Dean Bailey pays a visit to Garesfield Golf Club
County Durham is home to some tough golf courses, but few present a more difficult challenge than Garesfield Golf Club.
Sitting between the Tyne Valley and the North Pennines around six miles west of Gateshead, the course is laid out across sweeping undulations, heading down into the valley before returning up the hill. Meanwhile, the fairways are bordered by ancient trees, many of them creating narrow landing areas and even narrower approaches.
The mature parkland course has been tweaked and improved regularly since it was laid out by Harry Fernie in 1922, including the addition of the two-storey clubhouse overlooking the course and the valley below.
At 6,458 yards, the par 72 course can play quite long when you consider the number of tee shots which force all but the straightest drivers to play conservatively from the tee.
Played in a loop at the front of the clubhouse, the opening four holes at Garesfield offer a sample of the tree-lined fairways which lie ahead while giving away little of the twisting descent into the valley that lies ahead. The first and second – a pair of short par fours measuring 292 yards and 354 yards respectively – are gentle openers. At the first, a long iron short of two fairway bunkers and between the trees will leave a simple approach, while your tee shot at the second must avoid the trees which loom over the tee box and create a narrow corridor to the fairway.
The toughest hole of the stretch, the third, is a short par five at just 474 yards but you must find the fairway from the tee with tall trees flanking the fairway and out of bounds close by on the right side. Find the fairway and you are rewarded with a chance to reach the green in two – just avoid the four bunkers en-route to one of the smallest greens on the course. A simple par three of 159 yards follows – club selection is the key here as finding any of the three bunkers at the front of the green will leave a tough up and down, particularly when the flag is at the back of this long green.
Head back around the clubhouse to the raised tee at the short par five fifth (467 yards) and you’ll find a good chance for birdie. The fairway here is generous and sweeps to the left around the trees to a raised green guarded by a single bunker on the front left corner
A tough par four, the sixth hole measures 394 yards and requires two long, accurate shots. The tee shot must find the flat portion of the fairway while avoiding Chopwell Woods on the right side to leave an uphill approach to a small green with two bunkers at the front edge.
The seventh is a stunning downhill par five, played down into the valley with Chopwell Woods to the right side. The two-tiered green is often in reach here thanks to the slope – a good birdie chance. A birdie will come in handy as you head to the signature hole (see fact file).
Heading to the turn, the ninth is a short, dogleg right par four of 357 yards – stay to the left side of the fairway to leave an unobstructed view up to one of the trickiest greens here. Anything on the right side will have to negotiate two huge oaks to reach the green. The view down to the green from the 10th tee is fantastic but be careful with club selection here. The green lies on the other side of a small valley and slopes back towards it, while out of bounds lies close to the rear of the green.
Another tough par four of more than 435 yards, the 11th requires a driver from the tee with trees and thick rough waiting on both sides of the fairway, which turns from right to left. A long approach, often played semi-blind, must find the correct section of a two-tiered green protected by a deep bunker in the front left corner.
The short par four 12th offers a little respite, though you must avoid the stream at the front of the green before the final 400-yard-plus par four. At 441 yards, the 13th will again test your accuracy with the driver. Favour the right side here as the fairway slopes to the left. The second is played blind down a steep slope to a bunkerless green – a daunting shot for those who haven’t played here before which requires equal parts skill and faith.
You’ll have a much better view of the green at the par three 14th. Just 176 yards, the tee shot must be carried onto the green. Putts from below the hole are far easier on this undulating green. While it measures just 286 yards, the 15th often plays much longer than its yardage. A beautifully framed hole, once again accuracy from the tee will be rewarded with a simple approach uphill to one of the smallest greens on the course.
Club selection is key at the par five 16th. A long drive will leave you with two options – pitch down the fairway to leave around 150 yards for your third shot or take aim at the green and get within 50 yards of the putting surface. The steep ravine between these two points is a golfing no man’s land, from which the approach is steeply uphill and completely blind. The two-tiered green here can test even the best putters.
Heading for home, the tree-lined 327-yard 17th rewards straight hitters with a good view of a wide green with bunkers on the front corners. The longest par three on the course, the 205-yard final hole is played in the shadow of the clubhouse with two bunkers guarding the front of a two-tiered green.
Garesfield Golf Club, Chopwell, Tyne and Wear, NE17 7AP
Tel 01207 561 309
From £12 – see the website for details.
White tees – 6,458 yards
Yellow tees – 6,043 yards
Red tees – 5,411 yards
Large clubhouse overlooking the course
Practice area and putting green
Pro shop run by Darren Crowle
Ancient trees stand watch over the fairways here and wild driving will be punished severely throughout the round. Finding the fairways is essential and sacrificing distance for an unobstructed approach is highly recommended.
The 448-yard par four eighth hole requires a long drive through a corridor of trees, though the fairway is more generous than many here. Find the short grass and you’re faced with a long iron approach to a green guarded by a burn which runs around the front of the putting surface. One of the most difficult shots of the round, a four here is a great score.
A traditional parkland layout with a great routing through ancient trees on the side of a valley – what more could you want?