The Battle of East Anglia: Hunstanton v. Royal West
Norfolk , ENGLAND
Holes to Note at Royal West Norfolk:
First hole, 400 yards; After the sobering walk to the tee through the gate memorializing those members who gave their lives in the war, the first is a favorite opening hole of the authors as it possesses so many of the desirable characteristics: an inspiring tee, set along the dune line with the North Sea immediately to your left, a wide fairway (actually shared with the 18th to the right) and an appealing green site nestled against the dunes. You can hit it as far to the right into the 18th fairway as you wish but the approach shot rapidly becomes harder and harder.
Third hole, 415 yards; With the abrupt angle of its dog-leg to the right and its blind approach, the 3rd is the exact kind of hole that Hunstanton lacks. The narrow green is perhaps not ‘fair’ as it is bloody difficult to find and hold downwind, but the golfer will never tire of the opportunity of trying. The prospect of playing toward just the top 18 inches of the flagstick visible against the sky directly beyond a sleepered bank never fails to inspire.
Forth hole, 125 yards; A much underrated short one-shotter and one of the best of its type anywhere, the fourth plays from the top of one dune to another, where the wide but shallow green awaits. This hole emphasizes distance over accuracy, hardly a sure bet in this most exposed location. One hole that must have struck terror in many players’ minds one-hundred years ago and still one that is most attractive today. This hold influenced Charles Blair Macdonald.
Eighth hole, 475 yards; The finest gambling three-shotter in the British Isles, the 8th is the epitome of heroic golf. The fairway from the tee is an island in the often-dry tidal marsh and is set at an angle to the tee, requiring the player to decide how much of the marsh he dares carry. After the tee shot is negotiated, the player faces an even more daunting second: do/can I carry the marsh to reach the fairway that extends some 80 yards from the green, with the marsh then continuing tight along the right to the green, or should I lay up short and leave myself a full 160 yard third?
Ninth hole, 400 yards; Essentially a shorter version of the 8th without a fairway short of the green – it is all carry over the bulkheaded marsh. The green is one of the magic spots in golf as, standing there at the tip of a peninsula and the farthest point from the clubhouse, it is difficult to imagine being farther from civilization.
Fourteenth hole, 425 yards; A majestic hole with its sunken green. Interestingly, it is not quite a punchbowl as strong shots have nothing to save them from bounding well beyond the green. Also, this hole, in both its character and position, is crucial for providing the backbone of the homeward nine.
Don’t think, though, that Brancaster is merely a museum piece from which little can be learned; just the opposite. There is as much architectural merit here as at any other English links. In addition to the use of the marsh as a direct, diagonal and lateral obstacle, the bunker placement is quite thoughtful. The large, intimidating bunkers well short of the 15th and 18th greens, for example, do look great, but they are also wisely positioned far enough short of each green to allow enough room for the downwind shot to bounce onto the green.
So, then, who would prefer Hunstanton to Royal West Norfolk? Often times it is the better player, many of who have little tolerance for indifferent holes, blind shots, and marginal conditioning.
Who prefers Brancaster? Those of us who don’t keep a score card in our back pocket and who place emphasis on getting away from it all. We can just hope that the course continues to hold off the threat of erosion. If the club and course lose that battle, the entire golf world should forever hang its head in shame for letting it lose one of the game’s treasures.