“ATTEN-SHUN! Eyes front! For-ward …. march!” Actually, there’s nothing at all military-style about the folk at Sandburn Hall Golf Club – quite the contrary. You can’t even hear the distant drift of commands to the troops at the nearby Strensall Army Camp on the outskirts of York. Still, the analogy is quite apposite in the current exciting circumstances.
With military precision, the modern club and recreation complex has embarked on a six year improvement programme to ‘future proof’ the championship 18-hole golf course which was completed in 2004 and opened for play in 2005.
The view from the 4th fairway
Sandburn is now into the second year of a schedule of course improvements designed by acclaimed international golf architect Martin Ebert, of Mackenzie and Ebert. If visitors want a clue as to what the changes involve, the club name is a big help – because apart from the burn and lakes that wind around the landscape, there is certainly no shortage of sand traps to give golfers pause for thought.
Some bunkers have been reshaped and new ones introduced, while others have been removed altogether. Like most clubs in the Vale of York Sandburn has a virtually flat footprint which makes it a very easy walking course, while inviting designers to sculpt their ‘challenges’ for players.
That task is made easier by the fact that Sandburn Hall is built in and around a hugely diverse array of trees, from old oaks to evergreen pines, but with thoughtful new plantations as additions too.
The 12th provides a challenging approach over water
Golf Manager Emma Brown explained the thinking behind the programme of changes. “The course has bedded in and is maturing nicely, but it’s time to move on” she said. “We now have a wealth of data and experience of how the original layout plays, so we could see where there was room for improvement."
The 1st and 9th holes were re-worked last year, with the 2nd, 5th and 13th scheduled for attention this winter. The 13th, a long par 3 which is often into the wind, will actually be shortened with a greenside bunker redesign. It’s all about making the round a better, more intriguing challenge for members and guests alike.
As one of the leading women amateur golfers of her generation, Emma Brown (nee Duggleby), won British, English, European, South African and Scottish championships and played in three Curtis Cup teams, besides being a multi-Yorkshire champion and the England women’s captain.
She’s the longest serving member of the Sandburn golf management and alongside 2016 England Coach of the Year Steve Robinson heads up a team dedicated to providing a first class experience both on and off the course.
Steve’s golf academy features an 18-bay covered driving range with power tees, private teaching studio and short game area. When he’s not away overseeing the fortunes of the England women’s team and the Yorkshire women and juniors, he’s busy giving private tuition back at the academy and taking regular junior coaching sessions, another focus of Sandburn’s efforts to drive things on.
The club weathered a tough time a couple of years back when they ‘lost’ the greens which, as Emma admits, made things difficult for a period and they lost some members.
“But we worked hard, we have a great greenkeeping team, and they got them back up to full strength,” said Emma, who remains a member at Malton and Norton. “I played the course just recently and can honestly say the greens were the best I’ve seen them.”
Looking back at the approach to the 17th
With around 440 members, business is good – but with that ‘all eyes forwards’ mantra, Sandburn is always looking to do more, with attractive society offers, new membership initiatives being planned, and a determination to provide the best experience possible.
“Golf has changed and whereas 30 years ago members tended to be embedded purely at one club, now we’re seeing people move around for a variety of reasons. We have to give them what they want from their club.”
A popular focus is the 19th – or the sports bar, a modern, relaxed facility which attracts not just golfers but visitors from the nearby Griffin Forest Lodges, part of the Sandburn estate. Mobile phones can be used in the bar and casual wear like jeans is allowed.
But the Sandburn complex is about much more than golf, being a premier venue for conferences, events and weddings, while The Tykes steak and seafood restaurant is popular with diners from miles around – especially for Sunday lunches.
There is even a sports hall, hired out at very reasonable prices for everything from indoor badminton and tennis to archery and five-a-side.
It all adds up to one of the area’s finest golf and leisure facilities – still heading in the right direction!
Sandburn Hall course review
1 – 521 yds par 5
Straight, handsome par 5. Out of bounds beyond the road on the right, but that would be an awful drive. ‘Military’ fairway bunkers (as in left-right, left-right), and an approach into a typically elevated, kidney-shaped green with plenty of run offs and a big front right trap.
2 – 362 yds par 4
A wide fairway, with fairway bunkers to both sides, but if you find the thick bushes and trees on either side it will cost you a shot. A flatter green with bunkers, three front right and one front left.
3 – 411 yds par 4
A testing hole with a sharp dogleg left which the big hitters can take on, but get it wrong and bid your ball farewell. Get it right and you’re rewarded. Trees and sand on the corner, so it’s all about position and confidence. Another raised green, a nice looking target with three bunkers and run offs.
4 – 378 yds par 4
A gentler dogleg right this time, heavy foliage to both sides but a big enough target. The corner is guarded by sand and a mature oak tree, then there are more traps that are in you eyeline but are actually some way short of the putting surface, which has five bunkers, although they aren’t tight to the green.
5 – 336 yds par 4
Trouble all down the left, but the invitation is high and wide right – you could land a jumbo jet on it. If you do take the tiger line there are three low lying fairway traps not visible from the tee. Another big, raised Sandburn green with run offs.
6 – 161 yds par 3
A pretty hole over a pond, part of the water that traverses the course at several points. The green’s a big, elevated target with run offs all around and bunkers to the front. Miss the green short and you might be glad for one of the traps to save you from more trouble.
7 – 423 yds par 4
A long, straight par four, again with trees and bushes to both sides, but plenty of room in between. A newer plantation starts to crowd in from the right closer to the hole. There’s a fairway bunker left, two right and one of the flatter greens has a big front left trap.
8 – 188 yds par 3
The front bunkers you see from the tee are actually well short of the putting surface which has mounding to the left and two mid-right bunkers.
9 – 479 yds par 5
Heading back to the clubhouse, parallel to the first, with heavy woodland that will punish anything too far right, and lighter foliage on the left. Throw in the ubiquitous fairway bunkers waiting for both your drive and second shots, and it’s all about position to a green slightly above you, with a big tree standing guard, and pond to the right that shouldn’t feature. A good finish to the front nine.
10 – 360 yds par 4
A dogleg right, with a corner bunker that you can fly. Sand awaits for anyone baling out short left though. It’s a narrow entrance to a green sloping back right to front left with with quite steep faced bunkers to negotiate, with run offs behind. Be careful of the out of bounds encroaching back left.
11 – 382 yds par 4
As you see it, with the beck following you up the right side. A raised, flat, lightbulb-shaped green. Anything short can run back to you, and there’s a pair of big circular bunkers, with others mid-green.
12 – 491 yds par 5
Not the longest par 5 but an intriguing hole with a surprise in store. You’re invited to open your shoulders on the drive, but it’s all about your second shot and how much you bite off before either going over the dogleg and the lake, or trying to tip-toe conservatively around it. The green’s mischievously bunkered too and I suspect this hole plays tougher than its index 10.
13 – 178 yds par 3
A longish par 3, with a bunker about 30 yards short left, then traps around the green and typical run offs.
14 – 424 yds par 4
A long, testing par 4 especially into the wind. A new plantation on the right will
really feature as it matures. The contoured left-side fairway bunkers will exact a price if you find them, then a couple more feature well short of the green, but which will catch a lot of second shots. Two rear bunkers are a feature before OB beyond.
15 – 381 yds par 4
Pretty straightforward and the beck feeding the lake that crosses the fairway shouldn’t really feature. The slightly raised green is nicely tucked away with a contoured bunker on the left and the lake on the right doesn’t come into play – at least it shouldn’t!
16 – 326 yds par 4
A shorter par 4 with fairway bunkers, before two that are mid-fairway, 60 yards short to deter the really big hitters. A big, long green, with a flat bunker back left that’s not immediately visible.
17 – 479 yds par 5
Very intimidating on the eye, because this is the tightest drive on the course with the beck straight down the right and heavy woodland all the way down the left to the dogleg – which is where the lake lurks. Not the longest but position is at a premium.
18 – 163 yds par 3
A pretty finishing hole, especially in the late afternoon sun, with the lake nearby – it’s a real disaster if you find that! – and a flat green, with a collection of three bunkers front right and the clubhouse beyond, welcoming you home.