Forgive me if I get over enthusiastic about Brancaster. It is a great club. Traditional and old school, but not stuffy. It is always welcoming and has one of the most handsome, panelled, club rooms, and a galleried upstairs dining room with views of the beach and the course.
It takes me a good five hours to drive up here but there is no better place to play. I have never seen it in poor condition, perfect turf and fast greens. It is a classic out and back layout so you have to use the wind, for there is always a breeze, and all your cunning to plot your way around.
Make sure you time your arrival to beat the occasional high tides. Full moons and Spring tides can maroon the course and swamp all the marshes reducing the margin for error particularly on 8 and 9. The former is a par 5 with 'an island' fairway and the latter floods below the green to make a difficult approach shot particularly intimidating if you want to go for the green in two. There is a well placed bench beside this green where you should stop a moment and enjoy the view; the harbour on one side and more marsh and dunes following the channel out to the sea on the other. Then either brace yourself for the long haul back to the clubhouse or to take stock after slogging your way to the furthest point on the course.
Every type of shot needs to be embraced on this layout and every club in the bag is required at some point so don't be afraid to use a long iron to chip on to a raised green or a putter from off the green. Over three rounds in two days I never used the same club twice from the same spot (excluding tee shots on the par 4s and 5s)
Although some don't like the openness of the combined first and eighteenth fairways they are both excellent holes. An errant drive on the first can find the beach or the course boundary with plenty of room in between. And I have done both. Who doesn't appreciate a bit of width first up to get the shoulders moving? Is there a more dispiriting way to start a medal round than with a lost ball on the first? Challenges aplenty lie ahead.
I believe the same should be true of the last. A great 18th gives everyone a chance to make up ground. At stroke index 12 few will receive shots and there is the opportunity to risk a big hit to seek a winning birdie. Too many courses are manufactured to make the 18th a tough, imposing, or even signature hole, but can reduce the chance of a final charge. This is a fair test of golf beautifully suited to foursomes golf. For the better golfers there are plenty of risk reward holes which will allow the more skilled player to prevail.
This course plays equally well throughout the year, a marker of excellent links turf and well curated greens. Banks of, sadly eroding, dunes divide the course from the beach so that on one side the view is embellished by beach huts and on the other by a regular flow of working boats and doughty sailing vessels seeking or leaving the safety of the harbour. But you don't need a tide book as well as your yardages as there are plenty of signs letting you know when the road will flood and there is only the footpath escape. However you do need to watch out for walkers crossing to their beach huts and the strand. There is delicious seafood available but remember to order your food in advance. It is not unusual to mark the line of your ball on a moored mast. And the boats sliding round the point behind the ninth green might be bringing in your whitebait, or crab.
I love seeing dogs on the course, though there is never a sign of them having been there. Labradors must be automatic members but there is probably a green fee for any other breed. I remember playing with Sooty who wasn't registered with the Kennel Club or the R&A and was always, in his owner's mind, seeking English Partridge. I miss his owner.
I have been lucky enough to play matches here comprising three rounds of foursomes over two days. The respective clubs are largely comprised of players who could qualify for either side and a pretty regular entourage which makes the competition both more entertaining and pretty intense. Thanks to my skipper turning a three hole deficit into a one up win on the last we won for the first time in a while. The players had travelled an average of perhaps 3 hours and represent clubs from the West Country to Kent and Scotland but such is the esteem with which this course is held that we all return annually.
It helps that we base ourselves at Titchwell Manor who look after us beautifully with delicious food and favourite wines that are provided by the players to make a great evening superb. Am I allowed to put in a plug for restaurants that have a sensible policy on corkage? It is not possible for a restaurant to provide every kind of wine and every vintage. So if there is something special you enjoy it seems churlish for a restaurant that prides itself on fine dining to prevent you drinking a drop of what you fancy. Hats off to Titchwell Manor.