North Norfolk holds a special place in the golfing world. Exceptional courses, stunning landscapes and fascinating history combine to provide one of the country’s most enjoyable, and accessible, short break destinations.
Hunstanton, Brancaster, Sheringham and Royal Cromer are the mighty headline acts but anyone who makes time for King’s Lynn and quirky Mundesley will also be well rewarded.
I recently took in the eastern half of this delightful collection of courses – Royal Cromer, Sheringham and Mundesley – during a stay with my golfing partner at Overcliff Lodge in Mundesley.
This comfortable and welcoming retreat is ideally located; just a few hundred yards from Mundesley’s well-kept nine holes and a short drive to both Royal Cromer and Sheringham. Overcliff Lodge offers bed and breakfast accommodation as well as self-catering options for parties of up to 14.
Hunstanton, Brancaster (or Royal West Norfolk to give it its proper title) and King’s Lynn are a little further afield but within comfortable reach for a day’s golf.
However, those delights are for another day – here I’ll concentrate on the eastern courses and try to give you a flavour of what to expect if you haven’t sampled this exceptional golfing fare.
Royal Cromer Golf Club:
Of the three courses this has the grandest pedigree, which is reflected in its royal status. The man responsible was the Prince of Wales, later to become King Edward VII, who took a liking to the course from its founding date of 1888.
It started life as a nine-hole layout before a certain Old Tom Morris advised the club on improvements that would eventually lead to it becoming an 18-hole course.
Standing 300ft above the beach, Royal Cromer's clifftop location brings wonderful vistas... and plenty of wind!
Take a look at some of the hole names and visitors soon get an idea of what lies ahead. ‘Windy Ridge’, ‘The Plateau’ and ‘Over The Hill’ provide strong clues that there is some hilly terrain to negotiate.
But no pain no gain… and the views from the highest parts of the 6,528 yard par 72 course are among the finest along the east coast and well worth the effort.
After a relatively gently start the course starts to show its teeth on the 454 yard par four 4th hole. We played straight into a stiff south easterly breeze and it was two good blows to reach the green. However, if we had taken it on with the more common south westerly then I’m sure it would have been – if not a breeze – then a lot more manageable.
After the par 5 5th, which reaches the easternmost boundary of the course, golfers swing round to the 6th, a hole fully deserving of its stoke index 1. At 444 yards with cliff edge and public footpath up the right (and a view of Cromer Pier in the distance) it’s a fearsome drive and even downwind, as we played it, provides a great test of skill and nerve. Into a prevailing wind it must be even more of a monster!
There are a couple of quirks in the card, the first of which is that the first par 3 doesn’t make an appearance until the 9th. It’s well worth the wait though and plays 161 yards downhill to a green surrounded by bunkers. Then straight after that come two consecutive par fives which run in opposite directions so the effects of the wind should be evened out over the two holes.
By now we’re reaching the highest parts of the course via the short par 4 12th and aptly named par 3 13th – Windy Ridge. Take a minute to look back on the course as it spreads out below you. If golf is about fresh air and exercise in lovely surroundings then all three of those boxes are suitably ticked here.
That leaves the run-in, which includes the lighthouse hole at the dogleg 14th, the tiny yet treacherous 119 yard par 3 17th before the walk back to the 18th featuring a steeply sloping fairway and a two-tiered green.
Contact: www.royalcromergolfclub.com or telephone 01263 512884.
Sheringham Golf Club:
Sheringham dates back to 1891 and was originally designed by Tom Dunn. Like Royal Cromer it is a clifftop course with wonderful fairway turf and plenty of gorse to keep you ever-alert. With the North Sea on one side and the North Norfolk steam railway on the other there is always plenty to catch the eye in between shots.
At 6,251 off the whites (or 6,558 off the back sticks) and with the wind whipping across it’s a proper test of golf as well as being a sublime walk by the coast. With a par of 70 it is known for its long, tight par fours and players who can keep it low and straight are at a definite advantage here.
The clifftop holes, 4 to 7, are the most picturesque on the course with the most notable being the 5th. This 445 yard par four is played from the top of the cliff and its fearsome reputation is reflected in its stroke index 1.
It’s a spectacular challenge and a worthy ‘signature’ hole for this fine course… but the fun doesn’t stop there. The next hole is a 197 yard par three from an elevated clifftop tee where the substantial drop in elevation has to be taken into account with club selection – oh yes, and the wind will also be a major factor!
Sheringham’s other most memorable holes are encountered on the run-in to the clubhouse and this is where the North Norfolk Railway steams into view. Holes 16 to 18 give fine views of the steam and vintage diesel locomotives on the line, which runs between Sheringham and Holt. On the last two holes, both tough par fours, there is out of bounds lurking over the railway line but on the 17th the better line is down the right hand side – a definite risk and reward hole and with enough gorse and trees around the green to make sure you give full focus to the approach.
The 18th is a great finishing hole with a very challenging drive towards the distant clubhouse the most important shot here. Plenty of nerve needed if you’re all square standing on the last tee.
Contact: www.sheringhamgolfclub.co.uk or telephone 01263 823488.
Mundesley Golf Club:
Mundesley describes itself as ‘a golfing gem on the north Norfolk coast’ and it’s hard to argue with that.
I’ve always enjoyed nine hole courses, having spent teenage years playing several on the Isle of Wight, mainly Cowes and Osborne, and in later life taking many a spin around Royal Worlington in neighbouring Suffolk.
If you’re playing a nine holer for the first time you’ll always get a second chance at a hole. A little experience is important in golf and if you didn’t quite master that tricky par three first time around, you can always aim to improve on the next circuit.
Mundesley lies about half a mile from the coast and is on a hillside with lovely views over the River Mun valley. It was founded in 1901 with help from golfing legend Harry Vardon – a fine pedigree indeed!
It only measures 5,377 yards off the white and has a par of 68 but don’t let that fool you in to believing it will be a pushover. A combination of intimidating drives and two truly fiendish short holes mean this inland track has the potential to wreck any card.
The par three 162 yard opener sets the scene for the round with a big pit to gobble up anything short and right and a steeply sloping green which means two putts are never certain. The pressure ramps up with the tee shot at the 367 yard 2nd which has out of bounds all up the right and mature trees guarding the left. Then the 3rd has perhaps the toughest drive of the round with trees, bunkers, a road and a sloping fairway to be negotiated before, hopefully, a short iron into the green at this 405 yard hole. As all nine holes have different tees, on the second loop this tee shot is a lot easier!
Now to the 232 yard blind par three that is the 4th. Aim at the marker post at the back of the green, thread your tee shot up and over a rollercoaster fairway and… hope for the best! This is a hole you’ll want to play again because the first time will leave your jaw on the floor.
No relaxing after that with another fearsome drive over gorse to a valley fairway far below the tee at the only par five on the course, the 494 yard (stroke index 1 and 2) 5th. Then comes a blind, downhill 262 yard par four which with the wind behind plays more like a par three!
The quirkiness doesn’t end there though. The uphill par three 100 yard 7th is no more than a flick to a plateau green but on the second circuit it adds 64 yards and a wicked approach angle to make it one of the toughest par threes in East Anglia.
To finish there is the tricky sharp dogleg par four 8th then an uphill 277 yard par four to finish. This goes straight up the hill back to the clubhouse and it’s a lung-busting end to the round. Not for nothing is it christened Cardiac Hill!
Contact: www.mundesleygolfclub.com or telephone 01263 720095.
By Mike Pennock