“This isn’t a wind, you’ll be fine.”
The sentiment from the friendly fella in the pro’s shop at Aldeburgh assuaged our trepidation at playing autumnal coastal golf in gusts of up to 30 miles per hour.
He was smirking behind his words, though. He would have known the strong breeze which changed direction several times would be a major destabilising factor in the rounds of cosseted city boys.
His bonhomie was typical of that at Aldeburgh.
I had won a two-ball through The National Golf Club Challenge in aid of wounded veterans and already my experience of booking had been excellent with no problem in pushing on our time from the previous day to avoid a storm.
The welcome was equally warm in the clubhouse where I noshed on the tastiest scampi I can recall. Giant pieces in succulent crispy breadcrumbs prepared me for the battle ahead.
The nourishment obviously stood me in good stead because after thinning a chip, ten yards through the first green, I was forced to stand on nettles before sending a low seven-iron over the brow, back on to the putting surface and into the hole!
I was already in love with Aldeburgh - the 50th course in England's top 100 I have played since June 2020 when I began the quest to complete them all
The first sets the tone – a long par-four on which placement is key. It seems obvious but keeping the ball on fairways and avoiding bunkers is central to success and I was lucky enough to go in only one trap and very light rough once.
The chap in the pro’s shop had suggested that, given our handicaps (myself 10.7 and my compadre 6.9) we should play off the white tees.
This meant we had to tackle eight par-fours of over 400 yards.
Consequently, the second, a downhill 379-yarder with the wind at our back, was a comparative doddle. For the record, I narrowly missed my birdie putt.
The third looked a lot longer than it was (429 yards) because the breeze was directly into our faces and it was an uphill dogleg. By now I had realised that attempting to complete the sternest holes in five rather than four was the sensible play.
In fact, there are no par-fives on the course. This means the par is 68, the lowest among England’s top 100. But I had a keen eye on the standard scratch score of 72 which seemed much more realistic.
It is not as if the par-threes are gimmes. The fourth, for example, is Aldeburgh’s picture hole with a green surrounded by a moat bunker with walls of railway sleepers. Never have I been so happy to find the target from the tee.
My other favourites were early in the back nine and include the momentous 467-yead, par four 11th – a truly fabulous hole.
There is no way that I could have any hope of hitting this in regulation, so I followed a nicely placed tee-shot with a five-iron over bunkers which bisected the fairway and approach with an eight-iron, way to the left of the flag to avoid the sand directly in front of it.
This turned out to be exactly the right shot because the ball funnelled into a bowl of a green towards the hole. I missed my par putt but was extremely satisfied with a five.
I was also a fan of the 12th which demands a tee shot over the 11th green and down the right. It seemed to me that the smart move all the way around Aldeburgh was to ignore flags and hit to the heart of the green. Again, this worked in my favour.
The par-three 15th is a heck of a stroke index 14 at 203 yards and the 18th is a 431-yard brute up to a sloping putting surface. They will both stay in the memory.
At Aldeburgh, the green complexes were fascinating but the surfaces were quite slow, given that this was October and the cold was already biting. However, they were true enough and profits were yielded once the pace had been worked out.
Overall, the course deserves its high place in the rankings because of the variety of its holes. One minute, it feels like heathland, the next links and, towards the end, there is a parkland stretch.
And, despite their length, accuracy can be rewarded, as I discovered.
The views aren’t as good as I expected (I thought the water which can be seen during the first nine was the sea but now suspect it was the River Alde) and it isn’t manicured to the same standards as courses such as West Lancs (better signage to the next tee would be helpful).
Nevertheless, our day in Suffolk was most enjoyable and I would certainly return.