It was Walker Cup Sunday, September 2003. I remember getting off the bus and making the long walk down towards the clubhouse.
You can always tell an exceptional course by the quality of the drive-in and this was just magical. The fog was lightly rolling off between the tall pines and I caught a glimpse of the vivid colours through the gaps that made up the 16th fairway to my left and the expanse of the par 3 17th split by the road to my right.
Then there was the clubhouse – a venerable block of grey that pitched me into visions of pipes, plus-fours and hickory shafted clubs.
I loved Ganton from the very beginning and my fondness for it has only grown. Every time I have been fortunate enough to tread the same path as Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, the connection has only become stronger.
So when I had the chance to once again visit this treasure as the new World Handicap System dawned in November, not even a pandemic could stand in my way… (No tier restrictions, or lockdowns, were broken in putting together this review).
What can we expect from Ganton?
Part of Ganton’s majesty is the difficulty categorising it. It’s neither links, nor parkland – its evolution coming from a peculiar set of geographic conditions when the coast was once several miles further inland. As the waters receded, so the springy, firm, turf that now sends golfers into fits of delight were born. Open heathland is about as close as you can probably get but that’s far from definitive.
Fast running in summer, and bouncy to the point that even the average player can feel like Bryson DeChambeau with a decent swing, it’s also the perfect winter layout. Its sandy soils are impressive all year round.
Perhaps only Woodhall Spa can compare for the ferocity of its bunkers. They are deep and treacherous – both vast and pot in size. Finding the wrong side of a fairway can see your ball careering on an inevitable path to a sandy grave.
Sometimes, it doesn’t even need that and Ganton, with their proud membership, revel in the knowledge that good shots are not always rewarded.
But times are also changing here. Selective clearing of gorse is opening up vistas of Yorkshire once hidden.
MacKenzie & Ebert’s involvement is having an absorbing impact, and you’ve got to check out the re-establishment of the sandy waste area that splits the 17th and 18th.
Ganton is a paradise – secluded from urban life, even though it’s still close to a main road, and a glorious retreat.
What were your favourite holes?
It’s easy to focus on an opener but I mention the 1st only for the special conditions that exist at Ganton. The tee is absolutely pristine, with the greenkeeping team deliberately keeping the turf at close to green height.
The inference is clear – ‘You’re not playing any old course today’ – and it does lift the whole experience in the mind, particularly if there’s a starter nearby. Anything that finds a decent contact is hugely welcome.
I love the 4th green but Ganton really starts to find another gear from the 6th. It’s an imposing tee shot, with a bank of trees running all the way down the right, and a series of bunkers trapping anything left and playing a prominent role in the approach to the green.
Even at 444 yards, it was far from a giveaway par 5 in the old days, but in looking at the course for the World Handicap System, it’s been pushed back to a 4 and it’s a very different prospect now.
Ganton has a lovely mix of tough and tougher. Even those holes that look gettable on the scorecard – such as the 280-yard par 4 14th – have a sting in the tail.
The risk and reward elements there are obvious, but a mid-iron is not without its difficulties as the fairway funnels down towards the right and a difficult bunker sits 100 yards out. The green is severely sloped on all sides so don’t consider a par to be a disappointment.
The 16th is genuinely world class – a sure staple in any list of England’s best 18. It just wouldn’t be designed anymore and that is to the detriment of modern golf.
The tee shot is brutal with trees and gorse on both sides blocking the way. A massive cross bunker needs only 185 yards to carry but it just dominates your thoughts – hampering the fairway view and the route to safe passage.
Even if you negotiate this successfully, the approach is just as difficult with everything appearing to close in around you the closer you get to the putting surface. The bunker short right of the green is death.
It’s here where the gorse clearance is most keenly felt and appreciated. What once caused anything hit long to require a close encounter with thorns has been cleared away to open up a stunning view of the 17th tee and the clubhouse behind.
I really could go on. I haven’t mentioned any of the short holes – the 10th despite its long green is incredibly hard to hold from 170 yards thanks to six surrounding bunkers – or the exceptional 18th that tempts you to hit driver and run out of fairway before forcing your approach through a gap in the trees, and the road, to a massive green that can add three clubs of distance.
It’s just excellent in all respects and if you don’t come off and immediately want to go back round, why are you even playing this game?
Tell us about your best bit….
It’s such a little thing – changing a digit – but the recent move from par 4 to 3 at the 17th bends your mind into thinking about this short hole in a very different way.
As a short 4, it was a relatively straightforward par for me. With a card on the line, I’d hit a mid-iron, chip on and two putt. There was no real risk.
Now, an altogether more heroic shot is called for and on this day of days I was absolutely up to the task. Whipping out a 3-wood, clubface met ball with a satisfying thump and that little globe set off on a gentle, soaring, draw before coming to rest about 15 feet away from the hole.
It was immensely satisfying. Less so was the dribbled putt that never looked like ending in a birdie. That said, I’d take a 3 every single time.
Will you do anything different next time?
Putt better. Far better, in fact. Too many good shots – most notably a towering 5-iron at the opening hole and the aforementioned swipe at 17 – were rewarded with weak efforts that never threatened to reach the hole. This was purely down to driver error, if you’ll excuse the term. The greens were exceptionally true for November.
Finally, where is Ganton?
You’ll find Ganton on the A64, about eight miles outside of Scarborough.
For more, visit Ganton’s website.
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