Royal Norwich have upped sticks and moved to a brand new golf course. Our club man was among the first to try it out
It’s not often any club, let alone a Royal course, decides to leave their home – particularly when they’ve been there for 125 years. But when once they were out of town, Royal Norwich’s Hellesdon layout over time became wedged right into the city centre, to the point where players had to cross a busy road to access the two sides of the course.
So the club engaged European Golf Design’s Ross McMurray to design a new layout half a dozen miles up at the road. It officially opens in the middle of September but I was given a sneak peek and this is what I found…
Royal Norwich review: Where is it?
Royal Norwich’s new home is based at Weston Estate, around 10 miles outside of the centre of Norwich itself. Once you’ve finished playing golf and enjoyed the club’s new facilities, you can also pop in to Roar, the dinosaur theme park based next door.
Royal Norwich review: What to expect
McMurray has taken the old Weston Park course and supercharged it. The setting is fabulous, framed by mature Scots pine and some species that have been in place for 400 years, and that does give his design a settled effect – even though it is, to all intents and purposes, an entirely new course.
McMurray’s design follows some fairly classic architectural principles. He gives you an awful lot of room from the tee – some of the fairways are especially wide – but most of the holes narrow in the closer you get to the green.
The par-5 3rd is a perfect example. It feels almost impossible to miss the fairway but you need to land your second precisely into a relatively tight corridor if you are going to be able to hit the elevated green.
What this does, overall, is provide the feeling that the course is giving you a chance. It’s by no means a giveaway, though. By making those fairways accessible, McMurray has also built in preferred angles that you’ll have to find to realise the optimum approach.
Stray too far left on the par-5 9th, for instance, and a tree will block half the green. Go too far right off the tee and you’ll have to take on an old oak if you’re going to find the corridor that opens up the green.
McMurray’s style tends to be big and bold and Royal Norwich is no exception. Large feature bunkers attract the attention around the green and that’s accentuated on those around the landing areas as they add definition to a site that is largely flat.
The green complexes are very interesting. Some of the putting surfaces are on the large side – the green at 13 is 46 yards in length – but, again, getting it in the right spot is crucial if three putts are to be avoided.
I hit several approaches into greens that took slopes and ran off 20 to 30 feet longer than anticipated – merely because I was marginally out. Some people might consider that slightly unfair but, from 90 yards and in, I’d argue a degree of accuracy was required and expected.
McMurray’s provided a little bit of everything. With both long par 4s and tempters, he’s also asking whether you can shape shots both ways, and there’s plenty of variety in the length as well. Five sets of tees stretch the yardage from 5,339 yards to 7,209 and, at that gold level, this is going to be a brute.
McMurray’s whole ethos at Royal Norwich was to produce a course that was going to be fun – something that people would want to return to on a regular basis. I reckon he’s achieved that.
Royal Norwich review: Favourite hole
We’ll get on to the 17th in a minute but the standout hole for me would be the par-4 8th. Set in among the trees, there is something of a Surrey feel about this 400-yarder, which sees you hit through what feels like a corridor of trees before it doglegs to the left.
The par-5 3rd is outstanding, in my view, as it closes into to the green, while the short 14th, which dares you to try and take on the fescue, rather than the straightforward two shot option, will become a matchplay favourite.
Royal Norwich review: My best bit
Club chiefs wanted a bit of drama towards the finish and McMurray has provided that with a testing par-3 over water at the penultimate hole. Yardages range from just 95 to 164 from the tips and, while the green is fairly large, it’s the large pond in front that’s designed to unsettle.
If you’ll let me have a moment in the sun, though, we played this at 142 yards off the silvers and I striped an iron with a soft draw to about 18 feet before sinking the putt. It doesn’t get much better than that.
Royal Norwich review: What to look for
Royal Norwich is about more than just golf – so much so they wrote to Buckingham Palace to ask permission to remove the words ‘golf club’ from their title. So when you’ve left the 18th, you’d be well advised to take in some of the many activities on offer. Among the most interesting will be the chance to make your own ale at the microbrewery.
Royal Norwich review: When I go back
I’ll try and drive the ball better. I hit it woefully off the tee, which is why I’m so sure Royal Norwich will be a course that’s playable for all levels.
And while it’s sad to leave anywhere, especially a classic James Braid design like Hellesdon, there’s no doubt that the new Weston Park course will elevate the club’s reputation significantly and safeguard them for the future.
If you get the chance to play Royal Norwich, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know in the comments below or you can tweet me.