Five Star Resort
Rockliffe Hall Golf Resort and Spa is one of those 5-star places that are “hidden” around the UK. Many of these resorts will be unfamiliar to our readers but that doesn’t mean that you should not consider staying and playing if you are in the North East of England.
The hotel and golf course are fabulous and are right up there with the very best of the “better known” resorts such as The Belfry, Celtic Manor and Gleneagles. In 2016, Rockliffe Hall was voted the Best Golf Resort in Europe and therein lies a conundrum, who knew? We at World’s Best, who make it our business to know, didn’t know that fact.
Where these resorts have the advantage is that they have multiple courses you can play, whereas Rockliffe Hall only has one course. Apart from that, the hotel facilities, the rooms, the staff, the food and the practice facilities are on par with the very best the UK has to offer.
As well as golf, the resort offers tennis, cycling, nordic walking, fly fishing and has a world-class spa. Rockliffe Hall is located one hour south of Newcastle not far off the A1, which is the main road running down the east side of England. The resort and the adjacent training ground are owned by Steve Gibson, owner of Middlesboro Football Club who purchased the Rockliffe Park Estate in 1996 and set about creating a world-class golf resort. We can tell you that he succeeded!!
The course was designed by Marc Westenborg of Hawtree Ltd, world-renowned golf architects and opened for play in 2010. Like a lot of resort courses, Rockliffe Hall has five sets of tees. The par 72 championship course ranges from just over 5,800 yards to just short of 7,900 yards!! The two nines are perfectly formed with two par 5’s and two par 3’s in each.
When the starter asked us what tees we would like to play from, common sense prevailed and we chose to play from the white tees, 6,845 yards and a slope rating of 138. It proved to be a wise choice. While many want to play courses from the back tees, we don’t see the point. We think that playing from the tees that give you the best chance of playing to your handicap means that your round will be enjoyable, not a war of attrition on par 4’s that you can’t reach in two.
Looking back up the 1st hole
From the slightly elevated tee on the first, the 415-yard hole stretches out in front of you. It has a generous fairway which runs out at 300 yards, not a problem for most. Your second shot is where the fun begins. The water on your right is not in play. The green is protected by four bunkers, two small ones in front and two large ones left and right of the centre of the green. Choose a club that gets you to the centre of the green. You don’t want to be short.
The 2nd is a short par 3 although it is not easy. The green sits at an angle across you and is 37 yards long. Again, the water to your right shouldn’t be in play. The green is protected by four bunkers and is only 5 yards wide at the middle point. It’s not easy to get pin high on this hole.
The 3rd green
We should at this point mention that there is water on seven of the first nine holes and the third hole is the first one where it is definitely a factor. A 522-yard par 5, the hole gently moves from right to left. We would suggest you play it as a 3 shot hole as a watery grave awaits if you go for the green in two. Only the biggest hitters should attempt that.
Looking back down the 4th
Holes 4 and 5 reminded us of holes at Sawgrass or Doral. The 4th has water all the way down the right. You have to be sure to carry it far enough when deciding how much to cut the corner over the lake. It isn’t a long hole from the white tees so a decent drive will leave a short iron to the green.
The island green on the 5th
The 5th is the signature hole. Playing just over 160 yards, it’s a par 3 with an island green although unlike the 17th at Sawgrass, there is room around the green if you miss the putting surface.
Holes 6 and 7 offer potential birdies. The 6th is a shortish par 4 which doglegs right. If you avoid the bunkers on both sides of the fairway on the corner, you have a short iron to a large green. This is the first hole with no water on it.
The 7th is long par 5 at 553 yards. If you can carry the ball over 225 yards, the line off the tee is over the bunkers on the left side. This leaves you a layup short of the bunker in front of the green although be aware of the water on the right. The two-tiered green is 35 yards long so judging your pitch and getting it to pin high will give you a great chance of birdie.
Holes 8 and 9 are strong par 4’s. On the 8th, the fairway narrows in the landing area off the tee with bunkers on the left side and water on the right. Negotiate that and you are left with a long iron into a green protected by a single bunker at the front.
The 9th green
The 9th is slightly shorter but plays uphill back toward the hotel. The fairway is wide with a large bunker on the left. The elevated green has plenty of slopes so be careful with your putts.
The walk from the 9th green to the 10th tee takes you past the golf academy which has a short game area and driving range. The back nine starts with two tough par 4’s. The 10th has water on both sides of the fairway. The green is protected by bunkers on the left and a severe slope on the right. The 11th has water on the left, off the tee. Lay up short of the row of bunkers on the corner. This will leave a mid-iron to a well-bunkered green. Two pars are a great start to the back nine. The 12th is a medium-length par 3. Middle of the green is the safe play here with bunkers on the right and a run-off area on the left.
The 13th is a 513-yard par 5. The fairway is narrow but there is little trouble from the tee. There are two large bunkers around 100 yards short of the green. If you can’t comfortably carry them then layup short. It’s a straightforward par 5 if you play it as one.The 14th is a short par 4 which offers a decent birdie opportunity.
Another Cracking Par 3
The 15th hole
The 15th is a lovely par 3. Playing 190 yards, it’s a long iron or hybrid across the water. There is no bailout as there are two bunkers short and left and the water on the right. It’s a tough hole. Take a 3 and run to the next tee! The 16th is a long par 5 at 550 yards. While it’s a straightforward tee shot, the second shot has to be accurate to avoid the four bunkers in the layup area. This leaves a wedge into a tricky green with plenty of slopes. The 17th is a short par 4 which goes left to right. Play right of the bunkers on the left off the tee and you will have a short iron into the green. You need to avoid the eight bunkers and the water on the hole to make par.
The 18th green and the clubhouse beyond
The 18th is a tricky finishing hole. The enormous oak tree on the left forces you to play to the right half of the fairway. The hole turns to the left so if you find the fairway, it leaves a short iron to a sloping green protected by a front bunker.
The golf course at Rockliffe Hall is exceptional. It’s a cracking layout with no poor holes. It’s challenging but fair especially if you choose the tees to suit your game. It was in excellent condition and the greens were running great. A special mention to the architects for their bunkering around the course. There’s a mixture of large and small with the large ones shaped like demented shamrocks which means you need luck to have an easy shot out. We really enjoyed the challenge of plotting our way round and we were rewarded with a few birdies which doesn’t happen too often!
At a Glance:
- Expansive par 72 course with 5 sets of tees
- Lovely clubhouse with a well-stocked pro shop
- Great short game area and driving range
- Large putting green
Our room in the New Hall
The hotel at Rockliffe Hall has four main parts, the suites in the Old Hall and the New Hall, the self-catering apartments of Armstrong House and Tiplady Lodge. There are also holiday apartments in the Woodland Mews. Our room in the New Hall was large and spacious and beautifully presented with lovely views over the garden grounds towards the golf course.
Breakfast and dinner were served in the Orangery which has fantastic views over the gardens and outside seating areas. The service and staff were excellent and the menus offered plenty of choices even for those with the most discerning palate.
A healthy choice for breakfast
On this occasion, we went for a healthier option for breakfast. Avacado on sourdough bread with poached eggs replaced our normal cooked breakfast and we have to say it was the right choice. It was delicious. We really enjoyed our visit to Rockliffe Hall Hotel and Spa. Although we didn’t have time to visit the Spa, you only have to look at the photos on the website and read the reviews to know that it’s a relaxing, luxurious space. Maybe next time!!
Thank you to Callum Nicoll, Director of Golf and Estates for hosting us and also for providing many of the photos used in this article.
Next time, we visit and play at Formby Ladies Golf Club, a first for us at World’s Best Golf Destinations.