Dean Bailey returns to Whitley Bay Golf Club to see how recent alterations have improved one of Tyneside’s best tracks
A lot has changed at Whitley Bay since our last visit three years ago.
A programme of work overseen by course manager Simon Olver and greens chair Seton Wakenshaw has improved the 6,579-yard layout no-end. Gone are swathes of hawthorn and large unplayable areas while extensive tree management has allowed for a more open aesthetic.
Work with architect Jonathan Gaunt has seen the greens and fairway bunkering on the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth remodelled – the middle two holes improved hugely to create two tricky short par fours which were once regarded as the weakest on the course.
However, the changes have not all been to toughen up the course. Thick rough has been reduced while you’ll find around 160m2 of additional fairway – with many benefitting from the simple, though striking, change to mowing to highlight the landing areas and narrow the fairway for those looking to overpower the course. It opens with a short par five of just 476 yards with two bunkers to the left of the fairway and out of bounds down the left side.
The first of the tough par fours follows – a 422-yarder played uphill with more out of bounds left. The fairway is generous, as is the green, though you’ll require two good shots to reach in regulation while avoiding the deep front right bunker.
The first par three plays downhill with three bunkers on the right side of a large green, while the short par four fourth is just 377 yards and now features more room in the landing area on the corner of the dogleg left. From the corner you’ll have a short approach to a green which slopes from back to front with three distinct tiers guarded by two large bunkers on the left side.
The fifth presents the first tee shot which must navigate the Briar Dene. Aim to find the flat spot on the other side of the ravine around 150 yards from the green. From here you’ll have a good look at another generous green. The first of the holes which have been remodelled, the sixth measures 515 yards and requires a drive left of two fairways bunkers and a lake which is hidden behind them. A new green is far better guarded now with two bunkers well short of the putting surface, another on the left side of the green and two more on the right edge. New mounding creates a number of tough up-and-downs should you avoid the sand.
The seventh and eighth, measuring 374 and 352 yards respectively, have been improved a great deal with new green complexes. What were two very simple birdie chances are now tougher prospects with two bunkers below the green on the left side at seven, and two large fairway bunkers matched with two deep greenside bunkers flanking the green at eight. The greens now feature some very tricky slopes, long putts and pitch shots from the wrong side could easily lead to high scores at these two holes. The amphitheatre-like green at the 155-yard ninth is a slightly older Gaunt addition and presents similar tests of putting and short game should you fail to get close enough to the flag.
The 10th shouldn’t cause too many problems for those who play close to the ditch, which crosses the now wider fairway some 60 yards from the green. Meanwhile the 414-yard 11th requires a long tee shot up to the fairway to leave a good look at a wide green which features a deep bunker at the front right that can be hidden from parts of the fairway.
The 12th is the signature hole (see fact file), while the 13th shouldn’t present too many problems at 162 yards from its elevated tee.
The 14th, a 390-yard par four, tests your driving again with the ravine to your right while longer drives can find a steep drop in the fairway and leave a blind shot back up the hill into a green.
The 15th needs another decent drive, this time to the left over the ravine and Dene.
The opening up of the 16th hole is a great example of the work here. While the challenge remains stern, the all often severe punishment for missing the fairway has been reduced with the removal of hawthorn and a reduction in thick rough. A very good long iron is still required to reach the plateau green up the hill.
The toughest of the par threes, the 17th plays 189 yards uphill from the tee to a large relatively flat green. The 18th is more challenging than you’d expect of a 459-yard par five. Anything left here is in trouble while airing too far right will leave a blind shot. Another large green accepts a long approach though anything missing right, left or long will leave a tricky uphill pitch from a tight lie in front of the clubhouse balcony.
Already a great layout, the recent works have elevated Whitley Bay into the top-tier of courses in our region. Pay a visit this summer.
Whitley Bay Golf Club, Claremont Rd, Whitley Bay, NE26 3UF, Tel 0191 252 0180, www.whitleybaygolfclub.com
From £18 – see website for full details
White tees 6,579 yards
Yellow tees 6,304 yards
Red tees 5,754 yards
Indoor swing studio
Practice ground, putting green and chipping green
The key here is staying in play from the tee and making the most of the shorter par fours. Spend some time on the putting green – the stimp meter reading was already up over 10 when we visited in April.
The 582-yard par five 12th is one of the region’s toughest par fives with its double dogleg fairway sweeping downhill right to left from the tee before rising back up to the green. Work has been done here to open up the right side of the hole from the tee, helping the ball fall down the hill to leave a long approach, which must stay right of the Charlie’s Folly water hazard while not drifting too far right where you’ll find the out bounds. For big hitters, the play is to go over the hazard and leave a short pitch, as this is the wider section of the fairway. The green is a simple one, relatively flat though divided in the middle by a ridge to create two tiers. Five is always a good score here.