Like Royal North Devon, Prestwick and St Andrews, Royal West Norfolk is simultaneously both a links course and a museum piece. Eccentric to the point of being obtuse at times, its simple design should be studied by any budding architect and those with even a passing interest in the game’s past. Separated from the mainland at high tide, the course occupies a narrow strip of land between Brancaster Bay and salt marshes.
From the homely and deceptively sturdy old clubhouse, you must walk across a strip of beach to find the 1st tee, where the signage confirms that this is a twoballs course, with threes only at the secretary’s express permission and fours unheard of.
Much of the play here is foursomes, and the members consider that three hours is ample for 18 holes. They are of course correct. The links was designed by one Holcombe Ingleby, a former mayor of Kings Lynn, and opened in 1892.
Like the Old Course, there is often lots of room from the tee, so much so that it can be disorientating. But again like the Old Course, careful positioning is the key to having the best angle into the greens, many of which are protected by Brancaster’s trademark sleepered bunkers.
If the front nine is longer on the scorecard, the reality is that the back nine is where the men are distinguished from the boys. The furthest point from the clubhouse is the 9th green, after which you turn into the prevailing wind and things get decidedly more testing.
Brown and fast in the summer, this is old-fashioned golf, with little in the way of rough but reeds and marshland awaiting anything wild.
Separated from the mainland at high tide, the course occupies a narrow strip of land between Brancaster Bay and salt marshes.
Some of the holes are straightforward enough; others are devilishly difficult. Take the 3rd, probably the best hole on the course, if not among the prettiest.
Out of bounds is up the right but anyone playing left for safety will find themselves effectively snookered, with the firm, elevated green sitting beyond the deepest bunker on the course. Then there is the 8th, on the scorecard an utterly innocuous par 5 of less than 500 yards. It is also downwind.
The problem is, the tee, fairway and green are effectively on three different islands, with marshland between each stage. The fairway is set across the line of play, so you have to judge a line of attack, making sure you carry to the fairway but don’t run off the other side. The stronger the wind, the more ticklish a job this is.
Get your angles right and you could be coming in with a short iron, miscalculate and a lost ball is the most likely outcome. Then comes the 9th, probably the prettiest hole, and certainly the one with most unusual green site, across more marshland and divorced from the rest of the course with views of the harbour of Brancaster Staithe.
Turning for home, the 11th plays way longer than its yardage while the green at the 12th appears to be on a plateau that on closer inspection reveals itself be a raised hollow, if that is not a contradiction in terms.
Equally outrageous is the 14th, the hardest hole on the inward nine where the long second shot must clear an inconvenient hill before rolling down to the bowl-shaped green.
Over a drink in the wonderfully atmospheric clubhouse – the views from upstairs are sensational – and presuming there is no imminent danger of the tide coming in to maroon you from the mainland, you may wish to have a second look at that scorecard, and its matter-of-fact statement that the inward half is a mere 3,048 yards.
Then, in an ideal world, head back out for a second round in the hope that forewarned really is forearmed.