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Thorpeness

Yardage
6510
Par
70
SSS
72
Built
1922
Architect(s)
James Braid
Nature:
James Braid designed, 1920s beautiful heathland course with fine turf and Hotel attachted.
Location/Address:
One mile from Aldeburgh, Suffolk coast
http://www.thorpeness.co.uk/
Secretary
Christopher Oldrey
Telephone
01728 452176
Professional
Frank Hill
Green Keeper
Ian Willet
thorpeness golf club, running golf,
thorpeness golf club, running golf,
thorpeness golf club, running golf,
thorpeness golf club, running golf,
thorpeness golf club, running golf,
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Access Policy:
Visitors welcome to Hotel and golf.
Dog Policy:
Well-behaved dogs welcomed
Open Meetings:
Fees in 1960s
50p
Fees today
£52 - 2015

Review

Thorpeness is one of the few hotel-run golf courses that gets into FineGolf’s 200 finest ‘running-game’ courses in GB&I. (Many ‘hotel’ golf courses like the Belfry or Celtic Manor are unappealing bulldozer designed ‘target-golf’).

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The Country Clubhouse

Thorpeness is just one mile from Aldeburgh as the crow flies and is on the same Suffolk ‘sandlings’ heathland that extends down to Woodbridge and Purdis Heath, giving all four fine heathland courses the same well draining, sandy, infertile soil that is perfect for the finest golf turf. Indeed, most of the well drying fairways of all four courses are covered largely with fine fescues, the sweetest turf from which to clip one’s irons.

It could be well argued that if these golf courses had not been kept as they are, then the wildlife sanctuary that each offers would also have disappeared beneath the similar housing developments that now separate them.

The Scottish Ogilvie family, led by one of the many great Scottish, Victorian and Empire entrepreneurs, had made their fortune building railways in Russia and South America, as well as the Ipswich to Lowestoft line including branches serving Thorpeness and Aldeburgh, and the family eventually re-settled at Sizewell Hall.

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Christopher Oldrey and Dexter on the ninth tee

The Sizewell estate was then left to Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie (‘GOS’ as he was known) in 1908 who had the dream of building a holiday retreat with something for everyone, offering a beach, tennis, a sailing mere and (fortunately for us…) a golf course.

Harry Colt was consulted on course design in 1911 but with the intervention of The Great War, the construction of the course was deferred until 1922 when James Braid (5 times Open Champion and a member of the Great Triumvirate with Harry Vardon and JH Taylor) laid out the course, he being then aged 52 and attached professional at Walton Heath.

He used his love of the dogleg to create some great holes here, none better than the third with its challenging drive over gorse to a fairway lying between two copses that slopes right to left often giving a hanging lie to a distant and again a sloping green. The green is tucked round the mere, with five well positioned bunkers for anybody thinking of playing the lay-up.

thorpeness golf club, running golf,

The fourteenth green

Thorpeness has three different areas of ecology and as it spreads out across a large area there is much thicket, gorse and undergrowth between the wide fairways particularly for holes eight to sixteen that lie over the Aldringham road. Here heather abounds and it is gratifying to know that its wood larks and night jars are returning.

The third and seventh holes have a mere and a large lily pond that gives a wetland environment while the other holes wend through gorse and oak, birch and pine woodlands.

After a gentle 320 yard opener, one needs a straight, medium iron to run on to the par three second.

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view to third fairway

The teeing ground at the third hole is today next door to the new restaurant and hotel accommodation which were added on to the original 1930 clubhouse with its impressive Suffolk turrets and views and breakfast can be had while watching the golf.

GOS is said to have planted one million trees across the Sizewell Estate and to my mind it is a pity that so many of them have trespassed on to what used to be an open golf course on a barren heath where like Royal Ashdown Forest there is a continuous battle with bracken.

Ian Willet, the well experienced course manager, and his team have done well in developing Browntop Bent dominant greens which after a lot of rain in early December were still firm, true and gave the golfer confidence as the ball rolled out.  The environment of the tree lined course is much damper today, owing to a lack of open space around many greens, than for example its neighbour Aldeburgh, where the dry fescues give some of the best inland greens in the country.

Both of these neighbours have recently retained Ken Moodie to re-bunker and how beautifully this task has been done using the finest fescue turf to help gather in the wayward ball. At both of these courses (and other links like Hunstanton and Littlehampton advised by Gordon Irvine MGa member of FineGolf’s Advisory Panel) the bunkers are an integral part of the fairways and not left isolated in the rough. This approach may require more thoughtful mowing but greatly enhances the design, with the ball not being held-up in a fringe of semi-rough.

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The sixth green

Holes four and five are fantastic long-iron par fours with the sixth giving a semi- blind shot to a sloping green where you need to be putting from below the hole.

The seventh, one of three Ken Cotton holes on the course (Ken was arguably the leading UK golf course architect across the 1950/60s and a partner of Frank Pennink), is sometimes criticised for its large lily pond being out of keeping with the heathland environment but it keeps good company with the tenth at heathland Worplesdon.

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The seventh across the lily pond.

This is a hole that concentrates the mind so much that my partner Christopher Oldrey, the Golf Services Manager at Thorpeness, after borrowing and trying-out my one iron, drilled his ball from the Championship tee to the back of the green, and though Christopher is off scratch, I am sure it was a shot that will live in his memory for quite some time!

Christopher’s ball finished up close to an old hedge, that anachronistically borders one side of the green, was originally laid in order to hide the railway station lying just behind it. Beeching did away with the line in the 1960s and I understand the Club is now starting to think about doing away with the hedge as well!

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The ninth green

Having enjoyed a gentle start and then some stern challenges, we now cross the Aldringham road and play the best part of the course which includes two testing par fives, the ninth being recently lengthened with a plateau, fescue-grassed green which is taking a little time to knit in. Deep swales have been created either side of the green.

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A beautiful Thorpeness sow

The other two Ken Cotton holes are the par three tenth set between banks of gorse and the 300 yard eleventh where the tee is next to a field with some very fine large pigs! These holes were created so the eighteenth could be improved and a large practice area sensibly created from the old sixteenth and seventeenth holes.

At holes twelve to fifteen we are back to quality, stretchy, Braid holes cutting through the heather until we arrive at the 200 yard sixteenth.

The tiger players might think it fun to go for the 275 yard seventeenth green but it is well guarded by Moodie’s deep bunkers and I suspect the locals leave themselves some yardage for their second so as to help create some backspin bite which will hold their ball from falling off the back of the green.

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The eighteenth green

No mention has been made until now of a defining feature of the entire course, namely the unique and extraordinary ‘house in the clouds’ perched on a converted water tower, which comes into view behind the eighteenth green. This remarkable building, along with an old fashioned white sailed windmill, gives the Thorpeness course a distinct identity.

The members have twice been given the opportunity of acquiring the freehold of the course but have left it in private hands, now as part of a local hotel group, which has invested heavily in the course and provides one of the most enjoyable weekends away in England let alone in East Anglia.

‘The History of Thorpeness Golf Club’ was compiled by Michael Wood in 2010 and contains at the end some interesting background on how the club’s trophies came to be donated. They include the Mallinson (timber merchants) Silver Frigate; the handcuff, truncheon and whistle Trophy of the Suffolk constabulary who consider Thorpeness to be their home club and the Ogilvie Shield given in July 1923 by the family to whom all Thorpeness lovers owe much and were presidents of this Club right up to the 1970s.

Much work in recent years has been done to re-establish a ‘running game’ over the heath-like nature of the course and a high ‘joy to be alive’ feeling is the pleasing result.

A history of Thorpeness Golf Club” compiled by Michael Wood

Reviewed by Lorne Smith 2015

 

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