LOCATION: Ganton (near Scarborough), North Yorkshire, England
ARCHITECT(S): Original layout by Tom Chisholm. Initial alterations by Ted Ray, James Braid and J.H. Taylor, with further revisions by Dr Alister MacKenzie, Harry Colt and C.K. Cotton.
PAR: 71 / 72 S.S.S. RATING: 74 LENGTH: 6,998 yards
DATE INSPECTED / PLAYED: Tuesday 24th June 2014
Laid out over undulating sandy terrain with firm, fast fairways and greens, plenty of gorse and thick rough, Ganton has all of the qualities and ingredients of a challenging links layout. And despite the fact that it is located well away from the coastline – meaning it is obviously not a true links course – it certainly feels and plays like one. Though to call it a heathland course is not exactly correct either. What can be said definitively about Ganton however is that it is a fine layout and a demanding and unrelenting test of golf.
As with The Alwoodley Golf Club, Ganton is actually laid out over two separate parcels of land, which are divided by the same road from which you enter the course. And as is the case at The Alwoodley, you must play your tee shot over this road at the penultimate hole. Additionally the same road must also be carried with the approach to the par four 18th. Interestingly, this roadway (defined by a line of white posts to either side) is in play on the 17th, though deemed out-of-bounds on the 18th.
Like its counterpart Woodhall Spa Golf Club – to which it is often compared – Ganton is renowned for its fierce bunkering. Much like the bunkers at Woodhall, the majority of the bunkers at Ganton are effectively large pits with steep, near vertical grassed walls. As a result, many of them have steps to allow you to actually get in and out of them without injuring yourself. And yet while the former may take the mantle as the most ferocious in England, I believe that the bunkers at Ganton actually demand better shot making, and are therefore a sterner test of golf.
What makes them such a challenge (aside from the sheer depth and breath) is a combination of their positioning and the playing conditions that one is likely to encounter. Unlike Woodhall Spa, where many of the fairway bunkers are set into the rough, at Ganton they tend to extend into the fairways quite frequently (with several actually being fully sited within them), and therefore they come into play more from the tee. Additionally the fairways themselves are not always so generous in their width, with these surfaces being firm and typically having more undulation than those found at Woodhall Spa. As a result, the layout will offer up more bounce and rollout from the tee and the chance of a player possibly ending up in one of the many bunkers. Combined, these features establish that Ganton is, for all intents and purposes, a greater test of one’s golfing ability, especially from the tee.
Though for all the intimidation that the bunkers may exert, their presence is balanced by the fact that – apart from the par three 10th – every single green presents an open front, and thus they afford the shorter hitter and those of less ability the opportunity to run their approach shots onto the putting surfaces. Additionally this design feature gives all players several options in how to attack the greens, especially in windy conditions. Should you choose to utilize the ground game though be warned: the firm fairways will ensure that anything slightly off line will likely feed into one of the cavernous bunkers that flank the approaches and putting surfaces.
Aside from the bunkering, a standout feature of the layout is the green complexes, namely for their sublime contouring. Many greens, such as the par four 15th have beautifully rippled surfaces that reward both careful judgment and execution of approach shots from any length, and in turn provide for plenty of interest and challenge when putting.
If one were being picky they might complain that there is a lack of short and long holes in the layout, with only three par threes and two par fives on the card, making for a total of thirteen par fours. However, there are many excellent layouts with more than ten par fours in their configuration, and what makes all of those courses so great is the challenge and variety amongst their two shot holes. Ganton is no exception, and in many ways it is distinguished by this quality.
There is a great mix of par four’s on both nines, with holes running in all directions on the compass to ensure you get the full effect of any winds. Some holes bend with the terrain while others fight it, the latter asking you to shape you tee shot in order to not just have the best angle for your approach, but to ensure you find the fairway itself. In all instances you are required to drive accurately to give yourself a chance of posting a decent score.
Rated index 1, the 432 yard 7th hole is a great example of the difficult challenges the layout consistently presents you with, and is therefore in many ways, a microcosm of the entire golf course. Dog-legging left to right, the inside of the hole is protected by a cluster of four fairway bunkers that sit in the rough. The wide fairway provides plenty of room to avoid them, though the further left you drive, the longer your second. A lone bunker also sits to the left to swallow up anything playing too far down that side of the hole. Your approach is played slightly uphill past several bunkers flanking both sides of the fairway to a large, oval-shaped green protected by three more bunkers – two left and one right.
For all the talk of the great variety of two-shot holes, one shouldn’t discount the par threes and fives. The 158 yard 5th is a particularly attractive hole where the tee shot must carry a dense stand of gorse and the same swale that crosses in front of the previous green. The green its self is encircled by four bunkers that will punish a wayward tee shot. The 10th and 17th are the other two short holes, the latter of which I will address further on. At 168 yards the 10th is a very similar length to the 5th, though plays in the opposite direction, ensuring the wind experienced at the first is reversed at the second. Here you must avoid no less than six bunkers to find a large, undulating green whose slopes can be used to help feed your ball towards the pin.
The 501 yard 9th is a very reachable par five, where a narrowing of the fairway and thick rough act as the hole’s key defenses en route to the green. The putting surface is shaped like a figure eight, pinched in the middle by a pair of bunkers. The 13th is the other par five, playing some 60 odds yards longer, making it a three-shot hole for most. Three bunkers to the right encourage you to aim left, though go to far and you will be blocked out by a stand of pine trees set on that side of the hole. The ideal landing area for your drive actually tightens in from both sides, making it an intimidating tee shot. A dozen bunkers are scattered along the length of the hole, the majority being in the second half. These are cleverly spaced such that any errant shot played to either side of the fairway will have a hard time avoiding sand. A five here is certainly well-earned.
With the course stretching to almost 7,000 yards from the tips, and only two par fives, many of the par fours (nine in fact) are over 400 yards, presumably to help maintain the total yardage. Despite this there are a couple of genuine short par fours (three if you include the swinging 17th), which are all interesting from a playability point of view, enticing the golfer with risk and reward options.
The 3rd is the first of these great short two-shot holes. Playing slightly downhill, it has a sprawling bunker that eats into the fairway from the left, asking you to weigh up the need to take driver from the tee. The safe option is to lay up and take the bunker out of play, leaving only a short iron for you second. While it plays to 349 and 339 yards from the blue (championship) and white (medal) markers, it is only 288 yards from the yellow (club) tee, so for those playing up front, having a crack at flying the bunker and reaching the green becomes a real possibility. A second fairway bunker sits to the right to swallow up anything played too far down that side. For those who have laid up, precision with regards to length is the key with your approach, especially if the pin is cut in the back-half of the green. The is owed to the fact that the entire green slopes from front to back, with out-of-bounds just several paces off the back edge of the putting surface.
The other standout short par four is the 280 yard 14th. Again the bunker that dictates strategy from the tee is located on the left-hand side, eating into the width of the hole such that the strip of short grass to get past it is quite narrow. This bunker is quite deep and likely to cost you a full stroke should you find it. Opposite the fairway bunker is a small clump of thick vegetation tucked just off the right edge of the fairway, meaning the punishment for anything slightly off-line in either direction is quite severe. Your drive will need to carry at least 230 yards to clear the bunker, otherwise it’s best to safely lay up and then pitch into the elongated green. Those who successfully carry the hazard will find a patch of fairway running into an open-fronted green, giving one a great chance at having an eagle putt. There is plenty of room short of the bunker for those who wish to play safe, but don’t get careless as another fairway bunker sits at around the 180-yard mark on the right edge of the fairway, ready to punish the wayward tee shot. Three more bunkers guard the green, with two located short and to the right, while the third is tucked hard against the left side of the green itself. As with the 3rd hole, the entire putting surface slopes away from you, making sure you have to work for your par.
After the 14th the focus will be hanging onto your score as you head for home over the demanding final four-hole stretch. The 15th is a brutish par four of 493 yards with nine bunkers spaced along its length to test your nerve and accuracy. The 16th is another great driving hole. Here you must play blindly over an enormous cross bunker that spans the full width of the fairway. Your drive will only need to fly around 130 yards to clear the bunker, though the punishment for failing to do so is stern. At 432 yards you will need two good strikes to reach the large green, which is protected by two bunkers short right.
The 17th is an interesting quandary, partly owing to the change in par between the three different tee markers. It stretches to 251 yards from the championship markers and is listed as either a par three or a par four. I assume the par assigned depends on the competition event being played on a given day. From the medal tee it still measures 247 yards though affords four strokes on the card, while for general club play it is back to a par three of 235 yards. In light of this one may tend to favour playing from the medal tee to take advantage of the extra stroke allotted. Regardless of the par to which you play, it is a great hole full of strategy and playing interest.
Standing on the tee you are confronted with a variety of elements laid before you that force you to weight up the best strategy to implement: should you lay up in the fairway or go for the green? A road lies directly in front of the tee pad itself (which is deemed in play), though this is not the real concern in terms of what you must avoid. Directly over the road is the ladies tee, and in front of that tee is a strip of thick gorse, which runs somewhat in a straight line between the tee and the green. Right of the gorse is a very thin strip of short rough, while to the left is a circular patch of fairway set some six to eight feet below the main fairway where one can seek refuge. Though end up down here and you will have a partially blind, uphill shot over a large fairway bunker to contend with. Presumably this patch of fairway is for ladies who are unable to carry the gorse with their drive. For everyone else, to carry the gorse and find the main portion of the fairway will require a tee shot of only 160 yards. This main tract of fairway is encircled by six bunkers: two on the left, three on the right and one in front, which that separates it from the lower level mentioned earlier.
The fairway and green are angled slightly left to right across the line of play, such that a straight shot from tee to green must flirt ever so slightly with the bunkers on the right. Should you avoid the gorse and sand, the next issue to contend with is the false front to the green, which makes hitting and holding the putting surface quite difficult. Cleverly, these design elements combine to remove the option of the golfer playing safe for the fairway in the hope that their tee shot may end up running onto the green; and also ensure that the hole presents both as a long, difficult par three and a short, though shrewd par four.
The final hole is another demanding par four over 400 yards (435 to be exact) where the player has both a blind tee shot and out-of-bounds to contend with. The hole dog-legs right to left, with the tee shot played blindly over a low ridge to a fairway angled right to left across the line of play. The four tee pads are set in a staggered alignment right to left as one moves back, meaning the further back you go, the greater the angle of the drive to the blind fairway. This also shortens the depth of fairway you have to hit into, placing a premium on both line and length. A marker post sits atop the low ridge to help with your alignment, and with the angled fairway you must choose your line wisely and/or successfully play a shot shaped right to left to find the fairway. Once safely in the fairway you will be faced with an approach over the same road that also crosses the 17th, though in this instance it is out-of-bounds. Five bunkers flank both the approach and sides of the large, open-fronted green, where three putting is a real possibility. It is both an attractive and demanding finish to a fine layout.
With so many great golf architectural minds having an influence on the layout, it is easy to understand why Ganton is such a fine test of golf. Just make sure you are on your game when you decide to visit, as it is sure to test every aspect of your shot making as well as your resilience.
Please click on any one of the images below to load a slide show of photographs of the golf course.
FEATURED COVER IMAGE: The 158 yard par three 5th
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