Sport fanatic and golf journalist Chris Bertram shares why – with two GB&I Top 100 courses and three in England’s Top 200 – he loves Norfolk. Here’s his pick of the best spots to play on the coast
Royal West Norfolk
The process of becoming intoxicated with the links of Royal West Norfolk begins before you step onto the 1st tee of this seaside course of character and soul. The journey between swaying reeds and twisting drive to the clubhouse begins this unique golfing experience. Then there is the homely red-brick clubhouse, where pre-round refreshment is an appealing prospect.
Finally there is one of the great pre-round walks in British golf, along a sand-blown, sleepered path and through black wrought iron gates bookended by granite posts carrying the names of members who fell in the wars.
A blackboard tells of the tide’s plans for the day and therefore when we must set off back along the drive to the dry land of the village of Brancaster, the name often given to RWN.
The quirkiness continues in the holes, designed by Holcombe Ingleby in 1892. Everyone will have their favourite but many, surely, will opt for the magnificent short 4th, surrounded by sleepers; the blind-drive 5th; the tide-dominated 8th and 9th and the fearsome par-3 15th.
Others will point to the tremendous par-5 10th, the cute green complex on the 12th and the bowl-shaped green in the 14th.
You get the idea. This is quite magnificent fun. And do play foursomes (sometimes you’ll have to), because that old-fashioned, fun form of the game is entirely fitting here.
Close to Brancaster geographically but very different in a golfing sense. Both are proper links (more rare than you think) but while Brancaster’s enjoyment is buttressed by quirks, Hunstanton is the championship course. Just seven miles apart but Hunstanton leans on championship pedigree and a subtle routing rather than mildly bewildering architectural features.
George Fernie and James Braid’s work has been enhanced in recent times by Martin Hawtree. The opening tee shot remains as daunting and thrilling as it always was; with the putting green and pro shop to your right and the bay window of the Secretary’s office in the clubhouse behind, you have to summon up a good swing to repel the prevailing wind off the left and find the fairway (not the enormous, menacing bunker) of this right to left-shaped opener.
The course’s best-known hole is the par-3 7th, played from a raised – and therefore brutally exposed – tee, you must fly your ball over a deep gully and a cavernous bunker and try to hold the green.
Another short hole at 16 – played downhill with an uncluttered view of the North Sea beyond and surrounded by sand pits – is also superb, but surpassed by the next, a classic par 4 with a ledge-like green hard against the dune line.
Down the coast from the Brancaster and Hunstanton elite is one of the most spectacular courses in Great Britain and Ireland.
The uphill 1st is not what you were looking for in all honesty and it is part of a relatively modest start. But then you climb onto the 5th tee and you think you are in golfing heaven.
From this lofty position you see everything, in all directions. It might take you a few moments to get all the camera pictures that you want, but then you can enjoy the golf holes. The trio from the 5th are fabulous, matching all that the likes of Nefyn and Old Head can muster… yet they are not the only attraction of Sheringham. The holes around the turn are excellent while the stretch from the 15th alongside the railway to finish is excellent – especially the 17th.
Ranked in the Top 200 in England, Royal Cromer is a course of great history and great appeal. Like Sheringham, it’s perched on the clifftops and this 125-year-old course has never been in better condition; ask long-time members and they will tell you there is nowhere in better nick in Norfolk.
Bunkering has been tightened up and the 9th has been transformed into one of the highlights. The signature hole, however, remains the gorse-enclosed 14th – ‘The Lighthouse’ – which Tony Jacklin once named as one of his favourite holes in England, the green sitting next to the working lighthouse.
A look on the map suggests this will be another links or clifftop course. In fact, despite its seaside situation, this is a heathland-woodland affair – and a very, very good one at that.
Another Top 100 England course, it was laid out in the 1970s by Dave Thomas and Peter Alliss after the club, founded in 1923, saw the potential of some excellent terrain on this sandy site.
The soil makes for superb turf from which to hit from but you have to be accurate here or the tree-lined fairways – including plenty of dog-legs – will have you constantly stymied.
It is the ideal entry or exit course on a trip to Norfolk from the north and if you leave it off your itinerary, you are making an error.