Hunstanton is the ancestral home of the le Strange family; Hamon le Strange invested £30 to get the original nine holes ready for play; George Fernie was the architect. Hunstanton Golf Club was founded in 1891 and Hamon became the inaugural club president. In 1907, James Braid revised the existing layout and extended the course to 18 holes, alterations which cost a total of £25. James Sherlock made further subtle modifications in the 1920s and little has changed since.
This natural course is a simple out and back affair, interrupted only briefly in the middle of the outward and inward nines by a few short holes that zigzag at right angles across the central dunes. The River Hun and the Wash frame this narrow strip of links land, but you are only offered a few glimpses of the sea from the course itself.
Hunstanton and Royal West Norfolk are always rated close together in today's ranking tables but, when Darwin wrote about Hunstanton in his book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, things were different: “Hunstanton is very amusing golf; it is more than that, for it is for the most part very good golf. Perhaps it is a little unfairly overshadowed in public estimation by its near neighbour Brancaster, which is altogether on a rather bigger and grander scale.” Nevertheless, Hunstanton is a connoisseur’s golf course, jammed full of memorable quality golf holes. The members are quite rightly proud of the greens, they are tricky to read, fast, hard and true. The rippling fairways are tightly mown and gently undulating.
Two of the world’s best lady golfers have played and won here at Hunstanton. In the year before the Great War, Cecil Leitch beat G Ravenscroft 2 and 1 to win the Ladies’ British Amateur Championship and in 1921, the great Joyce Wethered beat J Stocker to win the English Ladies’ Close Amateur Championship. More recently, in 1972, Hunstanton hosted the Ladies’ British Amateur Championship, when Mickey Walker went on to win, beating Claudine Rubin of France.
A feat of incalculable odds also occurred at Hunstanton. In 1974, the amateur Bob Taylor holed in one during a practice round for the Eastern Counties Foursomes. The following day, in the actual competition, he again holed in one. The very next day in the same competition, he once more holed in one. If a hole in one on three consecutive days is not enough, you’ll be amazed to hear that it was achieved each time on the same hole, the 16th, a 191-yard par three!
This is a full-blown championship golf links; an absolute must-play for serious golfers. Make your score on the outward nine, the back nine is much more difficult, except for the par 3 16th, a simple hole in one opportunity.
The club recently engaged Master Greenkeeper Gordon Irvine – who has been advising at Askernish, Notts, Luffenham Heath and Royal Cinque Ports – to help implement a number of course improvements that were included in architect Martin Hawtree's master plan for the links.
I played Hunstanton in a three ball with my brother and father in early April. There has been a lot of rain and we played on what I can only imagine is an unusually still day, with probably no more than a 10-15 mph wind that died off by the back nine. We received a warm welcome from James the Pro and were told we would be teeing off after a two ball competition which meant a decent pace of play.
Firstly the course had held up remarkably well despite the weather, there were a couple of boggy areas on the front nine, but only on one or two holes. Otherwise it was in great condition and the rough had not yet enjoyed its spring growth, meaning it was somewhat forgiving. The greens were quick enough (I imagine they get a lot faster in the summer) and true, augmented by some typical links subtleties and run-offs.
With handicaps of 11, 12 and 13 we played off the white tees which made for some testing par 4s, particularly into the breeze. Due to an Easterly wind on the day we played, the out and back nature of the course meant most of the front nine was played into a 1 to 2 club breeze.
Holes 1 and 2 do a good job of getting you out onto the course, without being so testing that they lead to a traffic jam. Notable holes were the 3rd, 5th and 8th, the later a true par 5 to a raised green. These eight holes are an enjoyable start, but the course really gets into its stride with the 9th and 10th. What follows is a magnificent stretch of links golf, with arguably the 12th being the only weak hole. My particular favourites were the afformentioned 9th a wonderful par 5 with a hillock/dune running down the left and bunkering and drop offs guarding the right of the fairway, where three good shots are needed; and the 447 yard, par 4 17th which sees a tee shot played onto a left to right sloping fairway, leaving a long second to a narrow table green protected by a bank on the left and a huge drop off on the right, to my delight I birdied it. 18 is a great finishing hole, where I found out that a good drive still leaves a lot of work, I walked off with a bogey and a huge smile on my face to enjoy a drink in the bar. A great course.
On our annual GBI trip in June, I had the pleasure of seeing Hunstanton for the first time. Sorry it took so long. A warm welcome. The day was awful - rain and wind were fierce - so we only played the first five out and last last four in. We were able to see the distinctive holes and great green complexes. We tried to find the time to see the whole course while in Norfolk but that will have to wait. Too bad!
Hunstanton boasts a series of extremely high quality golf holes and whilst it may not quite have the charm and quirk that I often look for (and prefer) in seaside golf there’s no denying this is a true test of your golfing skills on a very good course.
I have always been greeted with an Easterly wind at Hunstanton in the early season which means that the predominantly ‘out and back’ links has played significantly differently to the norm, when it usually blows from the west at this time of year.
The front-nine, played mostly into a two-to-three club wind, is challenging and requires long hitting, especially at the second, third, fifth and eighth. Holes two and eight, both par fives, are genuine three-shotters under these circumstances whilst holes three and five play 448 and 441 yards respectively and as you can imagine into a strong breeze are effectively par four and a half’s.
Most of the really good golf at Hunstanton can be found on the last ten holes but the outward half shouldn’t be dismissed because there is some high quality stuff to be found.
Whilst recent changes have been made you could still throw a blanket over the first tee, 18th green and clubhouse which gives a lovely atmosphere and is a set up I really like. The opening hole is a fabulous getaway too with a large wasteland area to carry, a string of sand traps down the right and a well defended green with a particularly wicked drop-off to the left. It may be cited as a birdie-opportunity but it could equally kill your round before it’s even begun.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Played here for the first time in October and my ultimate impression was that Hunstanton strikes a great balance between being a stringent and quirky links - often the challenge is there to see in front of you, but on other holes you are left with blind shots.
The first hole is a nice getaway and shouldn't require too much warming up - drive over the large bunker and stay left - several bunkers running down the right hand side - and you're left with a simple enough shot into the green.
Several nice enough holes follow, before an interesting short Par 4 6th where it's all about the second shot as you shoot up to a narrow raised green.
The par 3 7th with the huge bunker in front of the green and a strong tail wind was a lot of fun - it was difficult for us to stop the ball on the green.
Things then toughened up for us from hole 11 as the course started playing into the (presumably prevailing) wind. At one point I think there were also 3 blind tee shots in a row. You either love them or hate them.
The course then has a great finishing 3 holes. 16 is just a pretty well-bunkered Par 3, and 17 is a real challenge to get your Par 4 - a dogleg right to a fairway that cants from left to right. You then have a second shot to a plateau green that is either dead left or a challenging up and down if you miss to the right. The finish on 18 allows to you hit driver as well as you can, and then aim up towards the raised green in front of the clubhouse to finish.
Hunstanton ticks off most of the links course checklist for me: It's natural land, windy (annoying but necessary), well-bunkered (enjoyed my playing partner finding them with ease), and has the odd blind shot.
More importantly, it involves playing lots of fun shots from silly/challenging situations that stick in the memory. I just don't get this on the average parkland.The only small negative is that it doesn't have the sea views or impressive vistas of some links courses - but it's only a small one - it still has a lot to offer and was a great days golf - I look forward to coming back.
For those who say combine it with Brancaster for a great day's golf, I'd say take the day rate and play 36 at Hunstanton one day and then 36 at Brancaster the next day (it's much better value that way, and twice the fun). BB
I have returned home from the UK visiting the folks and managing to fit in a few rounds of golf in the process.
One such round was at Hunstanton, my first visit back there since playing in the Brabazon Trophy there some thirty odd years ago.
The first thing to say is that there is a very good reason that the English Golf Union continues to court the venue for its major Championships, the course is quite simply that a true Championship test of golf, on wonderful links land without any of the luck or quirk associated with alot of links golf.
Some may say, that is part of links golf and that "quirk' is part of the entire links experience, and I have no problem with that mode of thinking....unless...I have a scorecard in my back pocket!!!, then I want the course to reward good shots and punish the not so pure aspects of my game.
Hunstanton does just that ,a marvelous test of all your game in wonderful surroundings at a club where you feel welcome from start to finish.
The clubhouse itself and delightful setting aback of the 18th green is the epitomy of what a links clubhouse should like like, standing Royally overseeing all that lies in front of it.
One of the things that stands out above all others is the marvelous bunkering on the golf course, especially that off the tee, the fairways are not exactly narrow but the ideal placement of the bunkering certainly serves to limit the landing areas, hole after hole you stand on the tee negotaiting the desired line prior to executing the drive.
Mt Hawtree was recently brought on board to make some bunkering changes and his work has certainly been as asset.
New bunkers look as though they have been there forever as highlighted by the new complex on the 15th hole in the landing area..spectacular bunkers placed ideally for either wind direction.
The historically superb putting surfaces of yesteryear are undergoing a grass change at the moment, replacing the old fescues with a bent fescue mix and they are looking fantastic, running smooth and one would imagine with another summer under their belt, back to the lightning speed that scared us all back in my younger days, a great move my the ground staff and those involved in making that hue decision.
Highlighting certain holes is difficult when a course is this good from top to bottom, but the par threes deserve a special mention as all four are supreme tests and the visual on the seventh holes with its awesome railroad ties is simply links at its finest...my advice leave the ties alone!!!!
The blind par three 14th bothers some, but the tall marker post is there for a reason and never lets you down.
The finishing stretch of 16-18, is probably the overall highlight of the course.
Three very difficult par holes, starting with one of the finest links par threes anywhere 189 yards to a narrow wonderfully bunkered putting surface, with enough surface movement to satisfy anybody.
Then the two bring it par fours at 447 and the longest 399 in history for the last hole....but perhaps I played it from a longer new tee?.
Number 17 is one of those holes that you could put into any Open Championship rotation and it would be one of the hardest three holes of the week.
Demanding from the tee into the prevailing wind and although bunkerless from tee to green, the narrow green itself is a tough target to hit.
A wonderful golf course a wonderful club with tremendous hospitality, a true must for links lovers , further blessed with its proximity to Royal West Norfolk another must play all be it for totally different reasons.
The first few holes can play much easier when the wind is behind. Whilst the 3rd is a par four of 443 yards and rated index 1, with a stiff breeze behind it was only a drive and a mid-iron. The 7th is a striking par three that certainly has the ‘wow’ factor when you see it for the first time. The fairway of 173 yards runs through a valley with large dunes on either side. One enormous deep bunker lies in front of the green, the face made up of vertical railway sleepers.
The par three 16th is one of the best holes at Hunstanton. The elevated tee gives sea views and looks down to a split level green encircled by bunkers. There is no fairway, only long grass, so this is not the time to duff your tee shot. Seventeen is a long par four with a tight drive then a narrow green. The 18th runs through a valley with heavy rough on either side. The green is on a sharp rise and is at an angle, making the target smaller.
This is a really enjoyable and testing course. The fairway bunkers are penal but if you can stay out of them then some holes play relatively short. It may just have just been the wind on the day, but I found the back nine holes to be considerably more difficult than the outward nine. This is certainly one of the premier links on the east coast of England.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every English course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.