Clean & placing ball on fairways.
Plugged ball through the green can be lifted, cleaned and dropped.
Light spiking and top dressing this week
Stimpmeter Reading: 8 (1st April)
Designed by the world famous architect Harry Colt in 1924 and laid out on what was Brancepeth Castle Deer Park, the stables and coach house being converted into the clubhouse. Harry Colt was involved in designing or redesigning over 300 courses around the world, including Moor Park, Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Wentworth.
Brancepeth is a beautiful parkland course of 6400 yards, SSS 71, offering a great variation of holes. The deep ravine cutting through the course, provides some challenging tee shots.
We are pleased to be recognised as one of the top 100 courses in Britain and Ireland and one of the finest in the North East. The club has played host to the final of the English County Championships and the English Ladies Amateur Championships.
The Club House is built from natural stone hewn at Littleburn Quarry some two miles away and is entered by passing through an archway and crossing the original cobblestone courtyard with its stone centrepiece, originally used as a watering trough for horses.
Leaving the Club House and walking down the path towards the first tee provides a first glimpse of the Castle and St. Brandon’s Church. Going through the gate and on to the first tee gives an immediate impression of the character of the course and its magnificent deciduous trees. The silver birch trees (Betula Jacquamonti) on the right between the 1st fairway and 18th green were planted to mark the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. Originally there were 25 trees, one for each year of her reign and they were planted by members of the Club who had been members for over 25 years.
Following a good drive a lofted club to the green will usually suffice but be warned that the green slopes heavily away from the player. The steep slope is the result of mining subsidence and the green was originally quite flat. The mine workings under the course were very near to the surface and it is alleged that at quiet times, typically on members bridge evenings, miners could be heard working underneath the club house. Par figures are acceptable at any time.
At the second hole, the original Colt tee is to the left and the ravines that Brancepeth is famous for are seen for the first time. The green is on a shelf which was formed on the hillside entirely by hand. A well placed tee shot is needed to give a chance of making a par 3 and a ball played short of the green can, particularly in summer, run all the way down to the stream in the bottom of the ravine.
The main feature on the 3rd hole is a fine stand of beech trees just to the right of the fairway at about driving distance for the average player. A bunker to the left of the fairway means that the drive, which is blind, is fairly tight. Leaving the tee the player is now on part of the old road that led to the Greenkeeper’s shed which was located in the copse between the 16th green and the 17th tee. A very accurate second shot is needed to obtain par figures. An excellent par 4 hole.
The original Colt tee is next to the boundary fence and at first glance the hole is a straight forward par 4. Just in front of the green there is a wide grassy cross ditch which means that good club selection and a well placed shot are required to obtain par. In the opinion of Peter Alliss the second shot to this green is the most demanding shot on the golf course.
The 5th is the only straightforward par 3 hole on the course, if a hole of more than 200 yds often played into the wind can be considered straightforward! There are greenside bunkers to the left and right of the green and, because most shots move from right to left on pitching, the entrance to the green is deceptively narrow.
This is the longest hole on the course and play is usually affected by the prevailing left to right wind. Two good wood shots and a bit more are needed to reach the green which is set on a small plateau and the slope at the front of the green adds to the difficulty on this hole. Conifers to the right of the fairway were donated by the Wood Brothers (as in the Sir Arthur Wood Cup). The Copse originally was much larger but during the 1939-45 war the Golf Club allowed some trees to be cut and used as Christmas trees by the residents of Brancepeth Village. Bunkers on this fairway were relocated and reshaped in 1994. A par is always very satisfying.
From the tee there is a magnificent view of the Castle against the backdrop of the hills and woods above Brancepeth Village. This is a most spectacular sight on a summer’s evening. To the left of the 7th fairway over the Page Bank Road are three houses which provided accommodation for Officers and are all that remains of the army camp that was situated there until the mid 1960’s and at its peak provided quarters for 10,000 men. The site has been open cast mined for coal and restored as agricultural land. Always a satisfying par 4.
The 8th is the first in a run of four marvellous holes in which Colt used the ravines to spectacular effect. Immediately in front of the tee is a deep ravine through which the Brancepeth Beck flows and the original bridge can be seen at stream level. Using this bridge involved a steep descent from the tee and an equally steep ascent to the fairway but mercifully a new bridge was built in 1928 by a Mr Greener who was a member of the Club.
The cost of the new bridge, a picturesque timber trestle structure, was £124 and, crossing the ravine at high level, it has saved countless golfers a great deal of energy. When the Durham Light Infantry was based at Brancepeth the Army played an important part in the maintenance of the bridge, the work being regarded as good practical training. The ravine crosses the hole diagonally and modest hitters must play it as a dog-leg. Longer hitters can play directly towards the flag but even so are faced with a tricky shot to a long narrow green. Good club selection is essential and, although short, the 8th is an excellent par 4.
This is the signature hole of Brancepeth Castle Golf Course and the area it occupies was part of the Castle gardens. Many of the numerous paths and walkways in those gardens are still visible today. In front of the tee and to the left is a magnificent cedar tree. This is “Cedrus Libani” ssp Atlantico Glauca otherwise known as the Cedar of Lebanon. It has been said that this particular tree was planted to commemorate a visit by old Queen Mary to Brancepeth Castle. This area contains an interesting collection of conifers and other trees including a Walnut tree which still produces nuts from time to time, a Cryptomeria Japonica and some fine Lime trees.
When the player has left the tee and started walking down the path towards the stream the paths that criss-cross this area can be clearly seen to the left. From the bridge, the steps that lead down to stepping stones across the beck can be clearly seen. The gateway from the Castle grounds into the gardens is also still visible amongst the shrubbery. The bridge crosses Stockley Beck from which not so long ago the golf course took its water. The old diesel powered pump unit which still stands as a reminder of the past is located just above the waterfall which can be seen from the bridge. Like the 2nd the green at the 9th was cut out of the hillside using hand tools only. The difference here is that the tee shot of about 200 yards is played along the length of a narrow green which slopes away from the tee. Having hit what is a very difficult target the player may be faced with a downhill putt on a green which in summer is incredibly fast. It is a truly memorable hole about which Peter Alliss has said that if he could choose 18 holes around which to create a golf course, the 9th at Brancepeth would certainly be one of them. In an American golf magazine it was recently adjudged to be the hardest 9th hole in the world.
Immediately behind the 10th tee is St. Brandon’s Church which has been a place of worship over 900 years, a fact celebrated in the Club’s annual Brancepeth 900 Competition. In the corner of the Church graveyard is Lord Boyne’s tomb.
Also buried in the graveyard are members of the “Shafto” family and Tom Kirtley who served on the greens staff for over 50 years. The ghost of Bobby Shafto’s girlfriend is said to appear during the day on the battlements of the castle, waiting for him to return from the sea.
Whilst waiting to tee off on the back nine holes spare a thought for the numerous plague victims reputed to be buried outside the graveyard wall on the golf course. Plague victims were considered unclean therefore could not be buried in consecrated ground. They were often buried under the cover of darkness and as close to the Church as possible.
Just behind the tee there is a tunnel which was discovered only recently. A number of local archaeologists have visited the site but so far have been unable to identifY its purpose. The main part of the tunnel is constructed in natural stone but some handmade bricks have been used around the entrance and these have been dated to around the end of the 18th century.
Leaving the tee and proceeding down the path to the bridge over Stockley Beck a series of stone steps can be seen on the left. These were built to assist in the counting of migratory fish. Just downstream there is a large deep stone walled pool which was used to “hold” fish for the table at the Castle - the idea of selecting a meal from a tank in a fish restaurant is apparently not new!
Although not as challenging as the 9th, mainly because the green is more receptive to the tee shot, the 10th is still an excellent par 3.
Arriving on this tee the golfer is contronted with a deep ravine and a very narrow gap in the trees to play over and through to reach the fairway. Down to the left can be seen the remnants of the old bridge that was in use prior to opening of the present bridge, which is shared with the 8th hole. Before going onto the bridge ensure that no-one playing the 8th hole is already in possession since there is no room to cross. Leaving the bridge a short climb brings the player onto the fairway and opens up a wide panorama with Whitworth Park as a backdrop. A good par 4 hole.
From the tee Kirk Merrington Church can be seen on the skyline. It is said that Lord Boyne ordered trees to be planted around the castle and in the Deer Park so that from the castle he could see no sign of human habitation save for Kirk Merrington Church. In the graveyard of the Church lies Hodge of Ferry, Champion of Cleves. He, it is said, killed the Brancepeth Boar at Cleves Cross.
This is the second longest and probably the easiest hole on the golf course. All the bunkers on this hole were reshaped and relocated in 1994.
The 13th is another excellent par 4 with good views across the River Wear to Whitworth Park estate and Tudhoe. Leading from the Page Bank Road there was an old Estate Road which crossed the fairway giving access to Brancepeth Lodge which was next to the 14th green. This road continued across the beck to East Parks Farm and back along to Brancepeth Castle passing the front of the Club House.
The tee here is the furthest point on the course away from the Club House. At one time the medal tee was out in the field just behind the present tee and the outline can still be seen today even though the tee has not been used since the end of the 1930’s.
The green on this hole is close to the location of what was Brancepeth Lodge, the occupant of which in 1838 was one John Hunter. The rubble from the Lodge was used as foundation material during the construction of the green which is well guarded by two bunkers making the entrance very narrow and calling for a very accurate second shot. The 14th is a good par 4 which consistently challenges even the best players.
The old Estate Road crosses this fairway at two points and the remains of a stone bridge over Stockley Beck can be seen in the bottom of the valley.
Good use is made of the ravine on this hole. The prevailing wind doesn’t help and club selection critical. Bunkers on this hole were reshaped in 1994. Good par 3.
The 16th is a fairly straightforward par 5 with a dog leg to the left. The large stand of trees on the left midway along the fairway is known as the “Crawley Stand” after Leonard Crawley who was a well known member at Brancepeth. Many years ago Crawley used to play well left of these trees onto the 12th fairway, thus shortening the length of the hole considerably giving a better chance of a birdie. Since then the trees in this area have grown to make this approach unwise if not impossible.
From the tee there are stunning views of the Castle and the backdrop of the hills and woods beyond. In 1635 the British navy built the first triple decked ship called “Sovereign of the Seas” at Woolwich. The ship was built using some 1,400 trees felled in the West Wood which was south of the Castle and the trees along the Stockley Beck are all that remain of that great wood. The prevailing wind on this hole is from left to right making for a tight tee shot and a difficult second shot to a green which slopes quite heavily from left to right - by no means an easy hole when trying to preserve a good score.
This is truly a spectacular finishing hole which begins with a drive across the widest ravine on the course. The ground in front of the tee plunges steeply down to Stockley Beck. This is then followed by a climb up onto the plateau from where the green can be seen. On the right the outline of “Toddy’s” bunker, which only existed for about four years, can be seen. It was said that J T Todd, a prominent Club golfer, had this bunker filled in because of the problems it caused him.
The original tee was located to the right of the present medal tee. The metal bridge was first used on 1st March 1980 and was arguably the biggest project undertaken since the opening of the course. Before it was built to span the lower section of the ravine it was felt by many that the final climb up the long steep hill to the 18th green was the prime reason why Brancepeth was unable to attract more new members. Means of overcoming the problem had been considered many times by various committees but it was always felt the scale of the project was too big for the club to undertake.
At a Committee meeting in 1979 Harry Mole reported that a plant which had been used for converting North Sea gas to town gas was to be demolished and that he believed that it might be possible to construct a bridge from the metal sections which were to be sold. The Committee agreed unanimously that, if at all possible, a bridge should be built and appointed a sub-committee consisting of Harry Mole, Jim Alty and Alan Abel (Chairman) to take the matter forward. The first major problem to be overcome was to find a company prepared to design a structure from 20 year old second hand steel to be fabricated by unemployed welders and managed by a sub-committee with no previous experience of bridge building. Fortunately a suitable company was identified in Owen Associates of Chester Ie Street and they produced working drawings and cost estimates which were duly approved by the Management Committee although one member, a doctor, expressed disappointment that the bridge did not extend from the medal tee to the top of the bank!
The sections making up the bridge were fabricated at the workshops of Ansa Motors in Chester Ie Street using a gang of three redundant shipyard welders. When the foundations were complete the fabricated sections were transported from Chester Ie Street to the course free of charge thanks to John Davison, a club member. After several weeks work on site the three welders completed the erection of the structure and much to the relief of all concerned the necessary certificates to allow its use were issued.
Golfers ever since have reason to thank those responsible for seeing through such a challenging project.
From the top level of the fairway St. Brandon’s Church can be seen on the left. Overlooking the 18th green from the Churchyard lies old Tom Kirtley* who was Head Greenkeeper for many years and still keeps an eye on things, so beware!
Along the Church boundary wall there is a row of flowering cherry trees but in the past there was a “Ha Ha” along the full length of the wall. This is a deep ditch with a wall on its inner side and below ground level, acting as a boundary for the Deer Park. The purpose of this was to confine livestock and animals. An existing if somewhat overgrown “I-Ia Ha” can be seen to the right of the gate leading back to the clubhouse. The area from the top of the ravine up to the 18th green was the location for the castle’s tennis courts prior to the course being built. For a short period this area plus the area to the right of the first fairway was used as the practice area. Look closely and you can still see the practice tee. The round over, feeling somewhat tired but no doubt satisfied, it is time to visit the Club House to be suitably refreshed and to reflect on what could have been.
* Tom Kirtley was a Greenkeeper at Brancepeth for over 50 years. He started in 1924 at the princely sum of 10 shillings a week or in today’s money 50p for a 44 hour week. He was in the gang that built the course. The original head greenkeeper was a Mr George Newcombe who retired in about 1950 and was succeeded by Tom Kirtley, who had been his assistant. In those days Greenkeepers were only employed from March to November. He had to collect a pony from the local colliery, feed and groom it then harness it to pull the singlemower unit to cut the fairways.
In the early 60’s a decision was taken to alter the course in an effort to make it less physically demanding. The original and altered layouts are shown in figs (1) and (2). The new layout lasted only a short time and members demanded that the course be returned to its original layout.
The Greenkeeper at that time was Tom Kirtley and he was quoted as saying “It took 6 months to complete the change around and I was given two weeks to return the course to its original design”