FOUNDED in 1900, the links at Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club, with its unrivalled views of Embleton Bay and Dunstanburgh Castle’s ghostly ruins is still a gem which continues to taunt golfers as it has for over a century.
These links were initially owned by Dunstanburgh Castle Estate and came into being as an attraction for visitors to the Dunstanburgh Castle Hotel. Prior to the First World War, this new nine-hole course appeared to attract the more wealthy golfers – in the summer children would be looked after by nannies as they played on the beach whilst the adults enjoyed a round of golf.
In 1919, the course along with the rest of the Dunstanburgh estate was purchased by Sir Arthur Munro Sutherland, owner of a successful steamship company and later, owner of the Newcastle Chronicle chain of newspapers
The following year Sir Arthur employed the services of James Braid, one of Britain’s outstanding golf course architects. It was his intention to remodel the nine-hole course within 12 months and to implement Braid’s design for an 18-hole course within three or four years.
Although the first stage was completed on time, the extension to the course did not materialise and it wasn’t until 1932 before three holes were added followed by a further three in 1935.
Two years later Braid’s design was finally completed and following a wait of 17 years, visitors could now enjoy this masterpiece of a course.
Sir Arthur died in 1953 and two years later, his son Sir Ivan purchased the course from his father’s executors. In 1961, Sir Ivan gifted the golf course to the National Trust but retained the lease which was later transferred to his son William.
Towards the end of the 1980s, a new 80-year lease was negotiated by the current lessee Dr Peter Gilbert allowing the club to make significant investment in new machinery to improve the maintenance of the course and a much- needed upgrade of the clubhouse.
Dr Gilbert is a man totally committed to maintaining this historic golf course as well as preserving the flora and fauna on and around the course. In 2007, Dr Gilbert’s head greenkeeper at the time, Simon Olver, was awarded the Special Initiative prize in the British and International Greenkeepers Association Golf Environment Competition.
With six holes to the north of the well- appointed clubhouse and the remaining 12 to the south, the location of the course is marvellous and the superb backdrop is completed by a National Trust bird sanctuary at one end and the imposing ruins of the castle along with a sheer cliff face, nesting place of countless seabirds at the other.
And following all the freezing snowy weather of recent times, this fast draining links course offers enjoyable golf all year round.
With a tough start and an even tougher finish, you will have to be at your best to play to your handicap at Dunstanburgh Castle.
Not particularly long, 6,374 yards off the medal tees and 6,039 from the yellows, the course offers a very good test for golfers of all abilities and should the prevailing wind get up beware!
The par for the course is 70 and with records tumbling in recent years at other courses in our region, the course record of 67 carded by R Lumsden from Matfen Hall in May 2000 is an indication that these links have to be treated with respect.
The 1st hole at 435yds is a difficult start and you need to warm up properly to avoid dropped shots. The hole dog-legs to the right and is played slightly uphill.
Having avoided the bunker on the right at the corner of the dog-leg, the approach shot is played uphill to a two-tier green with out of bounds left, a bunker front right and lots of deep rough at the back – an opening par 4 is always a good score at this hole.
Next is a short par 4, played uphill and a dog-leg left. The fairway slopes severely to the right towards deep gorse so aim for the left side to leave a short uphill pitch to a target that is defended by two bunkers at the front and falling away to the right and rear - a good birdie chance.
The 3rd hole is a 389yd downhill par four and a sharp dog-leg left. The longer hitters maybe tempted to go for the green at this one – but beware, you will be playing over a sea of gorse! A sensible long iron to the corner followed by an accurate mid to short iron should find the putting surface.
At 160yds, the par 3 4th at Dunstanburgh is a classic. The plateau green is not an easy target, falling away steeply at the front and on both sides – Phil Mickleson would have difficulty in saving par if he missed this green!
A good drive at the 289yd par 4 5th hole will get pretty close to the green. The fairway slopes right to left and provided you miss the bunker on the right, 50 yards short of the green, a par or better should be on the card.
The 6th is simply a magnificent golf hole with one of the finest views in Northumberland. The drive is played from a very elevated tee and should be aimed right of centre. Go left at this one and you will be in big trouble and probably having to play a provisional. Find the fairway and you will be left with a mid-iron approach to a tricky, well defended, very small target.
The fairway at the short 312yd par 4 7th hole rises slightly and then drops down before rising up to the green. There is a bunker on the right to be wary of from the tee but this shouldn’t come into play. A steady drive to the centre of the fairway will leave a short pitch to a bunkerless target – a very good birdie chance.
The 8th is another par 4, played from an elevated tee to a fairway that dog-legs left. There are two bunkers front right and one front left of the target to avoid and make sure you take enough club, the putting surface slopes severely downwards at the front of this green.
You will need two accurate, well hit shots to reach the final hole on the front nine and at 439yds a par 4 is always a good score. From the tee, aim slightly right of the castle and hope for a good bounce to get the ball rolling. The long second shot is played to a small target, bunkered at the front and sloping right to left.
Played from an elevated tee, the 10th is another strong par 4 measuring 430yds. Watch out for the bunker on the right and any shot going left will be in the dunes or on the beach. The well defended green is not an easy target, so take a little time with club selection for your approach.
The 11th is only 311yds where a good drive should leave only a short approach to a slightly raised green – a par or better should be on the card after playing this hole.
There then follows another tough par 4 and at 425yds, the longer hitters have a definite advantage. There is gorse and deep rough on the right to take into account, so aim left of centre from the tee. The uphill second shot is played to another elevated green, bunkered on both sides.
The short 13th is next and one of the best par 3s in the region. Measuring only 135yds, miss this green and you will be in serious trouble. The tee shot is played over a rocky inlet to a bunkerless green with out-of-bounds tight right. It may only be a short iron but when the wind blows, watch out!
The 14th is the longest hole on the course and the only par 5. At 537yds, two good shots to the left side of the fairway should leave a short iron to a small target and another good birdie chance.
Only 122yds, you have to be very careful with your tee shot at the 15th. The saucer shaped target is very small, falling away steeply at the back and to the right – miss this green and your chipping skills will be severely tested.
The 16th is a 396yd par 4 with out of bounds all along the left and a slight dog-leg right. There are bushes on the left and two bunkers front left and another at the back of a severely sloping green to worry about should you mishit the second shot. Don’t concede any putts here, the best of putters will have difficulty in reading this green.
The final two holes at Dunstanburgh are both tough par 4s and a very good finish. Avoid the bunkers from the tee at the 413yd 17th and you will be left with a mid-iron to quite a large well defended green sloping left to right. Then it’s the 18th – a 444yd monster where the majority of amateur golfers will be laying up with their second shots and playing it as a par 5. There is a stream 20yds short of the green and with out-of-bounds tight left and a well hidden bunker on the right, only the bravest will be attempting to get home in two.
Having played this outstanding course, you will leave the Northumberland coastline with a memory which will stay with you for ever.
Name: Dunstanburgh Castle Golf Club
Address: Embleton, Northumberland, NE66 3XQ
Telephone: 01665 576562
Location: From the north - from Berwick (A1) for 23 miles. Take a left on to the B6347 for four miles towards Christon Bank and then follow signs to Embleton.
From the south - stay on the A1 after reaching Alnwick and take turn off to Denwick, turn right on to the B1339 and travel two miles. On reaching Embleton, turn right at sign for golf course on to a local road and the clubhouse can be found half a mile on the right.
Green fees: Weekdays £26 a round, £32 a day, Weekends £30 a round, £38 a day
Juniors - Weekdays £11, weekends £14 (The course is reserved between 0830hrs & 0930hrs on Saturdays and between 0700hrs & 1000hrs on Sundays for club competitions)
Memberships: Available - No joining fee; £350, juniors (under 18) £180, youth (18-21) £275
Buggies: Available - subject to course conditions