Travel west from Gateshead and located close to the borders with Durham and Northumberland, Garesfield Golf Course has to rank as one of the most picturesque courses in the North East.
Designed by Harry Fernie in 1922, this lovely parkland course has matured into something very special and offers players of all abilities an experience to be savoured. The flora and fauna are everywhere and at certain times of the year, the course is awash with colour - Garesfield is a photographer's dream, so don't forget to take a camera with you.
But don't let the views detract you from the job in hand; the course is one of the better tests of golf in the region. Fernie certainly did his homework and has produced a lay-out which is fair if you play the course sensibly and punishing should you have an off day from the tees. Yes, there are a number of very strong par 4's where some golfers will struggle to get home in two but these are balanced out with shortish par 5's and a few short but tricky four-shotters, all good birdie chances.
But what impressed me the most on compiling this report was the quality and presentation of the course - it was immaculate. The greens were good, fairways neatly striped, rough trimmed, bunkers raked and too be honest, you couldn't be blamed for thinking that they had prepared for a major European PGA tournament - the green keepers and supporting members have done a fantastic job in preparing the course for the 2009 season.
And away from the course, the magnificent modern two-storey clubhouse offers superb views over the course and surrounding countryside. Visitors are more than welcome at Garesfield and their present special offer of £12 a round on Mondays and Wednesdays or £40 a fourball is real bargain.
Many golfers in the region forget about Garesfield and that's a big mistake. If I had to list my top five courses in the region, this one would definitely feature - it is picture perfect.
Measuring nearly 6500 yards and a par 72 from the medal tees, you have to make the most of the first five holes at Garesfield before the course begins to ask questions - it might pay to warm up properly and hopefully, by the time you reach the sixth tee a good score is already on the cards.
What is particularly attractive about the course is the actual layout and with four greens close to the clubhouse, you can play four, six, fifteen or a full eighteen holes and not have a long walk back.
The opening hole is a short tree-lined 292 yard par 4, played away from the club house and with the prevailing westerly wind; the longer hitters will be looking to get pretty close from the tee. There are two bunkers just short of the green and another front right to watch out for but a solid drive and an accurate pitch should result in a very good birdie opportunity.
Measuring 354 yards, the par 4 second is a tougher proposition and with trees left and right, any wayward tee-shots can be severely punished. The drive is slightly downhill to a narrow fairway and the approach is played uphill to a green, bunkered at the front and sloping back to front and right to left. Take care not to overshoot the target or you will be faced with a tricky pitch and putt to save par.
Next is a 474 yard par 5 aptly named 'Road Hole' and with out of bounds all along the right, accuracy at this one will reward the careful golfer. The big hitters maybe tempted to get home in two but leak the ball over the fence and you could be facing an insurance claim from an unsuspecting motorist!! Two sensible shots avoiding a bunker on the left 40 yards from the green will leave a short approach into a small target, protected by two bunkers at the front.
The fourth is a 159 yard par 3, played slightly uphill to a well defended green. And with out of bounds to the rear and tight right, you have to be careful from the tee - pick the right club and a good shot will be rewarded with a putt for birdie.
There then follows an easy par 5 and at 467 yards downhill, very reachable in two depending on the wind direction. Going for the green is a risk and reward shot, come up short and you will find a small very deep bunker at the front of the green and you have to take into account the out of bounds tight right and dense woodland at the back. Played as a three-shotter, this hole is another good birdie opportunity.
Played from an elevated tee, the 394 yard sixth is a different proposition altogether and a really tough par 4. Don't let your attention wander to the mass of flowering gorse in front of you, it might look pretty but find it and that's another ball lost. A good straight drive is needed to carry to the fairway and then a long uphill approach to a green bunkered front right - a par at this hole is always a good score.
The seventh is a downhill par 5 and at 511 yards, the longest hole on the course. The out of bounds fence and Chopwell Woods are along the right, so favour the left side of the wide fairway to avoid all the trouble. A well place second shot will leave a short pitch into a small green falling steeply away to the rear.
At 448 yards, the par 4 eighth is Garesfield's signature hole and similar to the previous hole, the woods and out of bounds are on the right. Played downhill to another generous fairway, a good drive at this one should leave a mid iron to an undulating bunkerless green, sloping left to right. Miss this green on the left and you could find a small water hazard and the danger of turning a good par 4 into a bogey or worse.
The ninth is a 357 yard par 4 and a dog-leg right. Named 'Crooked Oak', this hole is all about position from the tee to get a clear shot at the green. There are no bunkers to worry about and with the large oak trees bearing the impact scars of many approach shots, favour the left side of the fairway with the drive - this hole should maybe renamed 'Blasted Oaks'!
The back nine at Garesfield is considerably shorter but don't let that deceive you; there are a number of very tricky holes which can very quickly turn a good round into another ruined score card.
The tenth is a testing 180 yard par 3, played from an elevated tee over a ditch to an elevated green. There are two bunkers on the right and woods to the left waiting for any wayward tee-shots. The putting surface is small and should you end up above the hole, a slick downhill two putt is by no means a certainty.
Stroke index 1 is next, a very strong 435 yard par 4 and with trees left and right only a long straight drive will leave any chance of getting home in regulation. The second shot is played to a two-tier green protected by a bunker front left and sloping right to left at the front. Don't leak the approach shot to the right at this one, or your ball will find either a lateral water hazard or vanish into deep rough.
The drive at the 352 yard par 4 twelfth hole is steeply uphill over the marker post to a fairway that flattens out around the 150 yard marker. Having found the short grass, the second shot is played over a ditch 10 yards short of the green and defended by a bunker front right.
Another tough par 4 is next and at 441 yards, this hole can spell disaster. With the fairway sloping severely right to left towards thick gorse and trees, ideally a left to right tee-shot is required to counteract the slope. You are then left with a blind approach to a bunkerless green at the bottom of a steep slope. Miss this target left or run over the back and you will be find a steep down slope and the woods - making a par at this one will feel like a birdie.
The 176 yard par 3 fourteenth is not only a visually stunning golf hole, it's a real tester as well. Played from another elevated tee, it is all carry and having avoided the bunkers at the front, you really need to leave an uphill putt. If you end up above the hole, there is a real danger of three-putting.
At 386 yards, the par 4 fifteenth is played uphill back towards the club house and can be a real brute if played into the prevailing wind. Favour the right side of the fairway from the tee and let the right to left slope gather the ball towards the centre. The blind approach is not easy, it is uphill to a small green with a bunker front right - consider taking an extra club or two to make sure you reach the putting surface.
The sixteenth is a 500 yard par 5 with a left to right sloping fairway, lined with trees, bushes and gorse. There is also a lateral water hazard on the right to be wary of. This hole is normally a genuine three-shotter requiring a well placed second to avoid ending up in a deep gully and leaving a difficult blind pitch to a two-tiered green.
The penultimate hole is a 327 yard par 4, played downhill from the tee and then uphill to the green. The drive has to be straight and needs to find the centre of a fairway to leave a shortish approach to a putting surface falling away back left and sloping right to left.
The final hole is another demanding par 3 measuring 205 yards. Played slightly uphill, the tee-shot can be intimidating, especially into the wind and you are having to use a driver. The large two-tiered green has a bunker front left and with out of bounds at the back, you will do well to finish with a par.
And then it's off to the modern, comfortable club house where you can relax and contemplate on having played a very good course, set in a stunning location and a real genuine test of golf.
Course Name: Garesfield Golf Club
Address: Chopwell, Tyne & Wear, NE17 7AP
Contact: Secretary - 01207 561 309 Golf Shop - 01207 563 082, Club House - 01207 561 278 Fax: 01207 561 309
Location: From the A1 Western By-Pass, take the A694 to towards Consett. 500 yards after the shops at Rowlands Gill, turn right onto the B6315 sign-posted Greenside and Ryton. On reaching High Spen (approximately 3 miles) turn left into Glossop Street and head for Chopwell - the golf course is on the left.
Green Fees: Weekdays - £20 a round, £25 a day Weekends - £25 a round, Mondays & Wednesdays - £12 a round or £40 a fourball, Juniors - half price
Membership: Available - Adult Gents £470, Adult Ladies £410, 5 Day Memberships - Gents £380, Ladies £310, Juniors £50, Juniors over 18 and in Full Time Education £90, Students £260
Societies: Welcome - Various packages and group rates are available - details can be obtained from the Secretary on the above number. Please note that there is no catering available on a Monday
Buggies: Available - £15 a round, £18 a day