Dean Bailey returns to the Northumberland coast and visits Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Course
As you head down towards the dunes which guard the links of Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Course from the North Sea, everything that makes golf on the Northumberland coast special is laid out before you. There’s a reason so many golfers long for days on links courses and why so many people have taken a picture of the 13th hole at Dunstanburgh, which is played in the shadow of the castle with stunning views of the shoreline and cliffs. The landscape, the windswept dunes and the fine turf laid through a seemingly untouched landscape make this place unforgettable.
While the location is stunning for casual golf, Dunstanburgh Castle has also re-emerged as a tournament venue, winning high praise as host of this year’s North East & North West PGA Championship and the 2020 Northumberland County Strokeplay Championship. The Faldo Series visits later this year, and general manager Stuart Imeson has set his sights on more big tournaments.
Recent renovations and subtle tweaks have improved the challenge and playability of the course, while care has been taken to leave untouched many elements of James Braid’s design work . Renovated revetted bunkers are the most obvious element of this programme, while aesthetic changes such as disguising paths with mounding, enhancing sight lines with fescues peppered along the top edges of fairway bunkers, and a detailed plan of turf management to ensure key areas are more playable within the National Trust-managed site have all enhanced the course.
The opening six holes are played in a loop to the left of the clubhouse, which rises through the dunes before launching you back down towards the clubhouse in spectacular fashion.
A par four of 417 yards, the first hole sets out the themes of the course with penal revetted bunkers and a bail out shot which leaves an impossible approach. The fairway is flanked by two bunkers to the left and a deeper revetted bunker to the right some 250 yards from the tee. While you may wish to play well right to avoid the bunkers and boundary fence, taking this easier route leaves a near-impossible approach over a bunker at the front right corner of the green which has a huge catchment area. Those who play through the bunkers have an unobstructed route to a generous green with two distinct tiers cut at the foot of a sand dune.
Climbing the hill beyond the first green, the 366-yard par four second is played blind over a crest to a generous green which can offer a birdie opportunity.
Your tee shot at the third must reach the corner of the fairway, which sweeps from right to left. From here, a wide green awaits with a bunker left and a second trap right some 40 yards short of the green.
Aptly named Plateau, the uphill par three fourth requires a well struck mid to long iron to reach the putting surface. Anything short risks returning down the slope or being caught by two bunkers. A driveable par four follows, though beware two pot bunkers on the right side some 100 yards from the green and thick rough on the left.
The sixth tee is the first of many spectacular viewpoints. Playing inland, the tee shot at this 392-yard par four should be played cautiously with plenty of room to the right.
The green here has been tweaked to return it to the one designed by James Braid featuring two bunkers cut short of the green on the left and several hollows and mounds to the right leading into a third greenside bunker.
The tee shot at the 309-yard seventh hole is played blind into a dell and club selection is key as the slope obscures more of the green as you get closer to it.
Climbing into the dunes, the tee shot at the 364-yard eighth hole offers another spectacular viewpoint. Finding the correct section of this three-tiered green guarded by two bunkers can be tricky from the undulating fairway.
At the 420-yard ninth, a good tee shot is required uphill to give a chance of reaching the green in regulation. There is a deep bunker on the left side of the fairway, though there is room to the right. Take enough club for your approach, three bunkers and a steep rise wait at the front of the green.
One of the toughest tee shots on the course, and one played from another stunning viewpoint, you must thread your drive between new fairway bunkers at the 425-yard 10th before a difficult approach must carry a bunker left and a grassy knoll right en-route to a green surrounded by closely mown runoff areas.
The short par four 11th is a good birdie opportunity, while the recently extended 422-yard 12th requires a tee shot to the left side to give the best angle into a green protected by two front bunkers and a steep slope at the front.
The iconic 13th hole is the signature hole. The par three 13th at Dunstanburgh is one of the most photographed holes in Northumberland. Played in the shadow of Dunstanburgh Castle, the North Sea is just yards from the tee to your left. A wedge or short iron is all that’s required to a generous green with no bunkers. This is possibly the easiest shot on the course, and yet it is often one of the most challenging because of where you’re playing it. Bring your camera, you’ll want to capture this.
Meanwhile, the only par five on the course, the 14th, presents another good birdie opportunity as you begin the road back to the clubhouse.
A short par three of just 134 yards, be sure to take enough club to reach the bowl-shaped green at the 15th, which can offer a good chance of birdie.
A new tee on the 16th has added 30 yards and created a new angle for the tee shot. If the pin is tucked behind the bunker on the left side, be cautious as it’s almost impossible to get close playing in a straight line and putts from the back edge are incredibly quick. However, Braid’s use of mounding can help funnel the ball around the bunker slopes should you need it.
At 420 yards, the tee shot on 17 isn’t as demanding as it looks. The first two fairway bunkers are more of a deception than a hazard and the landing area is more generous than it appears. Avoid the bunker hidden some 60 yards short right of the green, the two pot bunkers at the front edge and the runoff area on the right side.
A long and challenging finish, the 18th measures 440 yards from the white tee box and can be a stern test with four fairway bunkers flanking a generous fairway before a burn crosses some 25 yards short of the green. Two small pot bunkers await those who play too cautiously and go wide right with their approach. A challenging end to a stunning layout.
Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Course, Sea Lane, Embleton, NE66 3XQ, Tel 01665 576562, www.dunstanburgh.com, Social media – @dunstanburgh & @dunstanburghcastlegolfcourse
Weekday, weekend, junior and twilight green fees available, along with special offers including food and group packages. Visit www.dunstanburgh.com
White tees – 6,287 yards • Yellow tees – 5,974 yards • Red tees – 5,591 yards
Clubhouse serving food daily • Club shop • Buggy hire • Trolley hire • Putting green
A conservative game plan from the tee is best, stay out of the fairway bunkers and thick rough at all costs
Playing golf on the Northumberland coast is always special and the recent renovations and stunning presentation of Dunstanburgh Castle make this course a must-visit.