Last Sunday we had the privilege of visiting Rockliffe Hall, an award winning, five star Hotel, Spa and Golf resort based just south of Darlington near the banks of the River Tees. Rockliffe is a sprawling, superbly maintained 370 acre estate, at the centre of which is the 18th century house which really catches the eye as you enter the grounds.
Owned by Middlesbrough Chairman, Steve Gibson, (Boro training HQ share the grounds) Rockliffe commissioned the world renowned Hawtree to design the course in 2009. Measuring a monster 7,879 yards from the back tees, this championship standard course offers a real challenge for golfers of all abilities with five tee spots to accommodate all. Thankfully for us, the yellows measure a more modest 6,461.
Upon arrival at the golf facility, you are met by a perfectly designed modern clubhouse, setback a little from the hotel, the facility includes a well stocked club shop and restaurant with plenty of outdoor seating available to watch players teeing off and finishing their round.
First impressions do count, specially at a five star resort, the service we received from start to finish was exceptional. First of all Katie Atkinson did a great job organising our trip. Upon arrival we were met by the team working in the pro shop, who were really welcoming and made sure we had everything we needed for the visit. Wish we'd got their names. Here we were also met by James Maw, the Assistant Pro, who gave us an overview of what we can expect and pointed us in the direction of the driving range and practice area. Everyone we dealt with from the pro shop, to the range, to the restaurant and finally the starter were a credit to the venue and they really helped make our day.
So we took advantage of their PowaKaddy hire, had a cracking bacon sandwich and coffee at the restaurant then headed down to the driving range to get warmed up. The range has a number of covered bays and also includes the halfway house, the practice area out the front is excellent with a very well maintained little area to practice for the challenge ahead. We then chatted to the starter who gave us tees, cards and a quick update on course conditions and set off down the first.
The course will reward accurate drives with mainly generous fairways in play from the yellows, however woodland, lakes/streams and very thick rough will punish anything wayward. There's also a lot of bunkers in play throughout the fairways and protecting the greens, these are really well positioned and factor in to your decision making on almost every shot. Course management is so important here, you really have to weigh up risks on every hole.
The greens themselves were all great, large and undulating with run offs that will punish you if your approach shots are not accurate. A key areas to scoring well here is in the approach shots, a slightly off target shot and a 3 putt is on the cards.
Rockliffe has an abundance of fun and challenging holes, many of which we could argue are our favourites. Three great holes from 3-5, starting with the par 5 3rd, this hole has a large pond protecting the left of the green and some significant bunkers to the right, the approach shot here is key. The par 4 4th is a really nice hole cutting over the water, a true risk reward hole with another well protected green. The 4th is one of the holes that makes you realise just how much more of a challenge the back tees would provide, playing 99 yards longer. The next hole the par 3 5th is a great island green playing right over water and probably the signature hole. The green is raised and protected by well placed bunkers at the front. The 7th is also great.
Into the back 9. The 10th includes a tee shot with water in play on both sides of the fairway and a green with large bunkers to the left and a steep run off to the right. The par 3 15th is also a daunting shot with a large water hazard down the right, 242 yards from the back tees, great job if you get away with par here. Another marquee hole has to be the 17th, with wetlands flanking both sides of the fairway and well placed fairway bunkers, your round could easily hit trouble on the penultimate hole. An accurate approach has to navigate yet more large bunkers protecting the green. Finally the 18th is a fairly straightforward dog leg but you are met with a few large trees that can really interfere with your final approach shot to yet another well protected green. We finished up and had a well deserved pint in the sunshine.
We believe Rockliffe is deservedly viewed as on the best courses in the North East and we cannot wait to return, next time we will be sure to check out the hotel and spa facilities which look absolutely exceptional. We'd also be interested to play from the Black/Gold tees to experience a different setup. A great day!