Thursday, November 01, 2012

Ganton Golf Club

Entry Sign

The Ganton Golf Club (ranked #62 in the world) was formed in 1891 and orginally called the Scarborough Golf Club. It is the course where Harry Vardon served as the  professional between 1892 and 1903. If you don't appreciate who Harry Vardon is, then you had better brush up on your golfing history. One of the greatest players of all time, Vardon won the Open Championship six times and the U.S. Open once.  Ted Ray, winner of the Open Championship and U.S. Open also served as the head professional at Ganton.

Some of golf's most esteemed architects have had a hand in shaping Ganton including J.H. Taylor, H.S. Colt, Alister MacKenzie and James Braid.  The Ganton railway station, now gone, was 300 yards from the course and caddies used to meet their players at the station and accompany them to the clubhouse.

Located in Yorkshire, Ganton has hosted three British Amateur Championships and a Walker Cup (2003). It also hosted the 1949 Ryder Cup, won by the United States and captained by Ben Hogan. My regular readers know how much I love the British Isles and visiting Ganton is no exception. The course is located in North Yorkshire which has beautiful rolling countryside and impossible to decipher thick accents. The nearby North York Moors are a national park and the areas surrounding Ganton are comprised of moors rich with bracken, heather and grass that give off a glowing color. The area has a purple hue in the summer from the bursting heather. There is something mysterious and romantic about this part of England and its old stone walls and alluring views.

Entry Drive
The nice entry road into Ganton

Ganton is golf from the old school. Aside from 150-yard markers, there are no yardage markers at Ganton. The tops of the flag sticks DO NOT have a GPS target in them. This is golfing the old fashioned way, played by feel, trying to judge the wind and distance by eye or from the distance measured by a bunker or a tree. No golf carts here. This is pure golf.

I suppose that deep bunkering is part of the character in the north of England because Ganton also has deep, penal and large bunkers in the style of nearby Woodhall Spa. These are bunkers so deep that you need a ladder to climb in and out of them.  I played Ganton without a caddy in sunny, windy conditions. The winter sun was at a low angle in the sky with the crisp air filling my lungs. 

10th bunker
A bunker on the 10th hole is typical of the deep bunkers at Ganton

The course has a relatively easy start and the front nine isn't terribly difficult or dramatic, although you quickly get a sense that is is wise to stay out of the bunkers and to look around at the idyllic countryside in all directions. Ganton is not unusually short by today's standards, with back tees of 6,935 and would be a real challenge with the wind blowing. The growing conditions in this part of England are ideal due to the rain and cool temperatures, thus, the greens and fairways are as good as any course in the world.

I think the back nine is far stronger than the front. The course's strong finish picks up steam on the sixteenth hole, seen below, with a huge and rough cross bunker running across the fairway. The hole is 446 yards and has a line of trees along both sides. You can see some of the pastoral beauty in the distance in the picture below. Farming has been going on in this area for over 1,000 years.

  16th Cross Bunker  
The view of the 16th fairway as seen from the tee

I particularly like the 258-yard par three seventeenth hole, where you must hit your tee shot across the entrance road to the course. Yorkshire men are known as a hearty breed, and this hole is built for them.

17th tee shot
The difficult par three 17th as seen from the tee box 

The 435-yard eighteenth features a blind tee shot on the drive and a shot over the entry drive as your second. The shot below shows the tee shot over gorse bushes, a big sand hole and other local flora, especially gorse. If you hit your tee shot to the left, you have no shot to the green and are blocked out by trees.

  18th tee shot
The blind tee shot as seen from the 18th tee

After the round, one of the great pleasures of this quest is retiring to the clubhouse to have a sandwich. At Ganton it is egg mayonnaise on brown bread or roast beef with classic English mustard, with the edges trimmed off as they do here, accompanied by a local beer. Or, if you are so inclined you can have sausages and cakes with tea after the round as a hearty group sitting nearby us did.

As is the custom for most proper English courses, you must have on a jacket and tie to enter the dining area at Ganton, even though you are far from the big cities.  I can appreciate that they are trying to uphold the standards and traditions of proper English clubs. The classic English club, Ganton has everything that is quintessentially English: The locker room has separate hot and cold water old-fashioned faucets. The TV is tuned to the BBC. The course is surrounded by beautiful English hedges that grow so perfectly here given the growing conditions. Of course, there are dogs being walked through the course by non-golfers.

The Ganton clubhouse is a throwback to an earlier era, probably not changing much since Vardon's time. Their locker room is seen below.

Locker Room  
The historic locker room at Ganton

It is important that clubs and courses like Ganton remain in the top 100 rankings. It is certainly easy to have courses like this replaced with the newest $20 million Tom Fazio made-for-US-Open-design. To do so would be a shame. The history of the game is important and places like Ganton are standard bearers for upholding its traditions.

I have now visited Ganton twice and I must say they are some of the friendliest people I have encountered each time. The long-time pro greeted us and was happy to give the history of the course. The caddie master went back to his house to get me a plug so I could charge my phone while we played. The members were also all welcoming and proud of their below-the-radar gem of the golfing world.

By chance, as we were driving back to our B & B on the A171 we spotted the Hare & Hounds because there was smoke rising from the chimney on the chilly night we went by. Inside, it the most English of pubs, with regulars and visitors happily mingling in a lively atmosphere. The fireplace burns coal and the food is locally sourced and provided the perfect ending to a perfect day.