Ben Smith visits Yorkshire golf’s diamond in the rough, a memorable course that sits more than 1,000ft up in the stunning Pennines
Golf is changing. Where once it was played by folk with wooden clubs. Now it’s a game played by super humans, capable of reducing 600-yard par 5s to a thunderous drive and an easy 6-iron
Golf courses are changing too. They’re getting longer, both in yardage and the time it takes to play them. More expensive too. It’s still the game we all fell in love with but it’s important to remember that there are courses, if you look hard enough, that can take you back to those more innocent time.
“Hebden is not like any other course you’ll ever play. You will always remember the day you visited and smiled from start to finish.”
It was in that spirit that we wandered to the Yorkshire dales, a stone’s throw from the iconic Pennine Way, to find a course that is a delightful throwback.
Hebden Bridge GC is an adventure before you even get there. You climb up and away from the charming West Yorkshire village and wind your way through victorian housing and then fields until you get to the very top. And it’s there, at what feels like the top of the world (1100ft above sea level in fact), that you will find this delightful golf club.
The views carry to York and Leeds in the east and west into Lancashire. When the sun is out and wind behaves as it did for us, it’s hard to imagine there’s a more breathtaking setting for an inland course in England.
On arrival, it was obvious we would not find a pro-shop selling £400 drivers, no pro shop at all as it turned out. No parking spaces for captains, vice-captains, past captains or captain my captains. No cars except ours. No people in fact. Sunday afternoon in August. Sun shining, warm and we had the course to ourselves. Entirely to ourselves.
We knew the club operated an honesty box for green fees. So we filled out our tickets, placed our £10 into envelopes provided, took a scorecard and posted our money. The last ticket stub had been from three days previous.
This is a 9-hole golf course, with a second set of tees that allow you to play around a second time. It’s not long. The longest hole is 394-yards, in fact, but it is fantastic fun. The first hole plays away from the clubhouse to a green that is raised up above a fairway that slopes from left to right and has as many ups and downs as a thrill-a-minute rollercoaster ride.
The vibrant purples of the heather, illuminate the areas around the greens and fairways. Finding a lie where the ball is on the flat is rare and shots need to be carefully placed to avoid being swept away. But what you find, pretty quickly, is that you can’t wipe the smile from your face.
The second, a short par 4, runs back along the edge of the mountain, go left and you will need to drive for 15 minutes in your car before you can start looking for your ball. The 3rd is a longish par 4 with a green that slopes sharply towards the back, taking shots that are overhit sharply away.
The 4th is a lovely hole. The fairway can’t be seen from the tee but it’s there and wider than you might think. Anything right and you will never see your ball again. I was 50 yards short of the green in one and walked off with a 5.
The 5th is the longest hole on the course at 394 yards and requires a tee shot over the brow of a hill to a well-guarded green that has a slope in front that makes you think it’s closer than it really is. And the 6th doglegs left around a dry-stone wall to a green that nestles into the hillside.
The 7th is a hole like few others. A par-3 that tees off from right in front of the clubhouse to a green some 75ft above you, with the wind whipping across the tops. The green has a false front and any shot to the right will dive down the slope and leave you desperately scrambling to get back up onto the green. The 8th climbs higher still. A second successive par-3, this time 178-yards long.
With a bank of heather and thick rough to the left of the green and a sharp drop to the right, it’s a small, square target to hit. The ideal shot is into the slight slope on the left edge of the green that will run the ball gently back down to the flag. It’s the highest point on the course and it’s worth taking a minute to drink it all in. Stunning.
The 9th tee is another kodak moment. Although if you are with a trolley, don’t go down the back of the 8th green or you will find yourself, as I did, having to go down 50ft of stone steps to get there. This par-4 demands a long straight drive over the thick stuff and onto a fairway that slopes right to left. The green, which sits in front of the clubhouse, is guarded by bunkers but the overwhelming feeling is that you have come to the end of a lovely round.
Hebden Bridge will never feature in a top 100 list. Probably not even in Yorkshire. It is not a critically-acclaimed design the greens aren’t perfect and it is a little rough around the edges. But it is dripping with charm and quirkiness. It is not like every other course you have or ever will play. And the great joy of it, is that you will always remember the day you pitched up (pardon the pun), probably had the course to yourself and smiled from start to finish. I hope those of you who read this take me up on that challenge, to keep places like this going in the age of the 400-yard drive and 5hr round, there is still a place for a course that reminds us what golf is really about.
PS. Incidentally, the next morning one of the Wanderers (who shall remain nameless) realised he could not find his wallet. He was in the process of turning his house and car upside down in search of it, when his phone went. It was a man whom he had never met. But a man who was in possession of his wallet. We had managed to leave it on the floor of the car park at Hebden Bridge Golf Club. A man had arrived the next day to find it lying on the floor. He had managed to find a membership card for our wanderer’s home club and called the number on the card. He asked for his phone number and delivered the good news. Now, I would like to think that would have happened at most golf clubs around the world – we are a good lot – but it only added to the charm of the club and the course. Please go.
- Phone Number: 01422 842896
Designers: Thornber, Sutcliffe, Jackson, Peckover and Heyhurst
Cost: £15 high season for 18 holes. £10 for 9 holes. Honesty book
Where it ranks: Nowhere, but that’s its charm.
Length: 5,173 yards from the back tees. Par 68.
Best par 3: The 161-yard 8th is a fabulous hole. The green is a tiny target high on a hill. But it is reachable with a short or medium iron that lands softly on the left edge of the green and runs down towards the flag. Anything right is gone.
Best par-4: The 345-yard 1st is a brilliant par 4. A straight drive is a must. Anything right will leave you with a long second. If you can aim up the left side of the fairway with a slight draw, you will leave yourself a short iron or even a wedge into the green, which is a small target and is well defended by heather and long rough on the left and a short drop off on the right. A great way to begin your round but also a hole that demands concentration and respect.
Most memorable hole: For once, I won’t pick one. All nine holes were memorable. The whole course. Great fun. Next time I go back, I will try and play it with four clubs. And a bunch of imagination. Definitely the way to go.
WHERE TO STAY: There is a Bed and Breakfast right at the front entrance to the club. We didn’t stay in it but perhaps we should have done. Perfect location and a 1 minute walk to the 1st tee.
WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK: If you are prepared to drive for 10 minutes and it’s a delightful drive, I would recommend the Hinchcliffe Arms on Crag Vale (which was part of Stage 1 of the Tour de France in 2014). Good local ales, excellent hearty meals and a delightful rural setting.