The setting is one of the most dramatic, animated and pretty that I have ever played. Don't be fooled by the picturesque landscape though because this course does have teeth and will bite if you don't show it respect.
It has been debated previously if Sheringham can be classed as a 'true' links golf course. Both Donald Steel and Tom Doak refer to it as more of a 'downland' course. It is indeed played over the glacial clifftops of this seaside town and if wandering through large sand dunes is a prerequisite of yours for links golf then you'll find none here. But for me Sheringham plays every inch a top links course... and then some.
It is laid out on exposed land between the cliff edge and the North Norfolk Railway line. The crash and bash of the North Sea waves pounding the rocks below is ever-present during your round and passing trains (often a steam train evoking memories from a bygone age) is a regular occurrence on the inland side. The turf is good and there are lots of natural undulations in the ground. There are also large areas of gorse that frame many of the holes, none more impressive than a huge bank of bright yellow behind the 11th and 17th greens.
I originally enjoyed the course on a gloomy, murky day when the encroaching sea-haar reduced visibility to less than 100 yards. As a result I didn't get to see some of the early holes in all their glory but even without perfect vision I was still able to ascertain they were solid holes. The mist cleared towards the end of the front-nine revealing the full and beautiful expanse of the course. On subsequent rounds the course has always been displayed in all its stunning beauty.
The first hole is a perfect opener. A relatively short but uphill par four with a raised green nestled at the foot of a bank of gorse. You should make a par here but any hint of carelessness - a nasty bunker awaits on the left at around 200 yards and the green falls off sharply to the left - and you could easily find yourself in trouble from the get-go.
The second, third and fourth continue the momentum of the round nicely with a downhill par-five before you return along the cliffs in the form of a long par four which is then followed by a shorter one where there are multiple decisions to be made from the tee.
The fifth is rightly the signature hole at Sheringham. It is a par four of over 450 yards and is not surprisingly stroke index one. From an elevated tee you drive down to the fairway with the cliffs on your right. The hole slopes and sweeps from right to left and narrows the closer you get to your target. The green is positioned such that visually it appears that only the most precise shot will find the putting surface and anything else will leave you in a precarious position. There is more than a hint of Ballybunion about it. However, like many great holes, once on the green it's not as bad as first thought but none-the-less a par here is a worthy commodity. The tee-shot on this hole is one of the most photographed in golf but the best view of this wonderful two-shotter is from the fourth green where the side look you get of the hole displays all its virtues.
The sixth, a 200 yard par three, is also a stunning hole played along the 'tops' in the same direction. It has an inspiring tee-shot to the green below and a wonderful vista. The par five seventh, culminating in a fantastic green complex, also follows the coastline and whilst this is your last real brush with the seashore its spirit and sound is still ever-present throughout your round at Sheringham.
The short eighth is framed by four unusual wind-bent trees and the outward half is completed with the ninth which has a lovely descending approach to it and allows you to work the ball in along the ground, something that is encouraged several times during the round.
The drive on ten is another inviting shot across a shallow valley with a series of imposing bunkers alternating up either the side of the fairway. The par-three 11th is a real gem, well protected by bunkers requiring an aerial route and benefiting from the previously mentioned stunning backdrop of gorse. The green is tilted quite significantly and being below the hole is important.
Twelve is another visually terrific hole. It's named 'Charity' but at 425 yards with gorse and bunkers to contend with there is none forthcoming. The two bunkers on the inner-elbow of this left-to-right dogleg make it such a good hole and encourage you to bite off as much as you can but in reality an approach from the left is usually preferred.
Holes 13 and 14 are medium length par fours and seemingly offer a little respite but as ever with links golf the devil is in the detail and you can quickly find yourself out of position. Depending upon the hole location getting to the flag is often only possible if you are on the correct side of the fairway. Indeed this is one of the strongest aspects of Sheringham; relatively generous from the tee but you must be in the right spot to attack the holes otherwise you can find yourself gradually getting out of position.
After the 190-yard 16th you play three superb par fours that complete a glorious run for home alongside the railway. The 16th is a delightful hole with an angled green but it is the 17th that is the pick of the trio. From the medal tees a drive along the railway line is required before playing to a lovely green on the hillside with gorse and trees creating a surreal half-amphitheatre. It was here back in 1920 that Joyce Wethered made the famous "What train?" remark after being asked if the afternoon rattler out of Sheringham had distracted her whilst she was putting to close out her first English Ladies Championship. I can imagine the scene so very clearly.
Sheringham is a course that will be enjoyed by all abilities (I hate that phrase but it is so true here). There are only a few forced carries and the course offers plenty of width. The greens are good and have gradual undulations providing a good test but they are not too fierce to be frightening.
The early stretch of clifftop holes are renowned (and rightly so) and the closing holes along the railway line are also often praised (again rightly so) but one shouldn't underestimate the middle part of the course either as it is here where some really good holes can be found.
Playing Sheringham on my first ever visit in such murky conditions was quite an eerie yet at the same time brilliant experience. Subsequent rounds have simply reaffirmed my appreciation of the layout.
The course has a perfect mix of holes, is usually conditioned to the highest standard and in my mind is unequivocally 100% true links.