Golf Course Review of Close House Golf Club (Colt)
Close House Golf Course
Reviewed by Ed Battye -
Quick Summary: What goes up must come down
Our 5 Star Rating: 4.1
The design of the Lee Westwood “Colt” course, located on the Close House Estate near Heddon-on-the-Wall in Northumberland, apparently tips its hat to the great golf course architect Harry Colt and whilst The Club note that nothing is copied directly they claim that the “rectangular tees” (eh?), the bunker forms, and the variety in par threes are all features conceived from the brilliant architect.
I’m inclined to take all this with a pinch of salt and whilst people with a far greater knowledge about the subject than myself will be better able to advise – even considering the obvious time differential - it’s certainly nothing like any of the other courses I’ve played by the man responsible for creating the likes of St Georges Hill, Sunningdale and Swinley Forest at the highest level and the plethora of second and third tier courses he also created.
The Colt course is less than ten years old - there is also the elder “Filly” on the grounds - and it is for sure a bold modern layout that for the most part offers plenty of width but punishes you significantly if you miss the generous fairways. The sea of striking bunkers, with their craggy outlines, certainly brings the course to life and dictates play to a large extent whilst the long, bronzed coloured fescue grass define each fairway gloriously.
What I particularly liked was that the sand traps were often very much on the line of play and not just simply flanking the fairways. There are a number of times where you must decide to lay-up short, attempt to carry or skirt by the hazards. My initial impression was that at times it was more of a case of style over substance but the more I thought about it and reflected on my round the more I appreciated their locations and is what possibly sets the course apart from similar venues.
Scott Macpherson was the man tasked with creating the course and he has done an excellent job in routing the course over what is not prime real estate for golf (not a problem Colt often faced!) because for the most part it is laid out over a steep hillside. Indeed there must be at least a couple of hundred feet in elevation change from the low part of the property to the summit.
There are four significant and inevitable climbs that we must make during the round – and this does detract from the playing experience - but thankfully most of these come quite early in the round. I thought the second and fifth – which are not dissimilar and tackle the hill head on – were fine holes and the seventh, which is a long three-shot slog up the hill actually played ok. The tenth doesn’t quite do the job as well but it does get us to the top of the property and the remainder of the course is then on the flat or downhill. The only caveat to this is a short, steep walk required after an awkward blind drive at the 15th and the sucker punch of a steep 300-yard hike back to the visitor car park after the round!
As they say, what goes up must come down and at Close House it does so in truly spectacular fashion! The eighth and 13th are both dramatic plunging holes and although one play isn’t enough to even come close to understanding their strategies, with their multiple routes, I can unequivocally say that I’m a fan! The sixth is also a downhill gem but doesn’t quite have the same visual appeal or strategy as the other two.
Further highlights include the approach to the scary green at the third, driving through a narrow saddle in the fairway at the 11th and also the second shot into the delightful 16th. The par-threes are all fine holes too with the 12th the standout although the ninth is perhaps the signature short hole; played over a pond to a domed green that was nigh on impossible to hit and hold downwind from the competition tees.
Close House undoubtedly has tournament credentials having staged a European Seniors Tour event but from a golfing perspective the par 71, 6,800-yard course doesn’t play overly long and of course there are multiple tee boxes – choose wisely. There is lots of interest around the greens too with some very nice run-off areas.
Admittedly, there are some things I wasn’t keen on apart from the tough walk. The opening hole doesn’t quite feel right and the approach to the 18th is a bit of a cluttered mess with red stakes, bunkers, trees and a wall to hurdle. A compulsory ten minute break after the ninth is also not something that sits well with me!
However, overall I enjoyed my round on the Colt course. I’ve recently played several modern inland golf courses; The Grove, Goodwood Downs, The Duke’s, Machynys Peninsula, Centurion Club, Remedy Oak and Bearwood Lakes. There’s just something that doesn’t overly appeal to me personally in these courses as a genre even though there’s no doubt that the individual holes that make up the 18 are solid. Close House compares alongside all of these and can easily live in their company.
In many ways there’s more of a story to Close House than just playing the course. MacPherson explains, “The land on which you play is unique in many ways. You will find numerous little wonders as you move around the course. The highlights may be the Ancient Forest to the left of the first hole, the Old Roman Fort to the left of the 11th hole, the lake by the 15th tees, or the Ha-Ha wall and Ice-Lake on the 18th Hole. Each has a story, and each is for you to enjoy.”
The members-only Colt layout at Close House was, as you would expect, conditioned exceptionally and the off-course facilities and service was five-star. The course itself is not one to give up its secrets easily; after one round I feel that I would score much better in the knowledge of knowing the holes now, more so than at other courses I’ve play just the once. That simply means that the willingness to return here is a little bit stronger than some other venues.