The 6,400 yard course was designed by Harry Colt in 1924 and is laid out on what was then Brancepeth Castle Deer Park. It plays to a par of 70 but rightfully has a SSS of 71 from the blue tees.
The first tee is located down a lovely wooded path from the clubhouse (formerly the stables and coach house for the deer park) and this sets a lovely tone for the round where you traverse some beautiful countryside.
A deep ravine cuts through the heart of the property and provides some particularly challenging shots and in essence this is what elevates Brancepeth above other golf courses of similar ilk.
Indeed Colt has created a set of par-threes which are as exciting and also as dangerous as they come. Four of the five must directly cross the hazard with the 154-yard second hole an early introduction to the splendour of these daring short holes.
If you can get through the back-to-back ninth and tenth holes, one-shotters topping the 200-yard mark which cross the hazard in opposite directions, in a reasonable score your job isn’t quite done but you will be well on your way to a good round because there are some birdie chances from here on in.
The second and ninth are the clear highlights of the course; both are played to angled greens with steep drop-offs on the right but a banking on the left allows you to bounce a ball onto the putting surface… if judge correctly. With back-right pins; at the second it is very much a case of deciding how much you dare go for the flag whereas at the ninth – where Brancepeth Castle looms large over the green - you must really try and feed your ball onto the front edge of the green with a forward trajectory allowing it to release down towards the hole. Both are holes which will handsomely reward a well-executed shot but severely punish anything less than average.
The remaining holes don’t quite live up to the same standard as the excellent par-threes but you will still find plenty of entertaining and challenging golf. Many of the holes have fairways with a slight cant so you must either allow for this or shape your drives into the slope to remain on the short and narrow. It’s worth noting that lush, wiring grass borders the fairways and green surrounds, therefore, accuracy is essential here.
The first is a cute opener where it may prove dividends to lay back a little from the tee for a full shot into a green that falls away from you. The same could be said at the fourth too because it’s possible to run out of fairway when the ground is firm, which it notoriously is for most of the year.
Very well located bunkers at the sixth and 12th – both par fives – add to the strategy of Brancepeth Castle which can also be seen in a number of the par fours. The eighth and 14th are a couple that I will highlight because neither exceeds 335-yards but can cause a heap of pain if you find yourself out of position and where the small undulating greens are perfect for this type hole.
There are a few mundane holes along the way too – as is nearly always the case at most courses – but the only one I didn’t really like was the 18th where a drive across a valley should set up a short approach to the green if you can clear the upslope; it just seemed rather an uneventful way to end what is a very lively course.
The Club has played host to the final of the English County Championships and the English Ladies Amateur Championships. For my visit I played in the Leonard Crawley Medal – an annual 36-hole scratch competition – and it was no surprise to see a full field such is the reputation locally.
It was also pleasing to find that the greens played nice and firm despite recent rainfall. You could hold a ball from the fairway with spin but out of the rough you really had to think carefully about where you needed to land the ball.
I played a number of other top-end parkland courses around the same time as I did Brancepeth and whilst it might just be edged out by some of the more prestigious venues down in Hertfordshire and surrounding counties it stands proud as one of the best fast-running inland courses in the North of England.
Copt Heath is a very fine parkland golf course that requires precision, plotting and a deft touch around the slick greens.
The Blue is a mix of American-style design and traditional English parkland. It's an unusual combination which makes the most of the terrain available. It was designed by Simon Gidman and opened in 1994.