This short hole at Brancepeth Castle was once judged as the most difficult 9th in golf. But does it live up to the hype? Our club golfer put it to the test
It’s 202 yards but it’s not the length that makes your hands shake as you prepare to draw your club back at Brancepeth Castle Golf Club‘s 9th hole.
Nor is it the sense of history, even though the magnificent citadel, that has stood in some form since the middle of the 12th century, dominates the view to your left as you make the walk to the green.
No, it’s the massive ravine that stands between you and that green – a long narrow putting surface that slopes away from you and is guarded by a massive cedar tree – that makes you wobble.
You’ll not see many par 3s finding their way towards the upper reaches of the stroke index on a course. This looks every inch a card-wrecker.
An American magazine once judged it to be the hardest 9th hole in the world and its reputation has brought plenty of players to this little village near Durham to pit their wits against it.
Intrigued by tales of its fearsome difficultly, I travelled north to take on the challenge.
The first thing to say about Brancepeth Castle is that it’s far more than just a one-hole wonder.
Harry Colt designed the course in the mid-1920s, getting some help from John Morrison along the way, and the architect’s fingerprints can still be found all over the layout.
You feel it from the opening hole, in the trademark narrow entrance to the green, but there is a sense of build up to the 9th.
When you reach it, you’re not quite prepared for the illusion facing you.
The eyes play tricks. Yes, it’s 200 yards but it’s playing a little downhill from the elevated tee. So what to do? Trust your eyes and take out, in my case, a hybrid or tempt fate and club down slightly – hoping gravity will do its job?
I was caught in two minds and pulled my tee shot to the left and a spot just past the tree. Two other attempts, for the purposes of research you understand, got nowhere near.
It’s the urge to take a peek that causes much of the drama. There’s so much potential disaster between tee and green that it’s hard to focus on the job and simply complete the swing.
I was lucky. The ball had cleared the branches and, although I was a little heavy handed with a chip, a four was never really in doubt. It should really have been a three.
So, hardest 9th hole in the world? It’s certainly difficult. But though it might not get the same kind of publicity, it was the very next – itself a one-shotter – that proved far more troublesome for me.
Played at a 90-degree angle to its predecessor, the 10th feels every yard of its 190, with a couple of very sneaky bunkers waiting to collect shots that don’t quite reach.
But whether you consider the 9th worthy of the hype or not, what isn’t a question is whether you should make the trip.
With green fees at £22 on a weekday for the rest of the winter, and a sensational £5 for juniors, it’s a chance to play a classic Colt course at a tremendous price.