Getting a round in at Close House is not a straightforward feat for our club golfer. He explains why he's prepared to put the work in to be a member at the British Masters venue
People tell me I must be mad. It’s 94 miles from my front door to Close House – a little over an hour and 45 in the car (more if there’s a queue on the A1, which there usually is).
And yet around once a month, for the last three years, I’ve cheerfully taken on the journey as a country member of this Newcastle estate.
I’m not sure how many golf courses there are between my house and the little village of Heddon-on-the-Wall – I’m guessing it’s a lot – so there are probably more cost-effective ways of getting a round in.
But Close House has a deep emotional connection for me. It’s really where I learned to properly play golf, on the old Newcastle University course that has been transformed into the fabulous Filly.
Nine years ago, the Colt course arrived, as did attached tour professional Lee Westwood, and the venue holds the British Masters for the second time in 2020.
So what is it about the complex that makes the near four-hour return trip worthwhile? Let’s take a closer look at the Colt…
What can we expect from Close House?
A stiff challenge – especially if you stray from the short stuff. The fairways are actually quite generous throughout, but anything wide is usually severely punished.
The bunkering is a significant part of the test. They’re both deep and grassy and they’re not flanking holes, either. They are right on the line of play and, as I can say too many times to my cost, right where they should be in the landing areas.
If the wind is whistling, good luck. A fierce breeze, and the open nature of the holes around the early part of the front and back 9, can make it a brutal test.
It’s here where the fescue really grabs your ball and never lets go.
Some of the elevation changes are steep and you can find yourself with very tricky sidehill and downhill lies. The 5th, 7th and 10th go straight uphill, and put a strain on your fitness, never mind your golf game, while similar drops at 6 and 8 put a premium on distance control.
You have to know your yardages here – and how they are affected by slope – otherwise you’re going to be mis-clubbing for most of the day.
Accurate approach play is also essential. Some of these greens wouldn’t be the biggest. Catch the wrong side of some of the slopes and, at best, you’ve got a difficult putt. Most of the time, though, you’ll no longer be on the putting surface.
That said, the Colt does give you some brief breathing space. The 3rd is a short 4 that offers even the average player a birdie chance, while the risk and reward par-5 penultimate hole can be negotiated safely if you can avoid the urge to over attack.
But you’ve got to capitalise on these brief moments – because the Colt can bite at any moment, and frequently does.
What are your favourite holes?
The short 9th, which demands a carry over water to a tight pin that’s often located behind an evil bunker, should fill with me with dread. But there’s something about the challenge I just adore – even if my long iron has found the drink more times than dry land.
People always talk about the view from the 13th tee (it is amazing), along with the par 3 14th through the trees to a well-guarded green, but I’m a big fan of the 16th.
You can’t hit driver here – always a good thing for me – as you’ve got to thread the tee shot through pine trees on both sides. You’ve then got a soothing walk up the fairway to a hole that turns at a 45-degree angle. The green, often partially hidden by fairway bunkers, slopes sharply on all sides and a 4 is a precious commodity here.
Tell us about your best bits?
I did once start par, par, birdie, par and lulled myself into the very false idea that maybe the Colt’s bark was worse than its bite.
Then I stuck one straight right on the 5th, went left of the wall on the next and the natural order of things was resumed.
I love the split fairway on the 8th, from a very raised tee looking all across the estate, and nothing beats launching a straight tee shot from there.
But my favourite moment on the Colt course came in the British Masters Pro-Am in 2017. I was caddying for Peter Schmeichel and on the charity 12th hole, in front of the great man, Swedish pro David Lingmerth, and Westlife singer Shane Filan, I hit a howitzer of a hybrid into the green.
Given I’m the guy who was once pity-fived by Nacho Elvira after finally hitting a putting surface on about the 14th at the Portuguese Masters Pro-Am, this control of nerves was no small feat.
Will you do anything different next time?
I’ll finally take something sensible off the 15th tee. Westwood described this as a drawing 3-wood and a 9 iron for him but, while the water right in front of the tee barely merits concern, the steep bank leading up to the fairway and the trees both left and right make this a genuinely frightening shot for the mortal.
Probably not a good idea then to attack it with driver, which is comfortably my worst club. From now on, I’m going to play it as a par-5, get on the short stuff with an iron, and try to avoid disaster.
Finally, where is Close House?
Close House is just outside the village of Heddon-on-the-Wall and is about a 20 minutes drive from Newcastle city centre. It’s easy to find off the A1.
For more, visit their website.
Have you played the Colt course at Close House? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or tweet me.