It 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.
The highlight of the front side is actually a double-whammy and comes in the form of the sixth and seventh holes. The plateau green complex at the former, a hole of just 339 yards, is truly word-class whilst the next, a medium length par-three, is one of the loveliest, albeit intimidating, looking short holes you will find; a gigantic wooden-faced bunker is a real threat from the tee and must be carried if you are to find the green, framed on either side by large dunes.
The run for home actually starts at the par five ninth; a fine driving hole with a wonderfully flowing approach and a shallow two-tiered green. The excellent tenth makes an about turn and has a burn running most of the way down the preferable left-hand-side from where you play to a brilliant green setting that just slides off the sand dunes on the left.
I can only imagine how difficult the final eight holes play when the prevailing wind is present; they are tricky to say the least with a tail-wind! For the most part they play on the seaward side of a long dune-ridge that splits the course in two, however, holes 12, 13 and 14 traverse the ridge which therefore brings a cross-wind into play. The bunkerless 11th, running through a shallow valley, is as subtle as it is superb and, although I didn’t care too much for 12 and 14, the 13th is spectacular; the drive is sublime where you can choose to play shorter and to the left for a clear and descending view to the green or get much closer by driving down the right for a shorter approach but at the expense of visibility. Either option leaves a second shot over bumpy, rough ground.
On all of my travels I’m not sure if I can recall a finish as good and as strong as the one at Hunstanton. The short par-five 14th is tremendous fun with a splattering of bunkers to avoid from the tee, as the fairway deceivingly kinks to the right, and a green that has a cunning little drop-off to the right. The 16th is an excellent one-shotter with a necklace of bunkers to defend the wickedly sloping green.
And then you reach the 17th, a magnificent hole that sweeps to the right, rises slightly and slopes from the high-sided left all the way. The approach is nothing short of brilliant. There is a slither of flattish land just short of the green that will give a mostly predictable bounce as you aim to find a narrow green with a steep fall-off to the right. The dilemma is that if you tug your ball too far left you are on the wrong side of a ridge and quite simply in deadsville and from where your subsequent shot in all likelihood will end up running across the green and down the bank on the right.
Meanwhile, the closing hole at Hunstanton is straight out of the top drawer too. At 446 yards it plays just shorter than the penultimate hole but is equally challenging, thanks again to a wonderful green complex that is not dissimilar to the previous hole (although now softened with recent renovation work). Here the green is wedged up close to the clubhouse with onlookers ever-present.
There’s no doubting Hunstanton is a first-class links course and whilst I can’t say that it is one of my personal favourites it’s clearly deserving of its status as one of England’s finest. It’s sneaky good and one I suspect will grow on me with repeated plays.
Following a 4:00am alarm call we’d already driven for more than six hours and covered over 350 road miles before boarding a ferry at Oban sailing to Lochboisdale.
The Halifax Golf Club, often better known as Ogden, is a course that divides opinion.