- Neil White
Royal West Norfolk
"Time and tide wait for no man," said Geoffrey Chaucer and nowhere has his famous phrase been more apt than during our visit to Royal West Norfolk.
Both of our rounds at gorgeous Brancaster had to be timed so that the North Sea had not submerged the road leading up to this celebrated club.
And, on the second day, we were advised to move our arranged tee time by an hour because we were warned that water would be hanging around longer than expected.
"A few have tried to drive through it, not realising how deep it can be. I wouldn't recommend it," said the jovial chap in the pro's shop.
The importance of the tide is the most memorable but not the only quirk of a club which was bestowed its patronage by the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, after it opened in 1892.
The Brancaster West Marshes are a Site of Special Scientific Interest because they are an important habitat for birds.
Meanwhile, the club has faced a constant battle against coastal erosion which has forced it to change Horace Hutchinson's original design many times.
Indeed, it is on such a tight tract of land that there are shared fairways between the first and 18th and the second and 17th holes.
Our visit was in February 2023 and its much-acclaimed clubhouse was closed for complete refurbishment. But, despite food being served in temporary buildings, breakfast was tasty and we were made to feel at home.
Actually, we were rather too comfortable ahead of our first round because winds were gusting at more than 30 miles an hour outside.
The following day, in still conditions and, with knowledge of the course layout, Mrs W, and I both scored ten shots better.
Royal West Norfolk ticks my box because I love exciting and unexpected golf holes. The links are not long but there are some pretty obvious traps.
Yes, the bunkers are unforgettable. Deep, lined with railway sleepers and fiendishly positioned. Almost every encounter with one will result in a dropped shot.
To be honest, I was wondering why the course was so lauded after the opening two holes with their wide, forgiving, shared fairways,
But the fun really begins on the third - a typical Brancaster hole with a drive over marsh before taking on a flag, hidden behind a huge trap.
I discovered, during my first round, that an approach left of the target will mean the ball slipping into a cavernous bunker.
The fourth is just wacky. The par-three of about 115 yards should be easy but the plateaued green is protected by pot bunkers and a semi-circle of railway sleepers.
`It is followed by a par-four which is fairly straightforward... after a blind tee shot over a dune containing another huge sandscape.
The eighth is a mind-boggling par-five with a decent carry over marsh to a fairway which is linked to the green by a bridge over more water. I tried to smash to safety with my wind-assisted second shot on day one and didn't make it. On day two, I was more sensible, laid up, hit a third to within four feet and notched a birdie.
There is no pause in the excitement as the ninth demands another crash over the wetlands before the player is left with the sight of a raised green that appears to be held up by sleepers.
Failure to hit the target could see the ball submerged into the water which remains after the departed tide.
By comparison, the back nine should be a piece of cake because it doesn't have such alarming carries and is 400 yards shorter - but it is usually into the wind.
This means that club selection is more problematic than one might imagine from seeing the yardages of the short par-three 10th and relatively straightforward par-five 11th on the scorecard.
The par-four 13th is the only hole on the back nine with the prevailing wind at the golfer's back. Consequently, we failed to adjust and both overshot the green. On day two, it was much more benevolent - Mrs W. chipped in for a birdie and I missed my three by a centimetre.
The bunkers are always tough at Brancaster but take on a whole new dimension on the 15th - a 200-yard par-three whose green is protected by a veritable crater.
I could barely conceal my mirth when Mrs W. created the photo opportunity by dribbling her drive into the moonscape.
She was a mere speck on the beach but, much to her great credit, excavated her ball with just one heave.
The trio of home holes offer more fun with the small 16th green perched high towards the course boundary with the most intimidating run-offs of the many at Royal West Norfolk.
It is followed by an elevated tee shot to the dogleg 17th and a target defended by some intriguing mounds.
The 18th is simply a wonderful finishing hole.
At 381 yards, it is not the longest but its circular green is almost entirely surrounded by a moat of sand and, you guessed it, railway sleepers. On day two, we were both very pleased to finish with pars.
We had been given glowing reports of the view from the Brancaster clubhouse out to sea and it would have been rather lovely to have digested our rounds there.
But I do wonder how many people have become a little too rested, missed the return of the high tide and been forced to stay for hours.
Or perhaps they do it deliberately?
I couldn't blame them. We didn't want to go home and we didn't even have the chance of a fireside armchair after our round.