Dean Bailey enjoys a day out at Longhirst Hall, and finds the Dawson Course in excellent condition late in the season
You may expect the life of a golf writer to consist of playing as many courses you can throughout the summer. In reality, there is a lot of golf to cover through the season, as well as your own competitive streak to maintain, which makes getting out and about on our region’s courses tough to fit in.
So, on the rare occasion I am able to visit a course on a late summer’s day, I’ll jump at the chance. Having scoured the social media universe for a recommendation – remembering we were within a week of October and the start of the ‘winter season’ – the winner was Longhirst Hall, just outside Morpeth in Northumberland.
Longhirst opened in 1997 with the Old Course. Eleven and then seven holes were added in the following five years to create the Lakes and Dawson courses. With both courses stretching to more than 7,000 yards from the very back tees, this is a huge site with views of the Northumberland countryside stretching for miles in every direction. A new driving range and academy have been added more recently. With both courses highly recommended, we choose the Dawson Course – both to tick off the fourth and final EuroPro Tour host course in the region this year, and having learned a tough lesson on the need for sensible club selection and high quality ball striking on our last visit to the Lakes Course.
Often regarded as the easier of the two layouts, the Dawson is still a stern test with smaller greens than its next-door neighbour and water in play on 10 holes – including a couple of daunting drives which the starter was more than happy to prepare us for as we stood swishing drivers on the first tee wondering what all the fuss was about.
Playing the opening stretch it’s hard to heed the advice. The fairway at the first is very generous and at 438 yards this par five is a great opportunity to start well. The second requires a carry of just 185 yards from the white tee to another generous fairway, while the third plays a little longer than its 167 yards on the card. The only defence here is the smaller greens and most should expect to get some points on the board early. The fourth is the first real challenge from the tee with a carry of 232 yards required should you take on the pond to the right of the fairway and out of bounds awaits further right. The green here has a ridge through its centre – finding the correct half of the green is a priority.
The fifth is one of a number of candidates for signature hole with a long drive required should you wish to not be shaking in your golf shoes playing to the island green. The green is 27 paces deep, but it seems far smaller with water lurking around 97% of the green.
Having taken a second to compose yourself after the fifth, holes six, seven and eight present easier prospects with no water in play from the tee. At 379 yards, the dogleg eighth is the pick of the bunch with an accurate tee shot required to reach the corner at 220-240 yards. Find the fairway and you should be left with little more than a nine iron to a small, but unprotected green.
A stunning, if challenging par five, the ninth is another contender for signature hole. A big hitter should contemplate taking a three wood from the tee with water lurking left of the fairway at 280 yards. The second shot is played around a slight dogleg left and should leave a pitch of 70-100 yards to a large green. The pros treat this one as a three-shotter with three lakes waiting around the green.
The 10th and 11th are both strong par fours with the 10th presenting an opportunity to drive the green at 317 yards – beware of the water left of fairway and green from 80 yards in – the fairway gathers towards it. A big drive at 11 will leave a mid-long iron to a generous green. The 152-yard par-three 12th is a good opportunity to find a two – avoid the bunker short right if the pin is on the right.
The 13th got our vote for signature hole (see factfile) while one of the best tee shots on the course, the 14th welcomes a driver with a generous fairway at the 412-yard par four. The second shot plays slightly longer than its yardage to a raised green which falls away on all sides. The drive at 15 is a little more challenging with out of bounds right. It’s 240 yards to carry the bunker, which leaves around 120 yards for the second shot to a generous green which slopes back to front.
The final stretch is great opportunity to finish in style. The 200-yard 16th demands a solid shot but a flat putt awaits should you find the correct portion of the green. Finding the fairway is the priority at 17, where two bunkers await to the left of the fairway and another front right of the green.
The last is a chance at glory; take the bunker on (a carry of some 220 yards) and you’ll be rewarded with a mid-short iron to the green and a great chance at a birdie to finish.
A Sunday at Longhirst is best finished with lunch in the clubhouse and a drink in the lounge. Is there a better way to spend a Sunday?