The jewel on industrial Teesside has seen huge improvements over the last year - and course manager Tom Coulson is not finished yet
Seaton Carew is well on its way to making sure its 150th birthday arrives in style by successfully reverting aspects of the Dr Alister MacKenzie-designed course to its original state.
Under the course management of Tom Coulson, who was appointed last May, the links on the North Sea coast has hugely improved over the last 11 months.
Seaton Carew’s rapidly rising reputation has already seen membership numbers soar and the re-introduction of a waiting list for the first time in 25 years.
There are new corporate membership packages available and the committee at Seaton Carew wants the enhancements to continue ahead of its milestone birthday in 2024.
Twenty-one bunkers have been rebuilt and refurbished, prioritising the Doctor and Dunes holes for modifications. Bunkers on Sandhills, the Chapel and Beach holes have all been rebuilt and one reintroduced on the Long Trail and Sahara.
Coulson, who moved from Royal St George’s last year where he was deputy head greenkeeper, said: “MacKenzie had a set of rules when he designed courses and one stated ‘the features of a course should be so natural so that they are indistinguishable from nature itself’.
“That is the motivation as we try to establish this place as a stern test of golf, a true championship links. It is still very early in the journey but things are going in the right direction. My stance is that the course should be easy to play, but hard to score on.
“Course design is interpretation. We are interpreting the best evidence of what we have and like and we are going back to the original ideas and style from when MacKenzie designed it.
“Over the years Seaton Carew has lost some original features, elaborating bunkering, up to 40 have been lost since the Second World War.
“I got some aerial photographs from the 40s and it showed the MacKenzie style in evidence and a lot of that has deteriorated. The course kind of lost its teeth and we are bringing those back.”
Almost every change to the 146-year-old course requires consent because, like any links, the habitat is unique; most of the land is part of the Teesmouth and Cleveland Coast Site of Special Scientific Interest.
The recent bunker and green changes are the first stage of the regeneration. Even further widescale modifications are pencilled in for the autumn when Sea Buckthorn bushes will be erased to open up the sand dunes and sea views.
Coulson said: “This place has the industry to the right, the bushes to the left so without those suddenly you get gorgeous sand dunes and sea as you play golf. It has been strangled by the bushes for nearly 100 years.
“We have also got big works planned for the Road, Jimmy Kay and Tees holes this autumn – all with the aim of reinstating some of the original bunker styles you can see on those old photographs.”
Coulson and his small five-man team have had to deal with severe flooding over the recent winter, with the worst rainfall recorded in ten years. Yet the greenstaff are extremely pleased with the outcome and the feedback from members has been exceptional.
Seaton Carew has a long and proud history, making it one of the oldest golf courses in the world. It was re-designed and extended from 14 to 18 holes in 1926 by the man famed for creating such masterpieces as Augusta National and Cypress Point and Royal Melbourne, Dr MacKenzie.
Coulson, a plus-two handicapper with an 18-year career working on the greens behind him, has big ambitions for Seaton Carew – and he is working constantly to achieve his goals.
The 35-year-old said: “The improving course conditions have created a more desirable venue. It’s the best links golf course between Norfolk and Scotland on the east coast, the tenth oldest in England and its famous golf designer all contributes to the rise in demand for golf here.
“Course conditioning has not been at its best in recent years, but you’d still want to play here because the land offers authentic links golf. This means you play golf amongst Sandy hillocks off firm, tight lies and to firm, fast greens.
“It’s a mixture of pristine turf that routes between ragged sand dune vegetation and a variety of bunker styles and shapes. We are working to promote those characteristics through our management of the turf and the modification to the golf course.”
Main picture courtesy of slsportsphotos.co.uk