It’s hard to imagine ever growing tired of long sultry, summer evenings at resplendent Rockliffe Hall.
We’ve been watching the Oystercatchers dancing in the night air and rabbits scampering across the sprawling lawns from our terrace overlooking the golf course and life feels good. On a normal day I might complain about weary legs but not today, not after a walk around the stupendous championship course here.
In the quiet of a summer’s evening, the birdsong aside, we feel wonderfully removed from the world, cut off from the day-to-day noise, relaxed and very much ourselves. We’ve only been here for 12 hours, but time has slowed down. It’s really not hard to see why so many see Rockliffe Hall as one of England’s finest golf resorts.
Scenic journey to sublime Rockliffe
I had made the decision to take the scenic route to Rockliffe. It had taken us through the majesty and charm of the Yorkshire Dales, but I was now cutting things fine for my 2pm tee time. We snake our way through the village of Hurworth, on the border between County Durham and North Yorkshire, with a little more urgency that I might have liked, and through the gates. Our room isn’t quite ready and my plan to change and dash down to the clubhouse are out of the window. I make my way to the clubhouse where Harrison comes to my rescue.
He greets me with a smile and whisks my clubs away onto a waiting trolley and my suitcase into the locker room while I park. He also manages to push my tee-time back 10 minutes. It’s the kind of service you expect in the US, but it sets Rockliffe apart from the off. And it’s something I see repeated time and again during the day.
ROCKLIFFE GOLF MORE THAN DISTANCE
I’m here to play a round in the company of Tom West, head of golf at Rockliffe Hall, and a man steeped in the development of this place. Tom began his career as an assistant PGA professional here and having spent time at Gleneagles and Close House, just up the road, is now back at his spiritual home and at the heart of making Rockliffe Hall the golf destination it is today. The affable starter, Richard, greets us at the 1st tee with a few friendly tips on how to tackle the golf course and, as it turns out, how to beat his son, Tom.
The big question, Tom asks, is which tees do I want to play off? It’s something I have thought about a lot on the journey here. And the trick, I have decided, is to remove ego from the equation. Let’s take the beautiful opening hole at Rockliffe, for example. You can go as far back as the tips and play it as a demanding 491-yard par-4 or play it from any of the four other teeing areas and face as little as 360 yards from the forward tees. We settled on playing a hybrid course of the white and yellow tees, a test of a mere 6,623 yards – certainly enough for most.
Something for everyone at Rockliffe
From the tips Rockliffe Hall measures 7,877 yards. Within the 18 holes it boasts no fewer than three par-5s which measure more than 600 yards and three par-3s of more than 200 yards. Proceed with caution. The black tees measure 7,231 yards, the whites 6,845 yards, the yellows 6,461 yards and the red tees 5,804 yards. The scorecard allows you to blend the black and white tees, the white and yellow tees, and the yellow and red tees to give golfers no fewer than eight different golf courses to suit every level. It’s an incredible breadth of offering. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Rockliffe Hall has hosted everything from tour events to junior tournaments.
But Rockliffe is actually about much more than prodigious distances, although that has helped spread the word. The work undertaken by Martin Hawtreee and his team has helped to create a distinctive, creative test of golf that not only works with the natural surroundings here but is a truly strategic test of golf. And because the course is set in 375 acres of countryside, each hole is largely isolated from the next. It makes for a serene walk.
Water and sand a constant threat
The opening hole is a relatively gentle introduction to what lies ahead. Rockliffe starts to move through the gears from the par-5 3rd where water creeps in down the left as you approach the green and then it hits you between the eyes on the 4th and 5th. The 4th demands a drive over or to the left of water and the 5th is considered by many to be Rockliffe Hall’s signature hole. It’s a par-3 in the spirit of 17 at TPC Sawgrass with its own island green. Take one more club than you think you need. I somehow cling on to the front of the green.
The fairway bunkering is something you have to consider on almost every tee shot and the condition of the place is absolutely immaculate from start to finish. The truth is there are so many excellent stretches of holes here. If I had to pick a favourite, perhaps it’s the home straight which really gets going with the brilliant par-3 15th, which once again features water down the right and some fearsome bunkering down the left. Don’t miss.
The 17th is a lovely hole, which bends from right to left and demands precision from tee to green. We reach the 18th tee where Tom turns to me and asks, “are you feeling those Rockliffe miles in your legs?” I certainly am. Having built a decent score on the front 9, the back 9 has chewed me up and spat me out. I’m not alone. When Rockliffe play visiting teams here, the opposition often run out of steam as the round goes on. The sheer size of this piece of land means you are not only walking the length of the holes but the distances between last green and next tee. With the mercury touching 85°F, the heat may be taking its toll too. But it’s been a complete joy.
Eat, drink and rest those legs
The 18th is an excellent finishing hole, and the green is within stumbling distance of some comfy chairs and a cold drink on the terrace of the clubhouse. It’s hard to think of a better place to re-live your round while watching others toil to complete theirs. In contrast to me, Tom has got better and better as the round has gone on. And yet he has been fantastic company and the perfect ambassador for Rockliffe – he’s a young, innovative, and ambitious guy very much in step with the whole ethos here. And there are plenty of Rockliffe miles in Tom’s legs. I look forward to getting a few more in mine. It’s the kind of place to you can’t wait to come back to.
At this point my legs feel like lead. Thankfully Harrison is there again to drive me back up to the hotel in a golf cart, with my clubs and suitcase in tow. The room is vast and beautifully finished. It opens out onto the lawns at Rockliffe Hall with views across the 1st, the 9th, and the 18th. It’s genuinely hard to think of too many better hotel rooms that I’ve stayed in over years. It’s a wonderful space, where every little detail has been considered.
There’s time for a quick shower – the bath with inbuilt TV will have to wait – and a stroll to the cocktail bar in the original building which dates to the 1700s. We then walk the few hundred yards back down the clubhouse for dinner where the food is fresh and inventive, and the service is excellent. The dinner menu offers fantastic steaks, some beautiful seafood and starters that range from garlic and chilli king prawns to chicken live parfait. We wander back up to the room to enjoy a sundowner on our terrace and reflect on a memorable day.
It’s late but it is one of those summer nights when you wonder if that blanket of darkness will ever fall. But then it has been the kind of day we would be quite happy to see last as long as it jolly well pleases. Life at Rockliffe Hall really does feel good.
*For more information on Rockliffe Hall golf breaks or to book a trip, visit RockliffeHall.com/tee-off/
*Ben was a guest of Rockliffe Hall
ROCKLIFFE HALL GOLF SCORECARD
Rockliffe Hall Golf: Frequently Asked Questions
Can you become a member at Rockliffe Hall Golf Club?
The burgeoning membership at Rockliffe Hall Golf Club is now close to capacity, with all categories – including country membership – having proved hugely popular in recent years. To find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org
Where do I find the best Rockliffe Hall Golf deals?The best Rockliffe Hall golf deals tend to be with Rockliffe themselves. There are a range of options for those wanting to play Rockliffe Hall Golf Course, including some excellent stay and play packages and also extremely attractive rates for those just wishing to play golf. You can find out more by visiting RockliffeHall.com/tee-off
How long is Rockliffe Hall Golf Course?
It’s long. In fact at 7,879 yards from the tips, it’s one of the longest golf courses in Europe. It features three par-5s over 600 yards but you don’t have to play from the gold tees. In fact there are plenty of options to ensure that you find the course you’re comfortable playing.
What else is there to do on Rockliffe Hall Golf breaks?
Golf is just one part of the offering at Rockliffe Hall with a beautiful spa, three excellent restaurants, tennis, cycling, walks and much more besides. For more information visit