Fulford was once home to giants of the European Tour. But you’ll get far more from playing the York course than merely a chance to follow the game’s ghosts
What do Greg Norman, Lee Trevino, Seve Ballesteros and Sam Snead have in common with me? It obviously isn’t major victories – unless you put a mixed greensomes championship on a par with The Open.
All of us have taken to the fairways at Fulford Golf Club, a club that hosted legends of the game for more than 20 years when the European Tour had an annual stop off in York.
The world’s best may have now departed – Tony Johnstone won the last tour event here in 1991 – but Charles MacKenzie’s design continues to attract the stars of the amateur game.
So let us walk in the same footsteps as Torrace, Lyle and Jacklin by taking a spin round this mix of heathland and parkland.
What can we expect from Fulford Golf Club?
You won’t escape the tour history – all the holes are named after former winners – and the honours board in the clubhouse is worth a study if only to figure out which luminaries of the sport haven’t tasted victory here.
But the club is much more than its legacy of bygone heroes. Largely flat but constructed on sandy soil, the course starts relatively gently with a straightaway 400-yard par 4 before moving away from the clubhouse with a rip-roaring second that demands you move the ball from right to left. It’s followed by a couple of tough par 3s that can derail your card early if you’re not careful.
The course is split in two by the A64, with eight holes from the 6th to the 13th found over a bridge. That’s not just a cosmetic change. Those holes are very different in character.
While there is plenty to admire about MacKenzie’s design, the hole most people talk about is the 17th, or more specifically, the ash tree that guards the left of the green.
It was here, in the 1981 Benson & Hedges Masters, that a young Bernhard Langer scaled the tree and played his third from among the branches. It’s a shot people talk about to this day and the famous photo of the German is replicated on the club’s scorecard and a large image in the locker room.
Fulford is renowned in Yorkshire for the quality of its greens and, given I played the course in late October, they were outstanding – pacey, true, and sizeable on some holes.
Mackenzie & Ebert recently completed a multi-year course refurbishment, which, along with a tree-clearing programme and the subsequent re-establishment of some areas of heather, has revitalised parts of the 1930s layout.
What were your favourite holes?
You may have thought I’d skipped over quite a bit of the course on the previous section but that’s because I wanted to tackle them in detail here. That eight-hole stretch, on the other side of the dual carriageway, is among the best in the county.
The sixth, a 558-yard par 5 with a narrow fairway surrounded by trees all the way down both sides, has been beefed up considerably with new bunkers from Mackenzie & Ebert. They trap the longer hitter and make it a threading act for those with a few more shots to hand.
The 9th is a real birdie chance, but only if you find the short stuff off the tee, and the vista that has been opened up here and on the 10th has really lifted the whole experience.
That latter hole is a par 3 with a very tricky green that slopes severely from back to front. Find the wrong spot, particularly in the summer, and it’s a massive ask to keep the ensuing downhill putt on the green.
The 13th is the best hole on the course, a brutal near 500-yard par 4 with out of bounds all the way down the left and a covering of gorse just in front of the tee to mess with your eyeline.
It’s tight down the right side too, thanks to the trees, and the bunkers flanking both sides of the fairway loom large for anything that’s not arrow straight.
There’s plenty of slope in that green too and it runs off sharply for anything that’s long or a little left. It’s a superb end to a great run.
Tell us about your best bit?
Very – and I mean very – occasionally, I can find myself on a streak where I’m threatening to play some decent golf.
I managed a par streak from the 6th to the 13th, which was making a mockery of my 12 handicap, before getting back to the usual bogey run.
Will you do anything different next time?
Fast greens – quicker than anything I’d played for a while – and a brand new putter probably weren’t the best combination and I three putted a number of these superb surfaces early on.
I’ll make sure I get on Fulford’s impressive practice putting green and chipping area and put the work in before I get out there again.
Finally, where is Fulford Golf Club?
Fulford Golf Club is in York, about a mile from the city centre, and just off the A19 and A64 junctions.
To learn more, visit Fulford’s website.
Have you played Fulford Golf Club? What were your thoughts? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.
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