Park life’s a classic

Dean Bailey visits The Northumberland Golf Club which has adapted in recent years to maintain its place as one of our region’s finest layouts

Driving through the gates of Gosforth Park and into The Northumberland Golf Club remains one of our region’s best golfing experiences.

From the moment you’re greeted by the signpost declaring the course a host venue for Regional Qualifying for the Open Championship, to warming up around the excellent practice facilities and taking in the history in the clubhouse – there is something very special about every visit here.

Founded in 1898 in and around the racecourse in High Gosforth Park, the golf club and course have been renovated throughout their history with changes made by Harry Colt and James Braid in the late 19th and early 20th Century, and further alterations made ahead of the course hosting its first Qualifying five years ago.

The bunkering at the Park is penal while the tightly mown approaches and lightning fast greens offer a stern test whether you’re a top professional or mid-handicapper.

The opening stretch at the Park is the most scoreable – a pair of par fives and a short par four making up three of the first four holes. The first, 319 yards from the back tee, is a good birdie chance. Play a long iron to the right of the fairway bunker to leave around 100 yards back up the hill to a large green. The second is the toughest of the four, a 434-yard par four with out of bounds right and a central fairway bunker 280 yards from the tee.

The par five third and fourth holes are both good birdie chances, though well defended by fairway bunkers. Four bunkers dissect the third fairway at 285-300 yards from the tee while four more protect the approach to a small green. The fourth is wider though the approach is tough with bunkering and a swale 70 yards short of the green.

The first par three, the 186-yard fifth, is played to a large, undulating green before a demanding tee shot at the dogleg-right par four sixth. At 401 yards, play a long iron to the corner or hit driver around it, though be wary of the trees to the right which can block the approach. The green here is big, with three distinct tiers   and long putts back to the flag are tough.

The seventh is a tricky 171-yard par three with a green encircled by bunkers while the short par four eighth is a good birdie chance – either play over the cross bunker with a long iron or take driver down the right side.

Making the turn, the ninth is toughest of the par fives. Play to the left side of the fairway to leave the best line in. Three bunkers defend the green with two particularly deep ones on the left.

The par three 10th is again well defended by greenside bunkers though the green is generous. Heading into the toughest section of the course, the drives at the 11th and 12th are intimidating. At the 11th the fairway narrows at 230 yards while a deep fairway bunker protects the right side of the 12th fairway – longer hitters can be aggressive and go over this to find the widest part of the fairway. The bunkering around the green here has been altered to create four deep bunkers – all of which will leave tough up and downs.

The stroke index one, the 13th was our pick for signature hole (see fact file).

Turning for home, the short 14th is played over the racecourse with out of bounds right before the par five 15th and par four 16th run along the racecourse’s home straight. The 15th is a very good birdie chance should you avoid the fairway bunkers left – both have steep faces. The two greenside bunkers are deep though the green is generous for those left with a wedge for their third shot.

The 16th is the toughest of the final run at 440 yards. The tightest tee shot on the course, play between the left fairway bunker and the road to leave around 170 yards.

The 17th and 18th are good birdie chances should you find the fairway. Play left at both – trees can block the approach at the 17th while out of bounds looms right at 18. The clubhouse clock is a good line for both shots. Hit driver at 18 to run down and back up the hill and leave an uphill pitch in front of the clubhouse veranda.