Gallant GANTON Golf Club
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At once tucked away in England’s no man’s land and yet perhaps the most heralded of all England’s inland courses, Ganton’s name lays on the tongue of the golf connoisseur with the same savoury delicacy as Yorkshire Pudding smothered in gravy. It wasn’t long after the founding of the club that Ganton began to build its reputation as a host of prominent events which is second to none among British inland courses. It was the unflappable Harry Vardon, the greatest of all English golfers starring in the heyday of British domination of the game, who took centre stage in two matches before the turn of the century. In 1895, a year before his appointment as club professional, Vardon comfortably dispatched with JH Taylor. The triumph propelled Vardon to win the first of a record six Open titles the following year at Murfield. Vardon scored another famous victory, this time over Willie Park Jr in 1899 by dismantling the Scottish professional over the final 36 hole leg of their challenge match. Not surprisingly, Vardon took the Claret Jug the same year at Sandwich by a cosy five shot margin.
It was the turn of the women for the next great event which saw Joyce Wethered emerge victorious in the 1923 English Ladies Championship. A further two English Ladies Championships and two English Amateur Championships were hosted previous to the epic 1949 Ryder Cup matches. Perhaps the event was slightly marred by non-playing Captain Hogan’s claim that the grooves on some British clubs failed to comply with the rules. The R&A confirmed this suspicion and the club pro worked through the night to ensure the clubs adhered to rules. The US eventually won a closely fought contest 7-5. The Brabazon and PGA News of The World Matchplay (won by M Faulkner) soon followed. The impressive list of events continues to this day. Three Amateur Championships (Ganton being the only inland courses to be so honoured), a Curtis Cup and most recently in 2003, a Walker Cup have all added to lore of Ganton.
Patric Dickinson offered the following apt description: “Ganton doesn’t gamble. Play steadily, play discreetly, and play with good taste and common sense…it has no really quotable holes.” In one of the rare moments I would disagree with Bernard Darwin, no, Ganton isn’t like Woking or Worplesdon. Ganton is rugged in a northern manner, yet one can’t say Ganton is overly long nor are there distressing carries. Where Ganton extracts its pound of flesh is in the relationship between the combination of strategic and penal bunkering and the subtle lay of the land. Of particular interest, and to beg off Dickinson once again, “…but there are other bunkers, beautiful sirens, daring us to steer too near them, rallying our faint hearts to carry over them, and sneering at our feebleness if we take the middle course.” There are several examples, but perhaps the best is displayed on the short two-shot third (which used to be a long par 3). There are also examples such as the second where a bunker(s) eats into the left of the fairway while the terrain leans right. When Ganton is in near perfect condition, running keen, the fairways can play quite narrow. At times it will take a near perfect tee shot to play the champion’s game. Of course, some will say Ganton is a championship links (there can be no better way to describe the course) and should therefore be punishing. Perhaps there is something in this attitude.
Holes to Note:
Whereas the modest length first turns right, the more forceful second turns left. The front to back sloping green has a curious effect of creating a double dogleg. Many drives will finish out to the right and leave a less than envious angle of approach.
As on the opening two holes, the third is visually restrained, though at least one can see the options on hand for this hole is dead straight. Given the many difficult par 4s, it is probably best if handicap players choose a tee which offers the opportunity of reaching the green in one. For most, this will mean the daily 288 yard tee. Though it doesn’t appear to be the case, in normal conditions the large bunker eating into the driving zone from the left can easily be carried. Almost without fail, at Ganton, when a bunker crowds the fairway the land beyond will continue running in that direction and trouble invariably awaits on the far side; in this case it is bunkers, but there will often be a united front of rough, gorse and bunkers. Perhaps worse is to be caught behind the bunkers with the unenviable task of playing over sand to a green which slips away toward a ditch to the rear of the green. I mention the ditch because it must be taken into account from the tee and for the approach when Ganton is on summer form.
The roll call of Ganton’s architects reads like a hall of fame register: Vardon, H Hilton, CK Hutchinson and the remaining two of the Great Triumvirate; Braid and Taylor all visited in 1905 with the aim of beefing up Ganton’s defences after the arrival of the Haskell. Harry Colt first made suggestions to revise Ganton in 1907. It is thought the removal of several cross bunkers and added yardage were the main targets for improvement. Mackenzie also played a part in the Ganton story in 1912 and 1920. Colt’s final bit of work saw the creation of new greens for #s 13 and 17 and an entirely new 4th. It is on this hole we finally see an appreciable elevation change. Legging to the right, the tee shot plays down an alley of greenery; shrubs, trees and other likely unpronounceable Yorkshian delights which will no doubt intimidate all but the most focused golfers.
There are too few short holes (only two from the white tees!), but what a terrific set! The shortest of the three is encountered first at #5. Playing downhill it will often be the case that a kick in is prudent. Not 25 yards shy of the green is a blind water hazard to contend with.
The 7th and 8th swing to and fro. Not surprisingly, the 7th has a nest of bunkers guarding the inside line down the right with horrible rough through the fairway left. The angles once again are perfection with the safer line creating added difficulty with the approach.. Because the bunkering is often visually discreet and the land can quietly shift toward trouble, invariably, Ganton’s fairways are narrower than they first appear. Often times, the heart of the driving zones are 35 yards wide or considerably less. Throw in the added element of wind and Ganton could not be accused of being excessively wide.
The side ends with a par 5 featuring one of the best green complexes on the course and more obvious movement in the fairway. The 10th, a great hole that isn’t materially different from any other hole at Ganton. Bunkers crowd the green, but the most important hazard may be the unreceptive green. Judging the yardage between the somewhat obscured cross bunker and the hole is a test. I suspect the front of the green and the area just shy hurry toward the rear of the green.
Seemingly everybody’s favourite hole, the short two-shot 14th with a spare and quite elusive banana shape green. 15 & 16 are long two-shotters of which at least one will be a Herculean task for many to reach in regulation. The 16th was the hole the American side seemed to like best during the 1949 Ryder Cup.
There are at least two reasons why the 17th fairway/green and 18th tee shot are cast-aways to the far side of the entrance road. First, the “Sandpit of Vast Dimensions” must have been captivating, but it is long since a memory. Second, the 17th greens site is one of the highlights of Ganton. The domed green is an exceptional example of the type.
Ganton is blessed with a plethora of fine holes. Combine historic testing golf in comely surroundings with conditioning, that in my experience is second to none, and an attractive clubhouse bursting with character and Ganton must surely be counted among the best days out in England.
There are a few courses nearby, but I am not aware of any that should command enough attention to detour the discerning golfer from another day at Ganton – its that good!