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Northamptonshire County

Yardage
6721
Par
70
SSS
73
Built
1909
Architect(s)
Harry Colt, James Braid, Cameron Sinclair
Nature:
Heathland, Classic Colt layout. Gorse, Pines and Silver Birch. Many sloping greens and a Championship challenge with a stretchy finish.
Location/Address:
On the north-west outskirts of Northampton in the village of Church Brampton. 40 mins from the M25. Postcode: NN6 8AZ
http://www.countygolfclub.org.uk/
Secretary
Elaine McBride
Telephone
01604 843025
Professional
Tim Rouse
Green Keeper
Rob Hay
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Access Policy:
Visitors welcomed
Dog Policy:
Welcomed on a lead
Open Meetings:
The County Cup, - August. Mixed Foursomes, May & Sept
Fees in 1960s
75p per day
Fees today
£70 - 2017

Review

The clay-based Midlands is not known for its fine running-golf courses but one oasis of sandy draining soil is found at the village of Church Brampton where Harry Colt designed one of his very finest, classic heathland championship courses,  in 1909.

Recently lengthened to over 6700 yards, the Par 70 has a SSS of 73, bordering on 74 and with 6 of its long Par 4s requiring a drive onto rising ground, it plays longer than the yardage.

When the course is dry and running it provides the third best golfing challenge across the Midlands after Notts/Hollinwell and Woodhall Spa.

Fine grasses can be found on some of the fairways and with a long term programme of heathland regeneration, gorse is abundant. Many stands of Scots Pine, Silver Birch and a few well placed Oaks give a damp, secluded feel to most holes, rather than a dry open heathland that it used to be. Nevertheless, a recently updated course policy review to emphasise being a fast running, heathland course rather than the parkland style it was degenerating into, it is good to see a number of trees are being taken out and new almost ‘infinity’ vistas created behind the fifth and thirteenth  greens, as they must have been as Colt created.

Hosting the R&A Open regional qualifier over 6 years in the early 2000s, only a tiny percentage of the Professionals broke Par and the Senior Professional Tour decided to play off the yellow tees! ‘Church Brampton’ as it is usually known, has hosted many national championships over the years.

There are some wonderfully testing long Par 4s and it is the natural lie of the Colt greens that is the design aspect that is most challenging, requiring the ball to be positioned below the pin on 11 holes, to give the best chance for a birdie.

An average of about 20 t0 25 % are fine grasses (Browntop bents) in the greens, though the re-built fourth and ninth greens are a continuing problem having predominantly Poa annua grasses. The improvement to the firmness of most aprons and with the acquisition of a new mower for run-offs, the parkland set-up of high fringes close to greens is being changed to a heathland running feel that encourages a putt or the bump-and-run shot.

New bunkers on the 13th, northamptonshire county golf club, ncgc, finest courses

New bunkers on the 13th

Cameron Sinclair has put in some new back tees and more bunkers to tighten up the landing areas for the young tigers at 270 yards and this has enhanced both the 5th and 13th holes, where he has blocked the easy route up the right hand side of the fairways. This has re-emphasised the original design feature of the difficulty of having to stay out of the stand of Silver Birches on the left of the 13th and the rough on the left of the 5th, with the lie of the fairways taking the ball that way.

When the fairways are running in a dry summer, the three toughest holes, the 5th, 16th and 17th, all require a faded or straight drive to hold them on the fairway. Any hint of a draw and a bogey awaits.

These design enhancements continue the Colt flavour of strategic holes that challenge the scratch player to place his every shot in order to make the next one easier while the high handicapper can continue to enjoy his round without impossible penal hazards.

At 450 yards the first is longer and more difficult than usual. The fairway grass on the 1st and the 18th is coarser than the rest of the course being on less draining ground having been previously under the plough.

Two well placed bunkers on a slight ridge 50 yards shy of the green on the second pose a question to those who are tempted by a birdie on a hole that has now been extended to 550 yards.

A few years ago, my opponent for a 36 hole match had difficulty getting off the ground when my afternoon 4 wood found the hole, when it was rather shorter, after I had chipped in for an eagle in the morning. Five under Par on one hole in one day!

the drive at the 4th,northamptonshire county golf club, ncgc, finest courses

The drive at the 4th, showing the alder trees behind the green.

The fourth and the eigth are both tremendous Colt short Par fours and suggest that a good score has to be built on the way out, as both are birdie chances. The drive over the corner of the out of bounds on the eigth to set up that chance is of heroic proportions and the long iron over the edge of the large Ash tree to hold your second to be played from the right hand side of the fairway on the fourth has to be precise.

There are some unfortunate un-heathland-like Alder trees along the edge of a stream that runs to the south of the fourth green. Their shading and the lack of air flow to dry-out the green is one of the reasons why agronomically it continues to be high in weed grass Poa annua.

Some shorter hitting ladies at times have problems driving over the thick gorse in front of the fourth tee and one mixed couple in a foursomes competition, both now deceased, was reported to The R&A for a ruling. The man, a single figure player, invited his wife to tee the ball up and take an air shot, whereupon he then smote the ball down to the fairway. The ruling came back that it was not outside the rules but perhaps outside the spirit of the game!

Dexter on the 6th tee,northamptonshire county golf club, ncgc, finest courses

Dexter on the 6th tee

The second at the fifth is a blind long iron that has to be kept up the right to avoid a hidden bunker biting into half the fairway 30 yards short of the green. A four is always welcome here as is a three at the sixth, which Peter Aliss once described as one of the best short holes in the country played between two mammoth Oaks to an elevated sloping green, whose quirky ridge front has been made ‘fairer’ but perhaps less characterful.

The new high tee on the seventh requires a big blow to reach the brow of the fairway and keep out of  what is called “Braids” bunker. Three rows of bunkers up the right hand side force one to play to the left of a green severely sloping to the right and you hold your breath as you appear up the fairway to discover whether you have achieved your uphill putt to give you a chance of not three putting.

The ninth is straightforward with a stream at 300 yards and one of the most difficult greens on the course to judge the amount of borrow as the tilt of the green has been changed and so no longer runs with the lie of its surroundings unlike the rest of the Colt greens.

the 10th,northamptonshire county golf club, ncgc, finest courses

the 10th

We now go under the railway line to play 5 holes that are affectionately called ‘the field’ but are by general acclaim the quintessential character of ‘Church Brampton’. The turf is finer and springy and the only piece of heather on the course is found on the tenth, a great Par four of undulating character where the second depending on the wind is sometimes easier from the top of the ridge, from where the bottom of the flag can be seen, than down below where the longer hitters finish their drive.

The eleventh now 430 yards, requires a long iron pitch to a hanging and difficult green with railway on the right and out of bounds threatening at the back. A scuttled shot through the valley in front can be a good percentage shot!

A newly designed bunker on the right of the uphill short par three twelfth hole now allows it to been from the tee.

An innocuous looking but most beguiling hazard is ‘Colt’s Hollow’ above the thirteenth green, from where a bunker has been grassed in. I would defy anybody to be up and down from it every time.

The view from the fourteenth tee, now the inappropriate leylandi trees behind the green have been removed, is the only reminder that we are on the edge of an encroaching Northampton. Apart from the railway line cutting the course in two, ‘Church Brampton’ is a quiet spot, fringing the Althorp estate. Whereas the other three finest Midlands courses, Notts/Hollinwell, Woodhall Spa and Lindrick (through being a 1950s Ryder Cup venue) are generally renowned, Northamptonshire County, though a true championship course and with a Royal captain in the past, is not so well known outside its area.

the short 15th, northamptonshire county golf club, ncgc, finest courses

the short 15th

Back under the railway line and we encounter the stream again at the fifteenth which might qualify as the best short hole in the Midlands if the scrubby alder trees on the left were curtailed and the bridge over the stream was faced in local ironstone in keeping with the iconic clubhouse.

The sixteenth gives us the most controversial green on which you will ever play. It is truly ‘ridge and furrow’ and as a visitor it is easy to forget when putting over the hills it also runs from back to front. Great fun but, if a modern designer were to copy it, he would be shot!

There are 5 half blind second shots on the 5th, 7th, 10th, 11th and 13th, all fine long two shotters and, therefore, perhaps the dogleg seventeenth is the best hole at 465 yards on rising ground with two exhilarating shots with the bottom of the pin being able to be seen.

18th green and clubhouse,northamptonshire county golf club, ncgc, finest courses

18th green and ironstone clubhouse

The round is finished with the chance of a birdie four in front of the attractive local ironstone clubhouse, if you don’t come off the ball and catch the small outcrop of Silver Birch and gorse that has spoilt many a round encroaching on the right. A large green, classically well bunkered right and left that looks flat but where putts are seldom dropped if past the hole.

A round of golf where you have used all your clubs. Quite long enough to test the longest hitters while never being a slog, as every shot has to be placed. A lack of views does not detract from this intense, challenging course where it is a “joy to be alive” on one of Colt’s greatest inland canvasses.

A recent increase in level of green fee has financially recognised the market standing of this course, nevertheless visitors are warmly welcomed with a well organised team of ambassadors to help societies enjoy their day in this unfashionable area for fine running-golf in which it lies.

See “Among the Heath and Harebells” a history of 100 years of Northamptonshire County Golf Club by Neil Soutar and Bruce Clayton.

This is an interesting book that highlights the changes to the club and course and whereas founded by the landed gentry and considered apparently by many as the ‘snobs’ club within the County, the update by the President Bruce Clayton is the opposite of stiff upper lip. He brings his acute mind sharpened as a specialist valuer in fine art, to catalogue the personalities and eccentrics with anecdotes and humorous stories painstakingly researched.

He captures the humanity of the membership with unpretentious leg-pulls and paints a living club more than many of the other centenary books I have read.

Review by Lorne Smith 2008, updated 2017.

Reader Comments

On January 7th, 2009 Rodney Westhead Said:

Thank you for changing the reference to ‘duffer’ to ‘high handicapper’ it is less patronising! I have no illusions about my game and I play it for the pure pleasure of playing, sometimes a better result would be desirable!
Good luck with the site, it could have a very good future.

On February 4th, 2014 john mayell Said:

Excellent review of a fine course that has been improved by Cameron Sinclair who also did good work at Copt Heath. Always a pleasure to play at Church Brampton.