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Ganton

Yardage
6998
Par
71
SSS
74
Built
1891
Architect(s)
Harry Colt, Alister Mackenzie, Ken Cotton
Nature:
Championship heathland with cavernous bunkers and fine grasses. In finest rank of GB&I inland courses.
Location/Address:
Off A64 ten miles inland from Scarborough. YO12 4PA
http://www.gantongolfclub.com/
Secretary
Richard Penley-Martin
Telephone
01944 710329
Professional
Gary Brown
Green Keeper
-
ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review
ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review
ganton golf club, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review
ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review
ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review
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Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
No dogs
Open Meetings:
Lexus Yorkshire Challenge - Sept
Fees in 1960s
50p
Fees today
£80 - 2015

Review

What makes Ganton so special a place that it ranks among the highest ‘joy-to-be-alive’ rated inland courses in GB & I?

Well, there is no immediate ‘wow’ factor, though the long approach drive between the firs to the single-storey, pebble-dashed 1909 clubhouse gives a hint as to why over the last 125 years this small-membership, private club has continued to be so well respected.

ganton golf club, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

18th green and clubhouse

No garish money has been thrown around by these Yorkshire folk, but the ethos of offering a hearty welcome and quality ensure one is going to enjoy both taste and class.

Tradition here has certainly given the Club a steady outlook that when change was required, it was delivered without rancour. At the clubhouse, for example, we see we are now in the 21st century where at last there is a proper entrance door, while there is as yet no need for enlargement of the men’s lockers and the arrival of the white oak!

The club has always retained the finest golf architects to keep the course up to scratch as I will shortly demonstrate and pleasant it was to learn that Alistair Beggs the agronomist, has just been retained. He will complement the brilliant changes that Gordon Irvine has helped the able course manager Phil Baldock, to have the confidence to introduce over the last two years. Playing after much rain in June 2016 I had no need to repair any pitch marks – the fine grassed greens were firm and true. The rough was tenacious being left long to test the English Amateur Championship coming in July.

Phil drove me around this gorse-covered, sandy soiled course, where wild game and flora are abundant and though he has now moved on, he was so rightly proud to have been in charge for the previous eighteen years. In his time here the Club has successfully hosted The Curtis Cup in 2000 & The Walker Cup in 2003, having previously been honoured with The Amateur in 1964, 1977, 1991 and the Ryder Cup in 1949 as well as many other top professional and amateur championships. The Club Committee has not felt that the changes required to cater for the number of spectators associated with present day pro-golf was justifiable.

ganton golf club, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

Church behind 14th green

It might be said that the recreational and top amateur golfer gains from this view to the detriment of the professional game.

Ganton is ten miles inland from Scarborough, sited in what is now called the Vale of Pickering that in recent geological times was a sea inlet. Phil showed me where they continue to excavate their own sand and it is not surprising that the course is so well known for the depth of its 120 bunkers. At no other inland course to my knowledge, except for certain holes at Lincolnshire’s Woodhall Spa, is there such an array of cavernous pits, one of which I was introduced to early on the opening hole!

ganton golf club, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

Aerial of Ganton

As can be seen from aerial photographs the abundant managed gorse had to be imported as it is not found elsewhere in the Vale. There is a little heather in places but as with the trees, one does not strongly associate it with Ganton. The fir trees that bound the course along the sixth and ninth holes have all been added, helping to screen the adjacent A64 but those down the sixth now need some thinning out to help the drying air to circulate.

The sixteenth, part of Ganton’s renowned tough finish, has attractive Scots pine  down one side and for the life of me, I can never understand why clubs don’t trim their dead stump branches to show up more clearly the artistic and beautiful structure of these sentinel trees.

The other indigenous wood types here are oak and alder standing along the eleventh hole but they do not encroach on play and neither did they until the 1950s when Ken Cotton transformed the twelfth from a par three into a strongly doglegged short par four where the drive is played over the top of a pine on the corner.

ganton golf club, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

Drive over fir on corner of 12th

This tree is strongly influential to the design but sadly split in the gale of 1988! The local blacksmith was engaged and the tree’s two opposite drooping branches were hastily strapped together with a steel brace, meaning that everyone could take a deep intake of breath and still enjoy the existing course architecture.

Ganton, founded in 1891, was part of the shooting estate of the Legard family of ancient lineage, but there are two things that surprise me about Ganton and the first is that even well-trained gun-dogs are banned.

Tom Dunn had a hand in extending the course to 18 holes and the Golf Magazine of 1894 commented that the land literally was a rabbit warren before the golfer drove the bunny to more remote haunts. I would add that most ‘fine’ courses still have some of these animals and we should just put-up with the odd scrape! Manicured prettiness is not what fine golf is all about.

ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

Harry Vardon

Harry Vardon’s appointment from 1896 to 1903 as their professional when he was at the height of his career (winning The Open in 1897, 1898, 1899, 1903, 1911 & 1914 at the age of 44) was an inspired decision prior to his achieving world fame. He and Ted Ray, another Open Champion, who became Ganton’s Pro and greenkeeper in 1903 helped Ganton into the golfing light.

Vardon was a member of the Great Triumvirate with JH Taylor and James Braid and he was the inventor of the overlapping Vardon grip that the majority of golfers still use to this day. Of him it was said: “His modesty of character in only equalled by his nerve in golf “ and “Harry smiles as he plays, not a broad smile but just a flicker across his features. The Vardonic Smile”!

My second surprise is that though Edward VII became patron and played regularly when visiting Tranby Croft, near Hull, the Club was never allowed the title ‘royal’ in its name. This is slightly curious when one considers some of the other Royal Clubs.

ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

A Ganton tee-box

Harry Vardon, with JH Taylor, helped extend the course in 1905 after the new, longer-hitting Haskell ball was introduced from the turn of the century. However, Ganton was also not to be left behind with a course dominated by penal cross-fairway bunkering that the senior professionals continued to support, and so they brought in Harry Colt in 1907 who introduced the fundamentally different ideas of the ‘strategic school’.

In addition Alistair Mackenzie was engaged in 1912 and he created the present 15th green and altered aspects of 3, 4, 7, and 14th holes.

It is said that Fowler, Hutchinson and Hilton had a hand in some of the course design, while ideas from Braid in 1929 and Tom Simpson in 1934 were both rejected. But in 1931 new Colt alterations to tighten up the course for the scratch player taking certain short-cuts were implemented when the course was altered to 6270 yards.

Much consideration has been given to fairway watering over the years, as the 2006 Club history, ‘History of Ganton’ makes clear:

ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

two iconic bunkers on the 14th

“Excessive watering encouraged the growth of annual meadow grass (Poa annua) with loss of the finer varieties which are such a feature at Ganton. Routine watering was therefore ceased in the 1960s, and a (Jim Arthur) programme of slitting and scarifying introduced so the bents and fescues have returned to restore the fairways to their original hard-wearing state.”

Ganton continues with no automatic fairway watering at present, though I understand it is still under consideration. The work currently underway under the guidance of Gordon Irvine to further firm-up the aprons to the greens and extend run-offs is very welcome.

After an opening hole more threatening in the mind than in reality, the second has another half blind drive across a left-hand dogleg and with the green running away, judgement of length with one’s approach is tantalising difficult.

Although the third hole has risk/reward enjoyment for the big hitter and interesting undulations on the green, it is really a fill-in before reaching the fourth, one of Ganton’s iconic long par fours.

ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

Ganton’s half-way house by fifth tee

Initially on rising ground, Alistair Mackenzie here raised the profile of the bunkering to deter one from staying left, which is the correct side from which to hit over a right-hand dogleg hollow to a raised Colt green, with an attractive half-way house behind.

ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

Pheasant on seventh fairway.

The seventh is another wonderful hole giving both the scratch and high handicapper plenty of playing choices across a nest of deep bunkers on the corner of the right-hand dogleg. The two-tier green sloping left, is on a crest and bunkered both sides. At 430 yards you will remember for some time afterwards if you succeed in staying on this green in two shots.

The ninth continues to be in I believe transitional mode, with the now ‘motorway-straight’ fairway having been recently moved left away from the A64, which may not be to everybody’s liking, though it is pleasing to see that it is over-seeded with fine fescue grass, that though of a lighter colour has taken well.

ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

The par three 10th

The seventeenth, a long 240 yard par three down the prevailing wind, is well placed in the round with gathering bunkers beside a raised green and is intimidating in its requirements of strength and straightness. In this regard this is a hole unlike the tenth that nestles beautifully below the tee at 165 yards, tightly surrounded by deep bunkers with a small bowl green encouraging a high floated flick!

A ridge in echelon across the eleventh fairway makes the approach to a flat green interesting and then we encounter this certainly distinctive Ken Cotton hole around the wood.

ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

The Secretary elegantly extracting himself from a bunker on the 13th.

One of its advantages has been the resultant lengthening the thirteenth into a proper par five of over 530 yards which has some distinctive bunkers up the right hand side.

Who was it who said that a course is defined by its short par fours? Was it Colt, the man responsible for creating the 280 yard fourteenth? The deeply cavernous left hand drive bunker might be carried by the adventurous from a high tee but to stay on this small green is somewhat simpler with a half-club approach after an iron tee-shot.

Two classic long par fours follow, changing direction as we have been throughout the eighteen holes and we come to the controversial last, a complete conundrum, that offers so many choices depending on the wind and the state of your game. In its  quirkiness this hole does not represent a normal eighteenth or a typical hole of classic Ganton. Nevertheless it continues to excite both scratch and high handicapper and perhaps even annoy any visitor who overlooks the out of bounds road where the chain linked fence is not for removal. Frank Pennink felt it to be one of the finest finishing holes in golf.

ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

A superb Ganton bunker on the 15th

Bill Stout of Seascale and Ganton, ‘the long hitting Bridlington Dentist’, had little difficulty at the 18th by simply driving the green over the trees 300 yards away! Bill was a Walker Cup player and in his 36 hole match in 1930 against the 21 year old Donald Moe, tragically lost his match after being 7 up with 15 to go. He had not played badly and in the locker room afterwards at Royal St Georges Bill congratulated his opponent: “Donald” he said “that was not golf – that was a visitation from God”.

Lord Hawke, whose painting adorns the Long Room at Lord’s, was President of Yorkshire Cricket Club 1885 to 1938 and played his golf at Ganton where he was both captain and president.

ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

The carry bunker at the 16th

Other Walker Cup players like Rodney Foster (whose international career is unlikely to be bettered) and Clive Clark who turned professional, were members and there have been many distinguished lady golfers playing out of Ganton over the years. Ladies were given full rights after their own course was abandoned in 1921.

Ball historians among readers will be interested to know that Sir Ralph-Gallway who made some early important researches into ball design with Ted Ray was a member also.

ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

Max Faulkner and Dai Rees in 1953

Gordon Wright, the secretary for twenty years from 1937 was a keen agronomist and played a major role in securing the hosting of the Ryder Cup here in 1949. The team included Fred Daly, the first Irishman to win The Open, as well as Dai Rees of Wales and the irrepressible Max Faulkner, who was Open Champion at Royal Portrush in 1951 and returned to Ganton to win the PGA match play in 1953.

After being up over night the dream of a GB&I win was not to be and the expectations of a large crowd were dashed, though they had seen some wonderful golf in beautiful weather.

ganton golf club, harry vardon, harry colt, alister mackenzie, gordon irvine, alistair beggs, finegolf review

2003 GB&I Walker Cup team

The Curtis Cup in 2000 saw the first live BBC coverage of the event and the 39th Walker Cup (donated by the great grandfather of the 43rd American President George Walker Bush), came to Ganton in 2003. This Walker Cup saw Gary Wolstenholme playing at age 43 and a victory by 12.5 to 11.5 points saw the first win ever on English soil achieved. A very missable putt was conceded on the 18th green by Nigel Edwards for a half though it still gave the GB & I team the overall win. It was appropriate that the American Captain quoted David Forgan, a nineteenth Century club maker at St Andrews, in his speech: “Golf  included companionship with friends, social intercourse, an opportunity for courtesy, kindness and generosity to an opponent”.

This is a sentiment that abounds today at Ganton, helping give that ‘joy-to-be-alive’ feeling at a club that is of the finest rank.

As an addendum let me also mention ‘Trotters’ a first-class small farm shop just up the road from the Club; my wife was most pleased with their produce that I brought home.

Reader Comments

On June 24th, 2015 Bill Nickson Said:

Lorne,
Have read with great interest your recent visit —cannot agree the third hole is a “fill in” but one of 18 majestic holes at Ganton –where I – A) had the awesome witnessing of the Ryder Cup 1949 –having cycled daily from York and back to attend ! B) more recently,for many years now have had the privilege of playing Ganton annually (not often enough) — in the company of current Captain and Past Captains versus our “Ganton Society ” associated with this finest of golf courses, since 1936 !!

As ever, Bill — GANTON SOCIETY