ENJOYING post-round refreshments in Bamburgh Castle’s charming old wooden clubhouse, it is hard not to start devising a scenario that would allow you to become a country member here.
There can hardly be a prettier course in England – stand on the 14th tee and you can enjoy a view of the sea on three sides, miles and miles of unspoilt beaches, Holy Island and, of course, the eponymous castle, which on a bright morning is framed stunningly by the rising sun behind it.
Even despite the massive rise in profile of the area thanks to nearby Alnwick Castle’s involvement in the Harry Potter films, Northumberland remain one of Britain’s best-kept secrets as a holiday destination.
Yet if you love being outdoors and active, it is hard to imagine many better places to be.
There is plenty to do and see and there also happens to be the kind of course that immediately takes a special place in your heart.
Fun from start to finish, Bamburgh is by no means the longest course you will ever play at under 5,700 yards. But a further glance at the scorecard will reveal a par of just 68, and that gives you an idea of the type of course this is.
You do not get to play a par 4 until the 5th, which makes Bamburgh Castle unusual if not unique. Church Stretton, in Shropshire, has four par 3s in the first five while two courses in West Yorkshire spring to mind, Ilkley and Shipley Beckfoot, which have a sole par 4 in the first six and five holes respectively.
At Bamburgh, we begin with two par 3s, the 1st relatively gentle and the 2nd much longer and uphill, albeit with a large target.
Then come a pair of par 5s, the 3rd being much the more difficult of the two. When you finally reach the brow of the hill here, trademark Bamburgh views open up before you, with Budle Bay and its huge sandy beach to the fore.
A further glance at the scorecard will reveal a par of just 68, and that gives you an idea of the type of course this is.
At the 4th, a marker post offers a line but the safe play is to go a little left of it, from where many will have a chance of reaching the green, cut into the hillside, with their second.
Finally a par 4 arrives at the 5th, but then it is another par 3, and this one stroke index 1. Again, this is not quite unique, but it is startling. It is also not without justification, because it measures 223 yards and climbs a rather substantial hill. Put it this way, most will not require much thought over club selection from the tee.
The 7th follows exactly the same theme but is 75 yards longer and therefore a par 4.Having reached higher ground, most will find it has been worth the effort. The 8th is a superb and distinctive short hole, the green protected by a rock short and right and the flag often tucked away just behind it. Not for the first or last time, there are shades of Windermere.
At the 9th you must thread a drive from the elevated tee between gorse and the course boundary – “thread” is an exaggeration but rarely has such a wide fairway looked narrower.The back nine begins with another short hole, this one blind and requiring a climb to the summit of a stone staircase to gain a view of the green. At this stage, exactly half the holes have been par 3s, though no two of them remotely similar.The next three, by Bamburgh’s standards, are almost conventional. All par 4s, the 11th requires a uphill, blind tee shot played with position in mind as the hole turns abruptly left for the approach. Then it is downhill all the way before what is undoubtedly the most testing hole on the inward half. Here you must find a generous fairway between swathes of gorse before tackling the blind second, all uphill, to a green on the plateau.
Technically, the 14th is the last of the par 3s (why will become clearer later). Semi-blind, you must trust that the green is accommodatingly nestled in a hollow and trust the yardage.Apparently, Castle View (no prizes for guessing how this was named) has been driven before now. At 417 yards but from a considerably elevated tee and often playing downwind, this might be just about credible, were it not for the deep gully separates the green from the fairway. A remarkable feat.
Then comes a cute short par 4, where the green is in reach for some providing you thread a drive down what looks little more than a walkway between a large hill on the right and gorse on the other side.
At 257 yards from the back tees (but a good 30 yards less from the yellows), the 17th is one of those delightfully old-fashioned holes unconstrained by the notion of par. Played from another elevated tee, being able to reach the green is less of an issue than finding a safe path between out of bounds tight down the right and a small mountain on the left. Try playing this in a raging left-to-right crosswind as a par 3.We finish with another short, downhill 4, and this one is not quite so innocent as it might appear at first glance.
Again, out of bounds lurks on the right and with gorse in the very spot where you might like to bail out towards, you should think twice before taking on the green with your drive.Bamburgh’s is a chequered history. It was designed by George Rochester over a century ago but has been changed a couple of times since. The RAF used the course and clubhouse during the Second World War, and it took years afterwards to return the club to its former glory.Thankfully, the love and attention of the members won through, something we should all be grateful for when enjoying its timeless, if often eccentric, charms.