Sadly most courses don’t offer any of the above. A relatively small number have one of the trio whilst the saying ‘two out of three ain’t bad’ can be applied to even fewer venues. However, at Appleby it’s a case of tick, tick, tick.
Nestled at the foothills of the Cumbrian Mountains and less than five minutes from the busy cross-Pennine A66 this moorland course is unassumingly good.
Golf has been played on Brackenber Moor for over a century, from 1903 to be exact, ever since The Club was reformed on its present site after originally being founded in 1894 when it played on nearby Minsceugh Moor.
Open Champion Willie Fernie laid out the course using the natural contours of the bleak but beautifully alluring moor to drape his 18 holes over a sprawling property. It’s a spectacular course in a vast and exposed landscape. It’s easy to see why it has been described as "Gleneagles in the raw".
Incidentally golfers have no right of way on the common land moor which is shared with horse-riders, cyclists, joggers and dog-walkers as well as various livestock.
A mixture of heather and wispy rough frame the generous and modestly undulating fairways. I drove the ball quite badly but never had trouble finding a ball off the fairway in early August. There is minimal, if any, fairway bunkering and greenside pits are used sparingly too.
Despite the modest yardage of 5,998, playing to a par of 68 (SSS 70), Fernie’s creation is undeniably testing, and contains no par-fives although there are some long and challenging two-shotters. It’s golf on a surprisingly big scale but it still comfortably makes our list of the best golf courses less than 6,000 yards.
What struck me most about the course, however, was the number of excellent short par-fours. Four of them come in at under 310-yards and the opener at 336 could just about be placed into this superb group of what on paper are easy holes but in reality are testing little gremlins.
We are eased into the round with three par fours, all different but all connected in appearance and equally pleasing with a real understated quality to them. Meanwhile, the dropping par-three fourth is not my favourite type of hole but works well here and you may need to dodge the sheep as you bounce your ball onto the green.
A feature on all of the holes is the electric wire fences around the greens to keep the various sheep, rams and horses away from the putting surfaces.
After our gentle introduction we are then faced head on with what appears to be a wall of bracken and a 150-yard uphill carry to a blind fairway at the clever fifth. A marker post guides us but with a drop-off running down the right-hand-side our natural instinct is to play further to the left than one would ordinarily do so which then leaves a much trickier pitch to a green that slopes away from us and also left-to-right. A number of greens fall away from play at Appleby and this is one of its great defences.
The back-to-back 12th and 13th are two of the other short-fours but it is the eighth which is simply superb and the pick of the lot. The hole sweeps to the left over the natural contours of the moor down to a narrow but raised green that runs away from us. Bigger hitters do have the option of trying to cut the corner and drive the green but this route must fly a large patch of gorse and you really want to be shooting straight down the green, even if that means being further back up the fairway.
The course gets quite linksy around the turn, particularly the 182-yard tenth, with sod-wall bunkers defending the green. The final par-three, the fine 17th, also has similar characteristics.
Of all the fine holes at Appleby it is the short 15th that is likely to be the most memorable. The almost blind “Bell Hole” is a 176-yard par-three that is as unique as they come. The setting is simply lovely, the teeing ground would make an idyllic picnic spot at the side of a babbling stream, and the deep bathtub green, fired to over a ravine and played to from the long-side, could produce hours of short-game fun. I think I took about a dozen photos of this hole as it looks marvellous from all angles.
At around the 450-yard mark the 11th and 16th add some steel to the course as does the final hole, the eighth par-four over 400-yards, as it gracefully brings us back to the clubhouse.
The course just flows so effortlessly over the land and the contours of the putting surfaces are simply perfect. This is a course that packs a big punch and comes with a huge thumbs-up from me.