburgh, Hankley Common, Ashridge, Gog Magog Old & Cruden Bay St Olaf


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Re: NORFOLK'S DYNAMIC DUO: Part I - Bold Brancaster
« Reply #10 on: September 21, 2011, 01:51:30 PM »
Excellent stuff. I have to say that I don't get as disappointed as you with what you might consider to be the lesser holes. There's something special about closing that gate and sharing your golf with all sorts of marvellous bird life in the salt marsh inland of you, especially the bearded reedlings. North Norfolk is a wonderful part of the country, and hillier than you might expect. The only downside is the coast road which is unbearable in summer.

James Boon

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Re: NORFOLK'S DYNAMIC DUO: Part I - Bold Brancaster
« Reply #11 on: September 21, 2011, 03:16:03 PM »
Sean, and Brian, excellent stuff! I love Brancaster! Its a tricky course to photograph, but you've done an excellent job.

Thanks also to Ben, for the link to my previous photothread on Brancaster. Though the pictures probably aren't as good as these above, its worth checking for a bit more discussion on the history of holes such as the 4th and 9th, with some excellent input by Mr Doak.,46901.0.html

The 1st hole is one of my favourite opening holes. Plenty of room for anyone not warmed up, but for me there is certainly plenty to benefit from a decent drive that hugs the left dunes to give a better angle in.

And I can't say I'm a fan of the new bunkers on the 4th either!

Thanks again!



ps I would have expected to see a black Labrador on the course, but the Dulux dog will have to do. Maybe they are planning on repainting the clubhouse?  ;D
2023 Highlights: Hollinwell (Notts), Brora, Aberdovey, Royal St Davids, Woodhall Spa, Broadstone, Parkstone, Cleeve, Painswick, Minchinhampton, Hoylake

"It celebrates the unadulterated pleasure of being in a dialogue with nature while knocking a ball round on foot." Richard Pennell


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Re: Norfolk's Dynamic Duo: Part I - Bold BRANCASTER
« Reply #12 on: September 22, 2011, 01:41:47 AM »

You are absolutely right about the overall feeling of the course being something special or unique even, though other than the approach #1 and the bunker on #18 there isn't much about the opening and closing two holes to get much excited about.

New plays planned for 2024: Fraserburgh, Hankley Common, Ashridge, Gog Magog Old & Cruden Bay St Olaf


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