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Goswick

Yardage
6803
Par
72
SSS
73
Built
1889
Architect(s)
James Braid, Gerorge Thompson, Frank Pennink, Willie Park Jnr, Willie Firnie.
Nature:
Classic duneland links of fine grasses. James Braid layout updated by Greenkeeper George Thompson.
Location/Address:
two miles off the A1 just south of Berwick-on-Tweed. TD15 2RW
http://www.goswicklinksgc.co.uk/
Secretary
Rory Davidson
Telephone
01289 387380
Professional
Paul Terras
Green Keeper
Ryan McCullock
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Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
dogs banned
Open Meetings:
Goswick Open - May. Various others
Fees in 1960s
25p
Fees today
£50

Review

I first played Goswick (which translates as ‘Goose Village’), located just south of Berwick-on-Tweed, when my uncle Ian Smith (known as  ‘The Flying Scotsman’ in rugby circles and who still gives reflected glory to the family in continuing  to hold the record for the number of international tries scored for Scotland, 24 in 32 caps and holding the world record of 75% per match – Campese was 63%) arranged a game for me as a teenager with a redoubtable member, Mrs Catherine McArthur, in August 1965.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

Clubhouse and putting green

Not only was this my introduction to ‘women’s golf’ but also ‘running-golf’ on links land and I recall I did not play well nor give Mrs McCarthur much of a game. At least I am in good company such as Tom Watson, who coming from a southern USA target-golf upbringing did not enjoy links running golf at first, until he cracked the psychology of it and rather than fighting the challenge, went with it.

This James Braid designed course 51 years on continues to be across classic links land though some key holes have been changed both by Frank Pennink (the fifth hole is named after him) but more significantly by the recently retired course manager George Thompson, who worked on the links for fifty years from 1966, taking over from his father as head greenkeeper in 1977.

goswick golf club, jim arthur, george thompson

George Thompson

George was a scratch golfer (Club champion in 1979, 80, 81) and playing on many different golf courses, was able to appreciate the importance to Goswick of being maintained as a running-golf course. Under his leadership, unlike so many other links, Goswick never suffered from inappropriate fertilisation and over watering during the 1980/90s craze for target-golf. One challenge they did have was creating extra drainage for some low-lying fairways particularly when the River Ware to the south flooded.

Goswick has never been a wealthy club which on the upside meant even if the green-staff had wanted to succumb to the fertiliser and pesticide salesmen they couldn’t afford it!

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

14th green with Holy Island on the horizon.

The Berwick-on-Tweed (Goswick) Golf Club  was founded in 1889, two miles north-west of Lindisfarne (or Holy Island) where Magnus Magnusson in his book “Lindisfarne, the cradle Island” suggests that the monks and St Cuthbert, long before record books, played golf as early as the 600s!

Willie Fernie of Royal Troon was involved in course design here in 1898 as was Willie Park Jnr, the double Open Champion and entrepreneur, who created so many wonderful courses including Sunningdale Old, Notts(Hollinwell) and Huntercombe, who made course changes in 1903 which extended the length to 4880 yards.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

Sir Edward Grey

An example of how well connected Goswick has always been as a small local club, one of its Vice-Presidents in 1914 was Sir Edward Grey MP (later Viscount Grey of Falloden) Britain’s foreign secretary. It was Sir Edward who spoke those words which have echoed down the years “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime”. Fortunately they were lit again, but at what cost!

Abe Mitchell of Royal Ashdown Forest and the model for the figure on the Ryder Cup, played an exhibition match in 1927 and said “Goswick strikes me as being one of the comparatively few absolutely natural seaside courses in the country and has the material to develop into a really first class natural course. The first thing obviously is to get more length than its present five thousand yards”.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

James Braid

James Braid (five times Open Champion and based at Walton Heath) was engaged when finances allowed and he radically changed the lay-out and thirteen holes, finished in 1932. This course is therefore correctly called a James Braid course, he being the designer who had the most influence and Pennink and Thompson have continued his style.

Around the Millennium, The R&A became interested in holding Regional Open Championship Qualifiers here and George Thompson both designed and then implemented, using local labour, four new greens stretching holes at the fourth, eighth, twelfth and sixteenth to create a total yardage today of 6803 yards, par: 72 SSS: 73.

Each of these four new green complexes is beautifully designed requiring strategic placement of one’s drive to offer the chance of a run-in across the firm, wiry fescue/browntop bent turf.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

The approach to the 6th green

George told me that he had had a bet with Colin Irvine, the course manager at Muirfield, prior to the Millennium, that the first of them to use a fungicide would have to gift a bottle of champagne to the other. No champagne has changed hands! This is because the high content of fescue/browntop bent in their greens, with a minimum of Poa annua, has meant that there has been no need to protect against fusarium or anthracnose disease with the expensive spraying of fungicides. Indeed a small amount of these diseases might well be welcomed as it kills off the invasive weed grass without affecting the fescues!

Wouldn’t it be appropriate for this brilliant greenkeeper/course designer to have one of these four holes named after him and be only the third greenkeeper in GB&I to earn this distinction? The others similarly honoured are ‘Cawl’s View’ at The Island, Malahide and John Philp at Carnoustie.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

The first hole

The fairways,  particularly those hugging the spine of dune running parallel to the sea, pitch and toss with undulating, tumbling movement while the first hole (Copse Corner) is a strong dogleg around some of the very few trees on the course and then plays upwards to a raised green.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

The half hidden flag from the second tee.

The second hole (Crater) is the first of four par threes and the green is almost blind. The view from this high tee is of wide open space with the beach on the right and rolling agricultural fields inland, beyond the fescues, bents and marram grasses of this wonderful stretch of linksland.

The other par threes at the ninth (Cheviot View) and thirteen (Lough) both around 200 yards are far from easy but not memorable but the fifteenth (Bide-a-wee) is quite delightful and distinctive.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

Looking down on the 15th green from the tee.

Bide-a-wee is played from a high tee at 150 yards with the green on view beneath you in a bowl with three sides and some old gnarled, characterful bushes as a back drop. Luckily when I was playing recently, I did so with a member, David Greenshields of Barenbrug Seeds and he being a scratch golfer was able to advise me that the percentage shot to play was a full toss into the back left hand bank to stun your ball backwards down onto the green. It worked; we halved in threes.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

The 15th green from behind

He also pointed out to me how he had encouraged the over-seeding with some new cultivar of dwarf ryegrass his company had developed. This grass was applied to the front bank of this hole where the soil gets compacted from strong traffic. It does now have some grass cover whereas he described previously how it was dust in the summer and mud in the winter. The late Jim Arthur was sharply dismissive of the use of perennial ryegrass, ‘a football pitch plant’, on decent running-golf courses (see page 154 Practical Greenkeeping) and we all dislike the dark green tuftiness of this aggressive species even if it is only used for paths. This new cultivar is paler and on this site did merge into the surrounding fescues without overly standing out or looking manicured.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

The 4th green with the 6th behind

The third hole (Shieling) and fourth (Stile) are both good right hand doglegs played from higher tees off the dune and the fifth (Pennink’s Way), stroke index one, is a left handed dogleg to a tilted fairway and then an uphill second shot to a treble shelf green.

As I started to warm up, I hit two cracking shots along the hump-backed par five sixth (Cocklaw) fairway but failed to get up and down for my birdie on the strongly raised two-tier green.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

The seventh green

The seventh (Valley) turns for home along the railway line from which in earlier days one was able to alight at Goswick Halt but now the London to Edinburgh Express just thunders by. It has a fascinating medley of five bunkers in a row on the lower side of the shelf green and looking to avoid them I smashed and lost my approach in jungle grass on the other side, up the railway embankment. Apart from here the fescue/bent rough is not overly penal to losing balls unless one is very wide.

The eighth (Cheswick – another nearby village) is one of George’s best. Perhaps the tiger players with wind assistance could carry the corner bunkers but for ordinary mortals the central front and right hand bunkers protect the green well. The green itself is at 45 degrees to the direction of play and with a slight swale running through it, it means one has to execute one’s strokes to perfection for a par four.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

The London Edinburgh express beyond the 3rd fairway.

After the flat short ninth hole we are now back at the clubhouse and the tenth (Lang Whang) used to be originally the first before the two nines were swapped over. This course being predominantly a James Braid lay-out it is not surprising that this is only the second straight hole we have encountered on the card and David and I both played it well. I struck a most satisfactory low, running one iron into the wind and we both came up just short of the green, then executing two excellent dead bump-and-runs. Fine Golf all round.

The deep swales in the par five eleventh (Goswick) fairway give it character and there is interesting movement in the green here.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

The twelth green

The earlier mentioned gnarled bushes protrude into play on the dogleg twelfth (Pilgrim’s Way) that requires a blind second played to one of George’s new greens on a hole with no bunkers but exhibits lots of interesting mounds.

Although these new greens have been laid down for over ten years one can see the sward is still not fully mature, though the ball runs as truly and smoothly as on the other greens. All the greens contain at least 75% fescue/browntop bent turf, generally cut at 5mm and provide an ideal speed of between nine and ten foot.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

Jim Arthur’s Bible of natural greenkeeping

It is so nice to visit a club where there is complete openness and honesty with regard to their agronomic measurements and is one of the reasons why Ryan McCullock who has worked here for twenty years and took over from George Thompson as head greenkeeper in the spring of 2016, was awarded the Malcolm Peake copy of Jim Arthur’s   Practical Greenkeeping. When a course manager prefers not to return my simple short greenkeeping survey it is normally an indication they either are embarrassed by or want to hide how much annual meadow grass (Poa annua) their course has!

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

Players on the fourteenth.

The fourteenth (Dune) is fun with a well bunkered drive and a short iron second across a right hand dogleg with a mound obscuring the green that is for the first time on the sea side of the spine of dune that runs through the course.

The sixteenth (Dowie) is perhaps the weakest of George’s marvellous holes and has a low lying damp area just shy of the green where weed grass Poa annua predominates.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

17th green and one of the stones from behind.

The seventeenth is called Stonehenge. I guess this naming derives from the two Neolithic like upright stones that are now widely spaced either side of the fairway near the green.

I agree with Bill McCreath, author of the centenary book, that it is a pity the stones that were previously closer together and therefore needed to be avoided, were relocated wider. They were surely a unique feature and though the odd good shot may have been unfairly penalised by them they must also have given the approach to this par five green an extra strategic interest.

goswick golf club, george thompson, james braid, frank pennink, the flying scotsman

Clubhouse, 18th and 17th greens

I successfully downed my putt here for a birdie, while also receiving a stroke, so then with my bump-and-run up-and-down birdie three on the last (a densely bunkered, drivable short par four), I put my nose ahead for the first time in a most enormously enjoyable round of golf. I was with a golfer who was too kind to me on the first tee in awarding me a couple of extra shots for his local knowledge that I accepted with alacrity following my recent lack of play. The enjoyment of the turf and design helped me concentrate and focus and I walked off the eighteenth (Westward Ho) wanting to play more holes on this remarkably low green fee course, to savour further the real, wild, proper golf  and ‘joy to be alive’ fun it gives you.

I finish with a quote from the greatest of all golf writers Bernard Darwin OBE. He described Goswick thus: “One of the most naturally magnificent pieces of golfing ground that ever swam into the ken of the golfing explorer. With those glorious ranges of sand dunes, and that ideal seaside turf, money and a skilful architect in combination could do anything. Meanwhile in default of millionaires, Goswick will presumably remain much as it is, and that is perfectly delightful”.

He had not reckoned on the like of George Thompson, ‘greenkeeper extraordinaire’, who through his course design ability but even more importantly, his understanding of how to maintain the fine fescue/browntop bent turf, brought this course up to championship quality without a millionaire’s budget.

This course challenges the finest golfers while giving enormous fun also to those of lower standard playing from the more forward tees, even if you unfortunately can’t be accompanied by your well-behaved dog. As one is beating one’s way up the A1 to East Lothian, golfers really should turn-off the two miles to Goswick. You will not be disappointed whatever is the time of the year.

Read “One Hundred Years of Golf at Goswick a history of the Berwick-upon-Tweed (Goswick) Golf Club 1889-1989”. by Bill McCreath.

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2016