- A coastal trail of little known links golf courses dotted between medieval English castles
- Ruddy sand beaches, Atlantic grey seals and world famous fish smokeries
- A treasure trove pub with its own microbrewery in an idyllic bay setting
- Cheap green fees and easy to organise Northumberland golf packages
It’s often been written that there is a curious lack of high quality links golf courses on the East Coast of England, until you reach Norfolk.
With the exception of Seaton Carew Golf Club – in the heart of the Teesside petro-chemical industry – this argument is well made.
Northumberland, England’s “border county,” with its rugged but beautiful coastline is one area that rails against this misguided assumption. Here, the focus shifts from the challenge and difficulty of golf courses to more heart-warming features, like charm, character, novelty and scenery.
It was once a lawless land. A rugged place, butting onto Scotland, and worth little to England except for the protection of wild open country.
Today Northumberland is unspoilt and beautiful.
England’s border county is barely talked about in golfing circles. It’s Scotland’s historic status as the “Home of Golf” that wins attention and adoration.
Just an hour south of the Scottish border, between long sandy beaches and the ruins of medieval castles, is a series of little known links courses that deserve to be talked about and played.
Coast and Castles Trail formed with affection
No official Coast and Castles golf tour of Northumberland exists, but, as a young man I played the courses of the Northumberland Coast so often on family holidays that a trail formed in my affections.
It is this route I would recommend to any golfer exploring the northern reaches of the British Isles and which I delight in writing about here.
From Dunstanburgh Castle, furthest South near Alnwick, to Goswick, almost in Berwick – with Bamburgh Golf Club, Alnmouth Village’s 9-hole course and Seahouses Golf Club in between.
The term hidden gem is well worn in travel and golfing circles, but nestled just off the main road from Embleton Village – in the bay bearing the same name – is the understated and special Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club.
Designed by renowned Scottish architect James Braid, the club calls itself the friendliest in Northumberland, and by personal experience, it’s hard to disagree.
Visitors are more than welcome and are accommodated alongside its healthy membership.
Seek out The Ship
It caters for tourists to the Northumberland Heritage Coast and the idyllic retreat that is Low Newton, home to a magical must-visit pub called The Ship Inn.
A short and traditional links course – measuring a touch over 6,200 yards – it winds its way out and into the sand dunes butting onto the Northumberland Coast – which are managed by the National Trust – and home to many rare species of plant and birdlife.
Its gentle opening holes are a soothing lull before the sixth, where you tee off high on a hill and fire down over a shallow crook of the bay and dunes to a sweeping fairway.
The green is tight and well bunkered and the hole is one of the hardest you’ll play in your round.
The course then skirts the coast until its flatter central stretch, where holes are laid out on the land beneath the shadow of the ruined castle sitting on a jutting black cliff.
Spot of seal watching
The rocks just off the coast are a regular lazing spot for Atlantic Grey seals and seabirds are in abundance, from kittiwakes to the Grasshopper Warbler.
The next hole to make you catch breath is the tiny par-three 13th hole, “The Castle Hole.” You play 100-110 yards across a canyon of rocks and water to a rectangle green with the magnificent 14th century castle as a backdrop.
It played little part in the tumultuous wars between England and Scotland, but was crucial in the War of the Roses in the 15th century, when it was held by Lancastrians in the fight against the Yorkists.
The rest of the course runs back towards the clubhouse in the direction of Low Newton. It’s a marvellous 19th hole with good ale and a fully licenced restaurant.
Smoke your drives and your Kippers
If you want to sample a local delicacy; try Craster Kippers, smoked at Robson’s Smokery in the village of Craster, about 2kms to the south, or crab sandwiches.
If Dunstanburgh’s castle is dark and brooding, decaying and chilling, the castle viewed from the golf course at Bamburgh is proud, beautiful and statuesque. It is no exaggeration to say the views from Bamburgh Castle Golf Club are among the best in Britain.
The high vantage point of this short links extends out to Lindisfarne – site of the first Viking raids on Britain in the 8th century – the Farne Islands and its colony of Puffins, and Bamburgh Castle itself, a fort dating back to the ancient Britons, reshaped by Norman hands and tested in warfare against Scottish raiders.
Strange start – sublime short holes
The views are spectacular and the most compelling part of the experience but the golf course is quirky, entertaining and unashamedly fun to play. It starts strangely, with two par three’s and two par-fives.
It has six short holes in total, none of them dull, and while this makes it difficult to score low, there are also four par fours on the back nine under 300 yards where you can pick up shots with birdies.
The club was founded in 1904 and is a proud, traditional bastion of golfing values, dress codes and etiquette, so it’s best to check in advance when visitors can play and what they can wear.
The course is tiny at 5,600 yards but as with many of the other coastal links in Northumberland it positively bursts with character.
Alnmouth Village Golf Club
The Northumberland Coast and Castle golf trail takes a surprising twist when it reaches Alnmouth. There are two golf courses, the highly rated and established Foxton Hall Golf Club and its charismatic little neighbour, Alnmouth Village Golf Club.
I am not ashamed to say I’d play at the Village golf club every time. Why?
Oldest 9-holer in England
Well, it’s the oldest 9-hole golf course in England, having been shaped in 1869 by former Open Champion Mungo Park to satisfy the need for leisure time for wealthy families who built holiday homes there following the growth of the Great North Eastern Railway.
It’s mostly a mish mash of par three and par four holes with one long par four that sometimes doubles as a par-five, but, it’s link golf at its best. There is hard, sandy turf, undulating greens, dunes, whispy rough, sea breezes, salty air and great views.
The best hole is the sixth where the tee sits on top of a big bracken hill and offers a stunning view down over the course, Coquet Island and into Alnmouth Bay – once a thriving coastal shipping hub.
Sometimes, when there is no-one around in the clubhouse, you are asked to pay your green fee in the honesty box next to the door before heading out onto the links. It’s a rare and pure golf experience and a wonderful stop on this coastal journey.
Seahouses Golf Club
Next on the trail and close to the seaside getaway of Beadnell is Seahouses Golf Club, a short par 67 links course which measures less than 5,800 yards.
The course is most famous for two short par three holes which are as interesting and challenging as any in the county.
At the 10th you play over ‘Logan’s Loch,’ a brooding body of water with a carry of 165 yards to the green.
Keep dry at The Cove
The ‘cove’ hole at the 15th is similar to Dunstanburgh’s Castle Hole. This tiny 124-yard hole sits right on the coast and a good tee-shot needs to fly over the corner of the dunes and ocean if you are to find the green.
With an exposed coastal location and vulnerable to the North Sea winds, it’s difficult to make a great score at Seahouses despite it looking short and simple on the card.
Golfing at Seahouses offers views of the coastline from Bamburgh to Beadnell, and further offshore to The Farne Islands and Longstone Lighthouse, made famous by the heroine Grace Darling – who carried out a remarkable sea rescue in a lifeboat.
The village of Beadnell, the Simonside and Cheviot Hills and the rolling North Northumbrian countryside are also part of the stunning backdrop. So even if your golf isn’t beautiful, the views are.
It’s also worth noting that Seahouses is one of the best places to indulge in good old Fish and Chips with plenty of salt and vinegar.
Goswick Golf Club
It’s often said you should save the best till last and I’ll stake a wager this is what I’ve done. We finish the Coast and Castles golf trail at Goswick, two miles off the A1 and seven miles short of Berwick upon Tweed on the doorstep of Scotland.
It’s one of the last places to tee up before you hit Scotland and is arguably Northumberland’s finest links golf course.
Leave it be, said R&A
The Open Championship committee think so; when given the chance to alter the course for Open Championship Regional Qualifying events, they instructed the club to leave it exactly as it was.
Goswick’s first advantage is its location.
It sits in open land adjoining a wall of sand dunes in a designated area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It enjoys a rare and pleasant micro-climate which means it’s milder and warmer than other parts of the county and usually open for play when other courses close.
It also makes a bold promise of never putting on temporary greens in the winter and there are few courses that guarantee that luxury to visiting golfers.
Its second advantage is the quality of its pure links turf and the strength of its design by Frank Pennick.
At 6,800 yards long from the medal tees the course is long compared to the others on this trail and it is a step up in terms of difficulty. The 5th hole, nicknamed Pennick’s Way after the designer, is the toughest hole on the card at stroke index one.
The fairway is a reverse camber and doglegs sharply while the approach has to be played up towards an elevated green. It’s quickly followed by a strong par-five at the sixth hole with out of bounds running along the entire right side and deep bunkers waiting short of the green to catch a mishit approach shot.
The stretch of holes from 14 to 18 are excellent. The tiny 15th is a short par three playing between 110 and 150 yards depending on the tee positions, with a green sloping sharply from front to back.
The long 17th has its own road traversing the fairway in front of the green, drawing comparisons with the world famous Road Hole at St Andrews Old Course, also #17. The round ends with a tough par three over 200 yards in front of the newly renovated clubhouse.
After five rounds in the fresh North Sea wind taking on a golfing challenge between coast and castles you’ll be ready for a hearty meal, a hot bath and a restful night’s sleep in one of the county many guest houses or hotels.
It’s sometimes said that the North West of England is England’s Golf Coast.
Its Open Championship links and abundance of first-class inland and links courses are difficult to surpass, but to its East, on the cusp of Scotland “The Home of Golf,” is a relatively undiscovered coast where golf is played at a gentle pace, with smiles on faces and a true appreciation of the beauty of nature and the might of men.
WHERE TO PLAY
Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club
Bamburgh Castle Golf Club
Seahouses Golf Club
Alnmouth Village Golf Club
Goswick Golf Club
WHERE TO STAY
Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel
Attractive family run hotel in the heart of Embleton Village at the start of the Coast and Castle golf trail. http://www.dunstanburghcastlehotel.co.uk/
For golf on a budget try the brilliant camp site at Proctor Steads near Craster.
Northumberland Golf Tours – in business for 15 years
Perryman’s Bus Hire
Hire your own bus and book your own accommodation with this local bus hire company specializing in Northumberland and the Scottish Borders
Independent online travel magazine about Northumberland, Newcastle and the Scottish Borders
Official Tourist Information