The North East has long deserved another world-class golf course. Rockliffe Hall, near Darlington, is certainly that - and a whole lot more.
The 300-acre course, which sits next to the River Tees and Middlesbrough Football Club's impressive Hurworth training complex, is the longest 18-holer in Europe at an amazing 7879 yards off the championship tees.
But don't worry, with five tee positions in all - ranging from the women's 5812 yards to 6441 off the yellow, 6786 off white and 7220 off the black tees.
Award-winning course architect Marc Westenborg has created not only one of the longest and most challenging courses in European golf, but a scenic gem in some truly stunning countryside.
The course has also been created with the environment in mind and Westenborg - responsible for a string of top-class courses including Dun Laoghaire in Ireland - incorporated three new lakes and eight beautiful reed beds into his design.
He's also made excellent use of the existing parkland that surrounded the historic Rockliffe Hall, while 25,000 new and mature trees have been planted.
Westenborg has also taken great care with the different grasses he has introduced, the marram that fringes the fairways giving a remarkable links feel and look to the course.
There's also a big emphasis on the bunkering with some fairly spectacularly shaped sand traps, notably around the greens.
It all adds up to a layout that is simply stunning and owes much to contemporary American styling.
What's more, the course is backed by a staggering array of state-of-the-art facilities.
For a start, there's a comprehensive practice and academy facility that features a 300-yard driving range, with both covered and grass teaching bays, a short game practice area with fairway bunkers and a practice putting green.
Tuition, offered by head professional Tom Godwin and his staff, is similarly cutting edge, with the latest video technology.
The stunning 14,000 sq ft clubhouse is wood-clad and blends into the contours of the land.
Nestling just off the 18th green, it exudes quality with luxurious changing rooms (complete with showers and waste bins that even open and close without needing to be touched), a spikes bar and lounge bar with an extensive all-day menu serving "British classics", and panoramic views over the course.
There's also a very well-stocked pro shop while the meet and greet valet service adds a touch of real luxury.
The golf staff at Rockliffe Hall pride themselves on the high level of service they offer, yet the atmosphere is relaxed and informal.
The golfing facilities are just part of the Rockliffe Hall complex though.
The old hall, which dates back to 1774 and had been empty for several years until being bought by Middlesbrough FC in 1996, has now been redeveloped into a 61-bedroom hotel with a top-class restaurant as well as a 50,000 sq ft spa.
Considering Rockliffe Hall has only been open a few months, it is in an amazing condition and it's hard not to believe that the course has been there for decades.
The green are already very true and well paced while the fairways are immaculate and the rough well rooted.
Once the new planting has properly matured, Rockliffe Hall will no doubt be ranked amongst England's finest courses.
Things get underway with a nice par 4 of 415 yards (off the challenging white tees, which we'll use for all the yardage in this review though the yellows do offer a less demanding test). The tee is elevated and offers a lovely view down to the green, there's rough on both sides and mature clump of trees on the left and water further down on the right. As is the case with all of the greens, the gently undulating putting surface is well protected by sand on all sides.
The 146-yard par 3 2nd features water to the left and another well-protected green that also falls away to the rear.
To complete the diverse nature of the opening holes, the 3rd is a 522-yard par 5 with a fairly narrow fairway that snakes its way to a green tucked away on the left behind deep water. It's a pretty tough hole considering it's ranked as the second easiest on the course.
There's more water on the par 4 388-yard 4th. Longer hitters can take on the corner of the lake here to leave themselves with a generous line and short iron into the green - but it's a risky option. Mere mortals will have to aim straight ahead but drop short of the fairway bunkers and face a much tighter approach between more bunkers on the left and water on the right. It's the tough nature of the second shot that earns this hole its SI1 rating.
A contender for Rockliffe Hall's signature hole follows at the 5th. This 162-yard par 3 features a raised island green that is totally surrounded by water apart from a narrow grass path. With bunkers to both sides and steep banks all round, it's no easy task to find the green, though the rough should hold anything just slightly wayward.
The 6th is a scenic par 4 that measures 373 yards and doglegs right. There's a fairway bunker on the right corner and another across to the left while the green is protected by sand to the left and it drops away sharply to the rear.
Seven is a tough par 5 of 553 yards - it's an amazing 111 yards further from the championship tee). You need a good straight drive here, as there's some nasty rough away to the left and formidable banks of fairway bunkers on both sides. Water will come into play on the right for your second shot while there's a bunker bang in front of the green.
The 8th is a long par 4 of 436 yards. There's water all the way up the right and a fairway bunker on the left. The green is particularly hard to hit as it has a narrow entrance, falls away right and has sand on the left.
The front nine concludes with another contender for signature hole. This 414-yard par 4 bends slightly right uphill, with lovely views of the old hall, and cuts through the mature trees of the original park. There's a bunker on the left and another on the right just in front of the two-tiered green.
The back nine begins with a testing par 4 of 430 yards that doglegs left. The land drops away on both sides of what is a pretty tight fairway but be careful if you aim right as a lake comes into play around 180 yards from the tee. The water continues all the way up the right to the raised green, which is further protected by a huge bunker on the left. Take care with your approach here as anything on the left of the green may fall away into the water.
The par 4 411-yard 11th is almost a carbon copy of its predecessor, though there's no water here just lots of rough and an array of bunkers at driving distance on the right. The fairway is again quite tight while the green seems to sit on a battery of menacing-looking bunkers.
The 12th is a par 3 of 167 yards and the green again affords a pretty tough target with sand to the right and a steep drop away on the left.
The 513-yard par 5 13th does offer the opportunity of opening the shoulders from the tee, but the fairway narrows from the right and there's some thick rough on both sides. Up ahead, there are fairway bunkers waiting to gobble up your second shot and the green, which slopes away front and back, has a huge bunker on the right.
A par 4 of 371 yards follows. The difficulty here lies in the narrowing fairway, between a bunker on the right and a slope on the left, as well as another heavily bunkered long green.
The 15th might be a par 3 but it's rated as the second toughest hole at Rockliffe Hall. That's because of its length (190 yards off white and an incredible 242 off the
championship tees), as well as the water that flows all the way along the right and the big bunker on the left (from which it's a relatively simple splash out across to the water). A potential card-wrecker.
Things don't seem to get any easier at the 548-yard par 5 16th with out-of-bounds all the way up the left and some nasty rough, trees and a bunker on the right. There are more bunkers both sides short of the green, which slopes away on all sides and is somewhat tucked away on the right.
Seventeen is another stunning hole with out-of-bounds and water on the left and trees, rough and a nasty fairway bunker on the right. It's all uphill with the sloping green hidden away beyond yet more swathes of sand.
The final hole is a very tricky customer. A par 4 of 372 yards, the green is obscured up on the left by several mighty trees. Indeed, to get a good view of the flag for your second shot you'll probably need to find a drive of at least 230 yards but there's water on the right and a couple of fairly advanced fairway bunkers. Don't go left whatever you do as beyond the trees, which actually stick out into the middle of the fairway, there's out-of-bounds. The putting surface itself is guarded by another bunker to the front, a deep hollow on the right with the out-of-bounds tight in to the left.
There's absolutely no doubt that Rockliffe Hall already ranks as one of the hardest tests of golf in the north - and one of the most enjoyable.
All in all, it's a fantastic playing experience, though it's certainly worth investing in the excellent strokesaver before you set off as it should make things a tad simpler.
Course Name: Rockliffe Hall.
Address: Hurworth-on-Tees, Darlington, County Durham, DL2 2DU.
Contact: Telephone: 01325-729980
Location: From the A1 or A19 north and south, take the A66 exit and head towards Darlington. At the roundabout on the outskirts of Darlington, follow the A167 towards Northallerton. At Croft-on-Tees, just before the bridge across the River Tees, turn left into Hurworth Road. Follow the road uphill. The entrance to Rockliffe Hall is on the right after about half a mile.
Green Fees: Contact the pro shop on 01325-729980.
Membership: Available. Contact Jonny Mould on 01325-729973 or send an email to: email@example.com
Societies/Visiting parties: Welcome. Contact the pro shop on 01325-729980 for details