Dean Bailey visits one of Co Durham’s finest courses as its development continues
There have been some big improvements at Chester-le-Street Golf Club in the last 18 months as work is underway to dramatically change the tree-lined layout in the shadow of Lumley Castle into a fairer, more strategic test in keeping with its ancient woodland surroundings.
Gone are swathes of bracken, nettles and waist-deep rough – replaced with new bunkers and a more open feel with views up the hill to the castle, across to the spire of St Mary and St Cuthberts and down the hill to the River Wear.
The first phase of a course development laid out by architect Ken Moodie, five-time Ryder Cup player and TV commentator Ken Brown, along with John Nicholson Associates, saw the largest part of the tree management take place under Nicholson while alterations to six holes were made. Changes to the third, fifth, sixth and 18th are planned for the autumn.
Gone are incredibly penal areas of trees in favour of a more open, playable design, which offers a chance of recovery – if a tough one.
Of the holes that have seen the biggest changes so far, the first may have benefitted the most. Rather than a short and simple par four, players are now faced with two fairway bunkers at the corner of the dogleg left while two remodelled greenside bunkers present a much more challenging opening hole.
At the 382-yard second, the fairway bunker on the left side of the dogleg left has been reshaped to create a more dramatic look while a more generous landing area is a welcome change at this tough par four.
The alterations to the third will continue this winter when two fairway bunkers and mounding will be added while the green will be remodelled to present a challenging complex with mounding and a new greenside bunker. At the par five fourth, ancient oaks and limes remain, as does the dense woodland over the out of bounds fence right. Two fairway bunkers are to be avoided to the left of the fairway while the approach is set to be enhanced with the addition of a large pond and ditch to the right of the fairway and the remodelling of the greenside bunkers. A new tee will see the hole stretch to 540 yards.
The 406-yard, par four fifth will have two fairway bunkers on the left removed and a new bunker added to the right side, while vegetation has already been removed to open up views down to the river. At the green, the putting surface will be extended and the bunkers reshaped.
Running alongside the river, the par five sixth will also undergo major changes with new approach bunkers set to present a daunting sight when laying up at this 557-yard hole, while the seventh, the first par three, remains unchanged. Future plans include a new back tee and three deeper bunkers here.
The most straightforward hole of the front nine, the 393-yard eighth will be improved with the reshaping of the left fairway bunker and the addition of a right fairway bunker which will narrow the landing area. At the green, the bunker at the front left will be removed in favour of mounding while a new, larger front right bunker will be added.
The green at the challenging par four ninth now affords a great view back up the third fairway to the castle while the thinning of trees and scrub has greatly improved the pace of play.
The short par four 10th is played uphill and requires a long tee shot to reach the brow of the hill, though you must beware of the steep drop and out of bounds to the left. A new grass bunker and the addition of a larger fairway bunker will challenge those trying to reach the top of the hill.
The short dogleg right 11th has seen two fairway bunkers added while a new greenside bunker to the right will test your short game.
Overlooked by the clubhouse, the 12th has undergone the biggest change so far. Played straight uphill, the birch trees to the rear of the 18th green have been removed opening the tee box to the wind while the creation of a water hazard has toughened up the 170-yard par three.
The par four 13th and 14th holes, measuring 379 and 363 yards respectively, have been altered to complement the new bunkering which has improved the look of both green complexes.
The 15th will see a new green built in the future to return the hole to a par five with new fairway and approach bunkers set to protect the 490-yard hole, while the par three 16th will be shortened to add further variety while allowing space for the new green to be built.
Heading for home, the 17th has been greatly improved following the tree management while the signature 18th (see fact file) will be changed this winter with a new bunker planned for the landing area on the right side while the green will see major alterations with new mounding and a new front left bunker presenting a number of options and demanding chip shots.
Contact Chester-le-Street Golf Club, Lumley Park Chester-le-Street, DH3 4NS
Tel 0191 388 3218
Mon-Thurs after 1.30pm £18
Fri after 1.30pm £25
Sat-Sun after 2pm £20
Total distance White tees 6,479 yards
Yellow tees 6,187 yards
Red tees 5,873 yards
Features Large clubhouse with bar/lounge and dining room
Locker rooms and changing facilities
Pro shop and PGA professional tuition
Practice range with long and short game areas
Caddy’s tip There’s is room from the tee now but don’t stray too far off line with the driver. Ken Brown’s green complexes will challenge the best players so sharpen up your short game
Signature hole The closing stretch at Chester-le-Street is one of the best in Co Durham and the 18th is a fitting close at 347 yards. With views down the hill to the river and up to the castle, a long drive is required to leave a manageable approach to a fast green in the shadow of the clubhouse. Alterations this winter are sure to further improve this great par four further