Seaton Carew review
Skysports.com checks out North East gem Seaton Carew, one of the oldest courses in England.
By Graeme Bailey
Last Updated: 13/11/09 2:50pm
Seaton Carew has everything any golfer would want, but most importantly it is a course which could stand shoulder to shoulder with anything in Britain.
A Championship links is what awaits you at Seaton Carew, a small seaside resort on the North East cost of England - just south of Hartlepool.
Established in 1874, Seaton Carew is the tenth oldest course, (although it could even be as high as seventh), just ten year's younger than Royal North Devon, which is the oldest in the country.
Founded by a highly regarded R&A member of the time, Seaton Carew is able to rub shoulders with courses with much bigger reputations
For this venture to the coast, I am accompanied by my friend Roger West - who is a Links virgin - having played for five years purely on Parkland fare.
Despite having not played a Championship links, Roger and myself knew what we would like to see, having already witnessed the wonder of Turnberry when visiting for the Open Championship itself just a few months earlier.
Now many of you will be wondering just how Seaton Carew could be compared to some of the most renowned courses in the world - well quite easily, but whether it would compare favourably in the flesh would be another matter.
We turn up on a sun-drenched day, and Seaton Carew, like many links, has an understated, but thoroughly pleasing club-house, which looks over the first-tee and 18th - which already has it in my good books as this are a must for me.
So having presented ourselves in the club shop, we find out that today we are playing the Micklem Course. Seaton has 22 holes, the main and most-prized course being the Brabazon, but there are a total of five lay-outs with the Old Course, New Course and Bishop also in the repertoire.
We make our way to the first hole - The Rocket. A not too daunting opening shot, although the cavernous bunkers green-side are already in our thoughts. But we both negotiate the imposing green with decent approaches - indeed Roger pars his first-ever links hole!
The stroke index 2 second hole, The Long Trail - bites us back immediately, although I am thoroughly happy with a 6, whilst Roger's errant tee-shot means a 9 is all he can do.
The third hole, as we get used to our surroundings, is the Doctor - a 165-yard par 3 with a crescent of daunting, hugely deep bunkers surrounding the approach. This heralds my best shot of the day as I land within 12-feet - Roger comes up short and has to make do with 6.
Seaton's opening is a true pleasure as we wind our way towards the turn. Indeed Roger is also enjoying his foray - which includes a birdie on the 7th, Sandhills.
Having turned we find the Lagoon 11th, yet another brilliant par four, with - as the title suggests - a Lagoon-esque feature on the right. Indeed Roger is so intrigued he puts his drive in the middle of it!
Next up is The Gare - and my personal favourite - an uphill par four which cuts through the Buckthorn Bushes which beautifully border Seaton. A deliberate piece of design in the late 1890s which helped prevent the beach intruding too much onto the course.
Now as we enter the final stretch of holes, this is where Seaton bares its teeth - the 13th, Chapel Open, is a blind tee-shot over the Buckthorn. As hard a tee-shot as you could dare for! We are now limping our way through as hole after hole, the course takes its revenge for our earlier declarations of how well we were playing it.
The final par 3, the 15th - Cosy Corner, is anything but! Still we had not seen the true horrors to wait on the final run-in back to the club house.
The 17th is the club's signature hole. I had already read before playing Seaton that Snag was one of the true great holes of British golf, one of the changes made by leading golf course designer Alister MacKenzie - of Augusta fame - in the course's infancy. Indeed some golf historians even suggest that seeing the Snag is reason enough to visit Seaton.
And despite that sort of build up, The Snag doesn't disappoint. From the tee you just have a glimpse of the fairway and green as again you need to go over the Buckhtorn - but if you do find the fairway then the approach into the green needs to be accurate with bunkers left and right. Indeed, I am more than happy with my 5 as another stray tee-shot leads Roger to a 7.
The 18th is not dissimilar to Snag, although the Bill Hector is straighter and has fewer green-side hazards. This time the Buckthorn all the way down the right swallows my drive! We both limp in with 6s.
We look back; after we both broke 50 on the front (43 & 48 respectively), the second nine really did teach us a lesson. I came back with 50 and Roger is just over 60.
But as we come off, we both feel as if we have wrestled with mother nature and emerged just about even. As Roger confesses, the difference between Links and Parkland golf is more than just chalk and cheese, they are two totally different environments.
And what of the Seaton environment that we have just sampled?
Granted Seaton does not have the light house of Turnberry to gaze down upon it, indeed many will condemn the industrial heartland which surrounds the vista. But this is the North East of England - they are proud of their heritage, and although views play an important aspect in any course, Seaston itself blows you away with it landscape and the purity of its course.
We speak with head professional Clifford Jackson, one of the North East's most highly-regarded coaches, who only last year returned to his hometown club of Seaton - where he began playing many years earlier.
Cliff is very proud of Seaton, as he should be, and he is very pleased - but hardly shocked - with our admiration for the course.
"We never want to under-sell ourselves, that is one of the key features I have been trying to get over since I arrived," he said.
"This is one of the best courses around, and we know it, anyone who plays it knows it and that is something we are looking to press."
I am intrigued to know Cliff's views on North East golf, with millions being ploughed into new builds at Rockliffe Hall and Close House.
"I think it is great these courses are being built in the region, there is no reason why the North East cannot become a Mecca for golf," he continued, confirming Seaton's own ambition to push itself forward as one of the region's finest.
"We know we cannot sit still and just expect success to come out way, we are targeting corporate membership, which is going well, we are also introducing a whole new range based around our own Brabazon course.
"I think identity is very important and the Brabazon is one which we are pushing on with."
The course's identity leads us on to talk about Seaton's ambitions. With Goswick currently hosting Regional Qualifying for the Open - where does Seaton stand in the reckoning?
"The R&A came and played the course and issued a report, and we think they were very happy with what they saw," honorary secretary John Hall told us.
"A few years ago we totally refurbished the greens and at that time we told the R&A that they were better waiting until this work was completed and that has been done, and they came back as requested.
"Now we are waiting to see what they say, obviously their rota and plan is years in advance but we hope we could get something good - we are no strangers to R&A events, we have had the British Boys twice and the Seniors too."
The enthusiasm is plain to see at Seaton and that is great news for this wonderful, almost forgotten piece of golfing dreamland. Seaton is a real masterpiece and now it is being marketed as such - and deservedly so.
If you want any further information on Seaton Carew you contact them on 01429 266 249 or on their website - http://www.seatoncarewgolfclub.co.uk