Where is it?
Even though it’s barely a 10 minute drive outside of Newcastle city centre, Close House is an oasis of countryside calm close to Heddon-on-the-Wall.
Reason for going?
It was the University of Newcastle Alumni Golf Day and I had designs on claiming the Walton Salver.
What to expect?
I should point out that Close House and I have history. It’s pretty much where I learned to play golf.
Before owner Graham Wylie transformed the complex into one of the north’s premier golfing venues, the Filly – as it is now – was the old University of Newcastle course.
It’s where I pitched up as an 18-year-old, having gone through a thorough examination of my understanding of etiquette, to play my opening round as a club member.
I paid £20 for the year.
The course was a bit different then. You used to hit shots from the edge of the 22 on the rugby pitch and over cricket fields but the heart of the layout still remains intact following Lee Westwood’s redesign.
I’ve got great memories of playing Close House with pals and taking on my granddad and his rough Sunderland friend – the no-nonsense Don (he was no more likely to give you a putt as he was to buy you a drink after the round) – as I started out on this great golfing adventure.
What I liked about it then, and why I still make sure to play there to this day, was that it’s quirky and a lot of fun.
You don’t need to be Dustin Johnson to get it round. It’s barely 6,000 yards off the medal tees. In fact, being a long driver here can be an utter calamity if you don’t find the fairway.
It’s narrow in parts, forces you to ponder on every shot, but exhilarates if you get it right.
No one takes it apart. On our captain’s weekend last year, playing the course on a glorious March day, I won the back 9 with 18 points.
This isn’t an exaggeration. I like the Filly so much, if I could only play one more course before I died it would be this.
My best bit…
There are some tricky holes on the Filly but, if there is a giveaway, it’s the 4th. You aim at the old cricket pavilion, avoid the bunkers and you’ve got no more than a wedge in.
It’s a real birdie opportunity on a short par 4 and I’ve managed to do that on the last two occasions I’ve teed it up.
My real highlight from my most recent visit, though, was to find the green in regulation on the 5th. The drive is extremely narrow but it’s the second shot to this 380-yard par 4 that frightens the life out of me.
The green slopes severely, there are some nasty bunkers on the right and a pond that you must avoid on the left.
You have to hit the correct part of the putting surface, else you could still trickle into the water and that approach is a real knee knocker and a potential card wrecker.
If you get through here intact, avoid the water you must carry on the next and negotiate the upturned green on the 7th, you’ve got a chance of putting together a score.
I got away with a 4 on the 5th this time and couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the day.
What to look for…
With the greenkeeping team responsible for the championship Colt course next door, you can expect excellent condition on the Filly.
You won’t play a par 3 until the 9th and then meet 3 in 4 holes, while the par 5 13th is playable, reachable, and easily my favourite on the course.
With a strong opening hole and a classic finisher which goes uphill and needs a well-struck second shot to a green guarded by a beck and bunkers, you can’t relax until the ball is in the hole for the final time.
When I go back…
I hope to be going back to the Filly at Close House for the rest of my golfing days. Next time, though, I’ll play the turn better.
I’ve won the Walton Salver once before, as the University’s best alumni player, but my 2016 dreams of regaining the title were wrecked by a tricky downhiller on the par 3 9th.
This is my year.