THEY’RE celebrating a special anniversary at the Forest of Galtres Golf Club, a few miles north of York. So, a happy 21st birthday to major factotum Sue Procter, her husband Philip and his brother James, the club proprietors and sons of the course founder, the late Geoffrey Procter.
It’s a fitting coming of age for this friendly, family run parkland club and course, crafted literally out of the ancient royal Forest of Galtres, established by the Norman kings nearly 1,000 years ago, and which as ‘recently’ as 700 years ago comprised 60 villages in 100,000 acres of land, extending from Easingwold to the city walls.
Any Scottish visitors to the locality might want to beware if they’re approaching York on a Sunday however. Apparently it is still legal under local by-laws to shoot a Scotsman with a bow and arrow from the city walls. But only on Sundays, naturally. What do they take we Yorkshiremen for – complete heathens?
A further thousand years before that, Roman legions trod these acres on their way to – try – subdue those pesky northerners.
There’s nothing either hostile or warlike about the peaceful 120 acres the golf course nestles within today. The ‘noise’ of birdsong, the inquiring eye of a passing deer and perhaps an occasional farm vehicle. But considering you can see the iconic York Minster to the south from the 7th green – and the White Horse of Kilburn 20 miles to the north in the Hambleton Hills – you’d never know you are so close to the hubbub of city life.
Geoffrey Procter was an arable farmer who like many others sought to diversify in the 1990s, creating first a 9-hole, and then in 1994 extending it to a full 18-holes course which today has a 6,534 yard layout, with a par 72 and standard scratch of 71.
One of the smartest things Geoffrey did was bring in Hawtree-trained international golf architect Simon Gidman.
Gidman’s portfolio boasts the stunning Pine Cliffs 9-hole layout in the Algarve, the new Blue course at Frilford Heath, Waterton Park outside Wakefield and dozens more high quality projects around the world.
The main challenge at Forest of Galtres was the Vale of York’s low-lying and at times snooker-table flat topography. Indeed, drainage has been an ongoing development theme for the club, but assisted by some exceptional green design and construction, all to USGA specifications, Gidman and Procter senior have crafted an interesting and enjoyable – and fair – golf challenge, which virtually guarantees year-round play.
The ‘perched water table’ concept is a major factor towards the exceptional putting surfaces. Most greens sit above the fairway – they are generally huge – with clever but sympathetic bunkering, mounding and use of run-off areas. You will need a decent chipping game to score well round here, although as I said, the targets are big enough that you don’t have an excuse. Well, except for the three putts, that is.
Forest of Galtres' driving range
A FEATURE of the course, and something which in ancient times would have made a sport like golf impossible because of their mass, are the handsome oak trees.
Agriculture has seen them radically thinned out over the centuries of course, but they remain an iconic staple of English parkland courses.
On a number of holes these centuries-old trees stand guardian-like alongside the fairways, at others they define the shape of the hole.
They have been augmented by a large-scale, broad-leaf tree plantation scheme which the past couple of years has really taken shape, giving the course an added character which will only improve with maturity.
As a ‘driving’ course goes, Forest of Galtres appeals widely, with many invitations to open your shoulders, such is the feel of space off the tee – especially on the par 5s –notable exceptions being the 1st, 9th and 10th where position is paramount.
If it was ever so desired, the course could be made to really punish players by the simple expedient of letting the rough grow in – there is plenty of scope. But in days when enjoying your round, finding your ball, and getting round in four hours or less is a major priority, I was delighted to find a track that applied plenty of common sense.
Club professional James Wake hails originally from the other side of the York ring road at Fulford and arrives here via the city centre club Heworth.
At his disposal is a six-bay covered driving range, with excellent short game and exterior practice areas.
There are buggies available although the course is one of the easiest walking layouts you will find anywhere.
Sue Procter, who as Club Secretary is the very hub of the wheel, says their ambition first and foremost is to be a good hosting club.
“We pride ourselves on being friendly and welcoming,” she said. “We get a lot of repeat society business, which means a lot to us because it shows that besides having an enjoyable golf course, we are seen as hospitable and good value.
“We have around 220 members and obviously we work very hard to look after them. Our online booking system works both for them and for us in attracting new business, new visitors, to a truly beautiful and peaceful part of the world.
“A lot of our guests describe the course as a hidden gem, in a peaceful location, and we think it is too.”
2015/16 Club Captain Phillip Cook’s charity will in fact benefit from the sale of a wildlife calendar being produced by a club member, such is the abundance of bird and animal life, with rare orchids even to be found on your way round.
With York (Strensall) Golf Club and Forest Park to the east, the Oaks a little further afield, Fulford GC to the south, Pike Hills on the western approach and Heworth in the shadow of the Minster, York has long been well served for people who want to combine a terrific city visit with some high quality golf.
Forest of Galtres, to the north, has completed the encircling of those famous city walls and done so in some style. Not so much noisy neighbour, as sedate and serene neighbour – despite having plenty to shout about.
View from the clubhouse
Forest of Galtres
Hole 1 – par 4, 316 yards
A short dogleg left to start with, but one which requires absolute control from your opening tee shot. Easier said than done. Either a safe iron top the corner or risk everything by taking the corner on, over the out of bounds and hazard. The firs of many big, raised greens, slopes back right to front left and is surrounded by mounds and run offs.
Hole 2 – par 5, 514 yards
A big and bold par 5 early on, straight on with nothing complicated about it. A series of large fairway bunkers straddle the fairway halfway down. Negotiate them and your approach is straight forward to another generous target, sloping from the back.
Hole 3 – par 3, 182 yards
The right side bunker is wide enough that it shouldn’t be a problem, and another typically huge Galtres green has plenty of places for the greenkeeper to have fun with his pin positions, if he’s feeling mischievous.
Hole 4 – par 5, 522 yards
Another spacious long hole, inviting you to open your shoulders with plenty of fairway to aim at. There is a left side bunker and you’d have to be extremely wide right to find the water. The hole narrows to a hedged road and ditch about 150 yards from the target, which in theory your second shot should be clearing.
Hole 5 – par 4, 413 yards
There’s more than 100 yards difference between the white and yellow tees here, making a good driving hole (yellows) a far tougher prospect off the tips. You have OB all the way up the left and a hazard parallel down the right. Left side fairway bunker, and beyond it another protecting the front left side of the massive green.
Hole 6 – par 3, 198 yards
A pretty short hole, played slightly over water which runs all the way up to the left side of the green. Anything short and left is a goner. The green is narrowish at the front and broadens towards the back. A challenging par 3.
Hole 7 – par 4, 391 yards
A dogleg right, with sand on the left hand angle, and a plantation of trees on the right that will punish you if you tangle with them. Round the corner and your approach is over a big bunker complex.
Hole 8 – par 4, 414 yards
Stroke 1 is a good looking hole, straight on between two mature oak trees, with further copses beyond, to a two-tier green with a distinct ridge in the middle. Protection comes from bunkers on both sides and the characteristic Forest of Galtres mounds.
Hole 9 – par 4, 347 yards
A shorter par 4, dogleg right with bunkers on the corner and a big stand of trees left side if you bale out too far. Taking the driver might be asking for trouble. Your approach is over two front bunkers, with another on the right, to a big back to front sloping green.
Hole 10 – par 4, 348 yards
Heading back out, you mirror the 1st, but on a longer scale. The challenge is to position your ball on the dogleg left while not being blocked out by the three large trees that stand like sentinels on the angle – and not find the vast bunker on the right side of the corner. The green is tight at the front, broadening as it rises towards the back. A pond on the right shouldn’t come into play. Not yet, anyway. For index 16, this is a tough hole.
Hole 11 – par 5, 515 yards
Again, the big trees harnessing the fairway show you the way to a well bunkered green. So long as you don’t get blocked out off your drive, and the prevailing wind isn’t too strong into your face, this should be a birdie chance, even at index 2.
Hole 12 – par 4, 358 yards
Dogleg left with a quite new plantation on the left side creating the angle, and a bunker complex protecting the right. Be careful not to drive too far and straight into trouble. Another big green but if anything sloping slightly away from your approach for once.
Hole 13 – par 3, 156 yards
The shortest of the par 3s. The kidney shaped green slopes back left to front right and has some tricky undulations, once you’ve negotiated the Captain’s charity bunker.
Hole 14 – par 5, 547 yards
As with its predecessor par 5s, a broad and handsome hole, with a pair of bunkers off your drive. If you get away well and fancy going for the green in two there’s a pond about 40 yards short left, then bunkers on both sides. This green is still big but narrower than most, so watch out if you find sand.
Hole 15 – par 4, 351 yards
A tricky hole, with trouble all down the left and a big tree on the apex that you have to either go over, or wide right. Negotiate that and you have an inviting approach to a back left to front right sloping green.
Hole 16 – par 3, 167 yards
A rarity, a smaller green that looks wider than deep from the tee box. The front bunker is probably 10 yards short so isn’t as threatening as it looks standing over your ball. More sand awaits to the right.
Hole 17 – par 4, 385 yards
Only a duffed drive will bring the pond into play. Again you need to thread a pair of big trees to set you up to an approach to a green protected by an overhanging oak tree, which could come into play depending on the pin position. You have a deep bunker right hand side which will test your sand play.
Hole 18 – par 4, 402 yards
Heading for home, and steering wide of the practice ground on your left to leave a strong second shot back to the final raised and robust green, protected all around by run offs and bunkers.