Dean Bailey heads back to Rockliffe Hall as the course celebrates its 10th birthday
This summer marks the 10th anniversary of the opening of Rockliffe Hall’s golf course. The course has been the stage for many memorable moments in those 10 years, from the annual Northern Masters tournament to the English Senior Open in 2013, and the golf course remains a challenging modern layout renowned for its stunning presentation.
Designed in a modern resort style, the layout is capable of challenging the best players at its full 7,879 yards – though those tees are rarely used. A more modest 6,822 yards from the white tees, which we played on this visit, it’s a very playable layout from here, from the yellows at 6,455 yards or from the reds at 5,812.
Set in 375 acres of rolling countryside on the banks of the River Tees close to the village of Hurworth, and designed by Hawtree’s Marc Westenborg, the course is one of our region’s finest examples of championship-level golf.
Good scores here are built over the opening six holes, which offer a mixture of generous fairways and accessible greens.
At 415 yards, the first is a long par four but a solid drive will run down the hill and leave a mid to long iron to a generous green. Stay left with your approach to the green as the ball can run down to the lake, while a bunker in the middle of the front edge of the putting surface will catch any approaches which come up short.
At the long par three second, another front bunker is the primary defence while swathes of sand guard the front left and back right of the green. Take note of the pin placement here, front right pins are the most accessible.
Two good birdie chances follow at the 522-yard par five third and 388-yard par four fourth. Both are generous from the tee but reward those who take on the trickier route to the green – to the right on the third towards the fairway bunkers and right again at the fourth, taking on the longer carry over the edge of the lake.
The par three fifth hole, with its island green, got out pick for signature hole (see fact file).
At the par four sixth, take note of the fairway bunkers. Some can carry the ball over the sand on the right side but those who can’t must choose between laying up behind the bunkers or navigating between them to leave a short iron approach over a huge bunker at the front left corner of the green.
You’ll find the most challenging holes at Rockliffe in the middle of the round. This stretch will examine every part of your game, calling for great drives and supremely accurate approaches.
The seventh can be stretched to one of the longest holes in the UK at 664 yards, though it plays a more approachable 553 yards from the white tees. A long iron or wood will finish short of the cavernous fairway bunkers which flank the fairway, but will leave two long shots to reach the green. A driver from the tee must fly over the left bunker to leave an approach to a fairway which runs left-to-right towards a lake. A sloping lie for the third shot makes finding the right section of the green, with a single bunker at the front, tough.
Water is very much in play at the long par four eighth. At 436 yards, your drive must find the fairway here to leave a long approach shot to a long green featuring a single bunker in the front left corner.
The ninth and 10th holes each demand accuracy from the tee. At the ninth, a long drive will leave a far simpler approach uphill to the green while a right-to-left flight is required to find the 10th fairway with driver, though beware the water lurking on both sides of the fairway. The right side of the 10th is protected by the lake and pins on the right side of the green are toughest as anything which lands short will find the water.
At the 411-yard 11th, riskier drives are rewarded. A drive down the left side, closest to the lake, leaves a shorter approach over a set of deep bunkers on the left of the green while those avoiding the water have more space but risk running into deep fairway bunkers which leave no chance of reaching the green.
The 182-yard 12th offers little respite with a devilishly undulating green which feeds the ball off in every direction, before the 513-yard par five 13th hole gives a chance to relax a little. Two solid shots are required to reach the landing area, which is more generous than it looks from the fairway. A pitch to a generous green should yield a good birdie chance.
At just 371 yards, the 14th is another good birdie chance, particularly for those who find the narrowest part of the fairway beside the fairway bunker on the right side.
The 190-yard 15th is the toughest of the par threes with water lurking on the right side en-route to the green. Another huge bunker will catch anything to left of the green.
The closing stretch will reward those who continue to find fairways. The par five 16th provides plenty of room on your way to the green; just don’t get too close to the bunkers in the landing area. Water is again in play at 17, though in practice the bunkers to the right side are the real trouble as they catch anything blocked away from the lake. Large trees on the 18th force you to play the dogleg-left hole at its full length. Lay up just inside the fairway bunkers to have a good look at the green. From here, take enough club to avoid the bunker and swale at the front of the green, and leave a birdie chance infront of the clubhouse.
Total distance Gold tees 7,879 yards
Black tees 7,233 yards
White tees 6,822 yards
Yellow tees 6,455 yards
Red tees 5,812 yards
Features Five-star resort with hotel, restaurants and spa
Driving range with grass and covered tees
Buggy and trolley hire
Clubhouse with restaurant
Caddy’s tip Long, accurate driving is essential here
Signature hole The 162-yard par three fifth will require a mid-iron for most with a generous green guarded by two bunkers on the front edge – easy enough. The difficulty, and the reason the hole gets our pick for signature hole, comes from the lake surrounding 99% of the green complex. An imposing expanse of water, this hole is a real challenge, and a stunning setting for a par three.
OUR VERDICT A special resort and true five-star experience from the moment you arrive, a day on the golf course doesn’t get better than this.