Thetford Golf Club Review
Feature review from Sports Writer and Golfshake contributor Derek Clements.
Established in 1912, Thetford Golf Club is located within two Sites of Special Scientific Interest and is a haven for wildlife. It is also one of the best golf courses in East Anglia, located just off the A11.
Legendary British golfer James Braid arrived at Thetford in October 1923, walked the course and then returned to the clubhouse and offered advice as to how it could be improved, particularly in terms of the bunkers. He then submitted a bill for 10 guineas. The course has been largely unchanged since Braid's input and, in truth, it is difficult to know how it could be improved. In fact, three-time Open champion Henry Cotton visited Thetford in 1968 and submitted plans for a revised layout, but the club decided to leave the course as it was.
It is a traditional heathland course, with acres of glorious heather and thousands of mature trees which frame each hole. Keep your eyes open and you will see squirrels scampering from tree to tree, muntjac deer foraging for food amid the forest and a vast variety of birds and other wildlife.
Like many golf clubs around the country, Thetford has experienced its share of problems but it is now on a secure financial footing and looking forward to the future. "We used to rent the land from the Crown Estates and the rent kept increasing until it reached the point where we were in trouble and nearly went bust," said manager Malcolm Grubb. "But we now own the club thanks to selling debentures to the members. The course had deteriorated but it is now in magnificent condition. It is a great golf course, and it is not just me who says so - our members love it and everybody who visits Thetford tells us the same thing."
Membership currently stands at 800, about 200 of whom are what the club describes at Breckland members - these are people who effectively buy points which are exchanged for rounds of golf throughout the year. There are active full, senior and ladies' sections. The good news is that if you live in the Thetford area there are still vacancies and, having played 18 holes here, we can confirm that the welcome you will receive is warm and friendly. Full membership costs £820 per year, with a special introductory offer of £500, and there is no joining fee.
Thetford also welcomes societies and will tailor the package to suit individual requirements. It is a challenging course but high handicappers will enjoy it because it is not an unfairly punishing layout. Yes, there is heather to be cleared from some tees, but you don't need to hit the ball miles to find the fairway beyond.
And there is proper sand in the bunkers. Find one of the dozens of well-placed bunkers and you can be certain that if you execute your recovery shot properly your ball will pop out. There is plenty of rough but, again, it is not punitive unless you miss the cut and prepared by miles.
The clubhouse is delightful, with the lounge offering a wide selection of drinks and bar meals, as well as featuring stunning views of the 18th hole, which also happens to be the most difficult on the course. Coffee is available at all times in the lounge, while snacks can be purchased from 10am. The bar opens at 11am with closing time near dusk.
There is a well-stocked pro shop which opens at 8am on weekdays and 7.30am at the weekend. Club pro Stuart Smith has built a fine reputation as one of the best teachers in East Anglia. His particular area of expertise is the short game - an area that too many of us neglect. He offers one-on-one coaching and also runs group sessions. Stuart is also the only club pro in the area who can offer the Foresight Sports GC2 launch monitor, which measures ball speed, launch angle, backspin, sidespin and ball direction.
Thetford Golf Course Highlights
Par 72, 6,849 yards, heathland
Green fee £40
Unusually, the course starts with a par three. Standing on the tee, it looks innocuous enough. It measures 186 yards and features a two-tier green. It is guarded by bunkers and, to the right of the putting surface, stands a huge tree. Hit your tee shot to the back tier with the flag on the front and you will almost certainly be taking three putts and walking off with an opening bogey.
The fifth hole is a dogleg measuring 378 yards. The fairway is guarded by trees so your drive must be straight and true and avoid the two deep bunkers that lie in wait. The approach is to a sloping green. The ninth is stroke index one - a par four measuring 421 yards. It may not look especially intimidating but another accurate drive is called for - it plays uphill and demands two well-struck shots if you are to have any chance of walking off the green with a par.
The 12th is another classic hole that proves you don't need length to offer a challenge. It is 370 yards long and is a gentle dogleg calling for a drive struck over a tree-lined pit - hit your drive into the wrong place and you will be staring a double-bogey or worse in the face.
The 16th is Thetford's signature hole. It is a par three that measures just 153 yards. Between the tee and the green is a sea of heather - and a fearsome bunker guarding the front of the putting surface. Get under the lip and you could be in there all day long. The green is fairly narrow and difficult to hold, so only a perfectly-struck tee shot will suffice.
The 17th is a wonderful par five, measuring 505 yards. It is usually played into the prevailing wind. When you stand on the tee, the fairway looks impossibly narrow, but this is just a trick of the eye - there is far more room than you think.
And then there is the 18th hole, a par four measuring 472 yards. Once again, there are trees on both sides of the fairway, and you really don't want to go right. It is uphill, so even if you find the middle of the fairway, you know that you are going to face a long approach to a large green guarded by sand front and back. And, of course, the clubhouse and patio are located right behind the green so you stand over that second shot knowing that dozens of eyes are fixed upon you. A sensational finishing hole.
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