Close House and Rockcliffe may be the new kids on the North-East block, but Slaley Hall remains the premier venue.
Middlesbrough soccer magnate Steve Gibson has just unveiled Rockcliffe Hall – said to be one of the longest lay-outs in Europe – at Hurworth, near Darlington, and Sage millionaire Graham Wylie is spending more than £7.5 million on his Close House courses at Heddon-on-the-Wall, but both will take some time to mature.
In the meantime, De Vere’s Slaley Hall’s two courses, the Hunting and the Priestman have both reached a new level of excellence under greenkeeper Steve Cram’s expert eye with the backing of Golf Director Keith Pickard.
Pickard, who is also in charge at Vere Oulton Hall in Leeds, has described Slaley Hall as “sleeping giant” and to some extent that’s true of the only course in the North-East to be short-listed for the Ryder Cup.
Ironically, the ninth on the Hunting is called The Sleeping Giant, but since Pickard’s arrival no-one has been sleeping on the job at Slaley. Recently, the De Vere Collection PGA Seniors Championship took place there with Carl Mason scooping the top prize again on a course that has a wonderful location in 1,000 acres of woodland and moorland.
The quality of both the courses – Hunting and Priestman – and a superb hotel is widely acknowledged. The European Grand Prix and the Great North Open on the full European Tour were staged there with success and the return of the De Vere Collection PGA Seniors Championship is testament to the very fine test of the Hunting course designed by Dave Thomas.
The hotel, built around an original Edwardian mansion, recently underwent significant refurbishment programme while both courses are simply in superb condition. With lush sweeping tree-lined fairways, the Hunting measures closed to 7,000 yards with a par of 72 and it’s easy to lose track of your game as you play on a rolling moorland course with streams and lakes, towering trees and banks of rhododendrons.
Typically well- placed bunkers and tricky greens – a Thomas trademark make the course a real challenge. The pick of the holes come on the front nine – the third is an excellent par four and seven, eight and nine are magnificent. The ninth needs a long drive up to the stream as close as possible and the second to a two-tier green is something else. No wonder there have been discussion about turning the course around and making this the 18th.
The back nine has two long par fives, a testing uphill par three and another cracking dogleg par four at 16 while the 18th needs a real strategic approach and driver off the tee may not be the best choice.
On the west side of the estate with panoramic views of the Tyne Valley, is the Neil Coles designed Priestman course. It’s another 7,000 yard undulating course, but the fairways are far more generous and there is less trouble but it is still criss crossed by streams and well-placed lakes and there are some wonderful par threes, a great par five and a superb finish.
The hotel has elegant modern bedrooms that fit seamlessly into the historic building and other facilities include a gym, a sauna, Jacuzzi, swimming pool and spa while the restaurants and bars are what you would expect from a quality set-up.
Slaley is about 40 minutes from Newcastle and is easily accessible via the A1. From the South, take the A68 link road and follow the signs. From the North, take the A69 towards Corbridge. Then follow the A68 south and look for the signs.
Slaley Hall, Hexham, Northumberland, NE47 0BX. Tel: 01434 673350 and fax 01434 673962.