MIDDLESBROUGH’S reputation as one of the premier clubs in the North East was assured more than 70 years ago when they asked James Braid to design their new course at Brass Castle Lane.
Five-times Open champion Braid produced a string of impressive lay-outs and Middlesbrough is among them, but that hasn’t stopped the club, which was founded in 1908 at Saltersgill Farm, pursuing a consistent programme or renovation and improvement which continues today.
Braid fully exploited the natural ravines and undulating land at Brass Castle. The course was officially opened in April 1939 with new holes built in the woodland in 1990 to give us the course we have today.
It’s a testament to the quality of the course that it has produced a British Amateur Champion (Martin Thompson), two Walker Cup players (Martin Thompson and Michael Skelton), and Brabazon Trophy winner (Jonathon Lupton), but under the guidance of John Talbot, who arrived as their course manager in 2005 after a spell at Beamish, Middlesbrough embarked on a project which is ongoing with Howard Swan Golf Designs, who have a reputation for adapting Braid courses to the modern world while remaining true to the original designer’s intents and plans.
Talbot, who has a string of qualifications and is rated one of the top greenkeepers in the country, has overseen the improvements which include 10 new fairway bunkers, three of them at the second and 18th and four on the ninth, plus new back tees at the fourth, 14th and 18th, greens being brought up to USGA specification, while two new ponds and a stream are planned at the 11th.
The quality and organisation of the work hasn’t caused any problems with play on the course. This is due in no small part to Talbot and manager/secretary Ian Jackson, who arrived at the club in February.
Although a native of the North East, he hails from County Durham, he has been in golf management for more than 20 years at Bearwood Lakes, The London Club, Highgate and Tiverton.
Middlesbrough also have a worthy successor to Don Jones in professional Gordon Cattrell, who arrived at Brass Castle in 2009 having been head pro at Crook.
Gordon undertook a complete shop refit, which now stocks all the biggest names in golf equipment and his teaching facilities include the latest GASP technology and the Explanar system as well as an indoor teaching bay.
Having been accredited with the EGU Golfmark Award and Sport England’s Clubmark the club is fast becoming recognised as one of the North East’s foremost junior development facilities.
One of the major plusses at Middlesbrough, besides the course, is its extensive and attractive clubhouse which boasts all the facilities you’d expect.
Situated five miles south of Middlesbrough the course has stunning views of the Cleveland Hills and is a joy to play as many have found, not least some of the country’s top young players who arrive every year to play in the North of England Open Amateur Youths Championship – a tournament started and run by the club itself – which has grown to attract national and international backing from the major golf bodies.
It is now an R&A world ranking tournament.
A 16-year-old Sandy Lyle and Richard Boxall are among the winners of what is rated a very prestigious tournament. Boxall set a new course record in each of the three rounds and was on his way to doing it again before the tournament was curtailed because of bad weather.
There are many attractive and challenging holes. The tree-lined short fourth, now 197 yards off the new back tee, which can go to 205, the dog-leg 11th which will look even better and play tougher with the new ponds and stream, and the eighth which has been described by many as one if the most attractive holes they have played.
At 6,328 yards off the back it’s not a long course, although with a par of 70 it’s long enough for most, and the key is accuracy off the tee. The fairways are generous enough, but stray too far off line and you will have problems.