East Anglia: Golf in the Idyllic English Countryside 0 10

Beyond the London Ring Road, amid the brilliant yellow rape fields of East Anglia, lies Barnham Broom, an unpretentious luxury 36-hole golf resort.

BarnhambroomI came across Barnham Broom while researching a piece on 8th Air Force World War II history in nearby Norwich, a wonderful college town with a rich selection of pubs, shopping, antiques and an array of restaurants that continued to surprise even at the end of a four-day stay.

Nearby are Thetford, Seething, Bungay, Hethel — names of rural English towns but also of World War II airfields that descendants of  B-24 bomber air crews likely heard of from their fathers or grandfathers. Most, though not all, of the old fields have been returned to agriculture — vast flat fields which, when seen from the air, bear the tell-tale triangular shape of the standard-issue World War II U.S. Army Air Force bomber base design.

In the middle of this pastoral landscape, not far from Old Buckenham, where the 453rd Bomb Group and actor Jimmy Stewart, a B-24 Liberator pilot, flew missions against the Nazis, you’ll find Barnham Broom, a 46-room resort that is so understated you can almost miss it from the road.

Barnham Broom started as a farm but became an auto destination for Londoners in late 1970s, when the land’s owner faced the prospect of  losing his farm. He built two golf courses. Later came a clubhouse and sports bar, tennis and squash courts, a modern hotel, spa and, most recently, a upscale brasserie featuring continental cuisine, much of it locally sourced.

The quick picture on the golf: The two courses, the Valley Course and Hill Course, are parkland. Both are demanding but enjoyable, walkable layouts with narrow doglegs with plenty of encroaching trees that shut down approaches from the wrong side of the fairway, placing a premium on course management.

The terrain is hilly, even on the Valley Course, as evidenced by the 70-plus foot drop from tee to green on the 137-yard par 3 7th, where, on a breezy day, you might need a Norden bombsight to target the green.

The course’s long-time PGA professional, Alan Hemsley, a Scot who played on the European Senior Tour, runs a vibrant golf academy and deftly mixes visiting tourists  — most vacationing Londoners — with more relaxed local members from the Norwich area.

The hotel is modern, its rooms luxurious, yet simply appointed with remarkably functional furnishings. The sports bar and restaurant, perched above the golf shop, is roomy and welcoming. Views at sunset over the course from both the bar and from the upscale brasserie are stunning.

If you go:

If you long for the quietude of a relaxing park-like, rural location with plenty of walking trails through the countryside that is a destination unto itself, Barnham Broom, north of the A11 and south of the A47,  should be your pick, with easy access for day trips to everything in East Anglia, from Cambridge to King’s Lynn to Holt to Cromer.

If you want the vibrancy and faster pace of a medium-size city (194,000) with an 800-year-old open market and thriving nightlife, continue 30 minutes father east and make your base Norwich.

The 1,000-year-old city hosts dozens of arts, music and culture events through the year, including an annual City of Ales Festival in late May and early June that celebrates local brews. The energy of the city’s college-age population is palpable, especially in spring and summer, when East Anglians celebrate the return of sunshine and blue skies.

Norwich is home to the original Coleman Mustard Shop and Museum, scores of pubs, including two pubs that were bombed in April 1942 — the Fat Cat Pub and Kett’s Tavern — a Jamie Oliver Restaurant, a castle, cathedral, and more antique shops than you can shake a stick at. Near the central open-air market is the Second Air Division Memorial Library dedicated to the the memory of 6,900 U.S Servicemen who lost their lives in the air war against Germany.

(If you’re lucky enough to visit the Fat Cat Pub when local patron Glenn Walley is there, ask him to draw you a map to an intact WWII bomb shelter near the old Hethel Church. Follow it like you’d follow a map to buried treasure for a lovely morning’s adventure and be back in town by lunch).

In Norwich’s city center, your lodging pick should be the Maids Head Hotel, an ancient property where Queen Elizabeth I is reputed to have stayed and where political intrigue was plotted during Oliver Cromwell’s time.

The Maids Head is a full-service hotel with a free car park, wonderfully attentive staff, cozy bar and full English breakfast. It is a handy to everything you’d want to do in Norwich, especially the antique shops on Tombland, Elm Hill and Magdalen streets, with plenty of pubs and restaurants within a remarkably short walk.

All too often, discussion of golf in England is confined to the famous British Open courses and tourism talk focuses on London. But Norfolk and all of East Anglia is out there, waiting for Americans to discover the beauty of the English countryside their fathers and grandfathers once knew.

— Dan Vukelich

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Los Cabos’ Quivira: Pebble Beach in Mexico 0 47

Quivira Golf Club No 6

Nicklaus Tested by Beautiful, Severe Baja Terrain

“Have you ever walked the golf course,” I asked Quivira Golf Club Los Cabos’ director of golf, Antonio Reynante.

“My assistants and I tried it once, but we couldn’t get past Number 6,” the fit-looking 35-year-old former mini-tour player told me. “We had to call the shop to come out and take us back in golf carts.”

It wasn’t an indictment of his staff’s physical conditioning so much as a testament to architect Jack Nicklaus’ ability to design a golf course that starts at 30 feet above sea level and climbs to nearly 400.

Quivira Hole No 15 “I thought it was a very challenging yet spectacular piece of property,” Nicklaus said when the course opened in 2014.

“I hope most people will think it’s the most spectacular golf course and the best golf course they have ever seen. And yes, some other people will say, “You have got to be kidding.

That’s an honest appraisal. A cynic might say that Quivira is just a clown’s mouth or windmill away from goofy golf, but in my mind Nicklaus cast aside his usual highly engineered approach; instead, he let Quivira’s landscape dictate an appealing compromise between playability for the vacationing player, visual impact and sustainability.

The result is a track that Golf magazine named “Best New International Course” in 2014. In 2016, Golf Digest gave it the magazine’s Editor’s Choice award for best golf resort in Mexico or Central America.

The Challenge

Part of The Golden Bear’s solution to the challenging elevation changes at Quivira is the longest cart path I’ve ever ridden – 1,500 meters, or just shy of a mile – switch-backing its way 250 vertical feet along the flank of a massive dune-topped granite ridge rising above the ocean.

The ride is both exhilarating and relaxing, much like the first long ascent on an amusement park roller coaster. As you climb between Nos. 4 and 5, the views of the receding golf shop, beach, and the occasional humpback whale breaching well beyond the surf break are reasons enough to pat yourself on the back for choosing Cabo.

Quivira Golf Club Hole No 5Cresting the last switchback to the No. 5 tee box brings a truly vertigo-inducing view – the kind that snaps your senses to full alert, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, and announces in no uncertain terms that, yes, your golf vacation has finally begun.

To the left: the Pacific Ocean and a sheer drop of 280 feet. To the right: the ridge rising higher still. To the front: a narrow ribbon of grass leading to an unseen green dangling some 100 feet below the layup spot in the fairway. The putting surface itself is perched 125 feet above the surf.

It’s not often I’m thankful to see a “Cart paths only this hole” sign, but this was one of those times. The thought of our cart launching us a la “Thelma and Louise” into the ocean fleetingly crossed my mind.

Quivira No 6 holeThe Par 3 6th is no less spectacular. I’ll let the course description do the talking: “The tee shot must find and hold a long narrow green that drops off to a cavernous bunker and oblivion on the left.”

“Oblivion” would be the Pacific. From the back tee box, the putting surface is but a speck of green 180 yards away, sky blue above, ocean blue to the left, granite brown to the right.

Multiple Personalities

Quivira Golf Club No 13Once the course turns inland, the rest of Quivira’s holes range in personality from those you’d find on the sandy links courses of Scotland to those you’d find in Scottsdale or tucked in the folds of the hills and ravines of Northern California.

What you’ll likely not find elsewhere, though, are Quivira’s four staffed, on-course food and beverage stations, where complimentary beer, wine, tacos and other hand-held fare are freely offered. The halfway house, called the Oasis, features regional cuisine and a full tequila bar.

Pueblo Bonito Hotel and poolQuivira is part of the Pueblo Bonito family of resorts, which has three Cabo hotels, the Pacifica, an adult-oriented beach-side hotel, the Sunset Beach, a family-oriented hotel sited next to a 161,000-square-foot central food market, and the Greco-Roman-themed Rose Resort. For those seeking extra privacy, affiliated residential communities offer condos and freestanding ocean-view villas for rent.

If You Go

What: Quivira Golf Club Los Cabos, Pueblo Bonita Resort

Where: Cabo San Lucas, Baja Sur California, Mexico

When: Moderate temperatures year-round

How much: Greens fees, $227-$370, depending on season; $213 per round as part of a three-round stay-play package. Rooms start at $466 a night.

All the Pueblo Bonito properties in Cabo offer activities that include swimming with the dolphins, whale-watching, jet skiing and guided fishing trips. All offer a variety of spa treatments.

Getting to Cabo San Lucas is a snap, with easy connections through Phoenix. One wrinkle you should know about: For a reason no one I asked could explain, you can take golf balls in your carry-on baggage on the flight to Cabo but Mexican authorities will confiscate them before you board on your return.

 Dan Vukelich is the senior editor at ABQ Free Press, a former editor at Sun Country Golf magazine and editor of newmexicogolfnews.com. Reach him at dan@newmexicogolfnews.com.

Phoenix’s West Valley Gets a Winner with Victory Club 1 68

Verrado Victory Golf Club

Rocky Foothills Now 7,258 Yards of Emerald Fairways

The Phoenix Metro just got another great new golf course — the Victory Course at Verrado Golf Club in the West Valley — that can be had for an introductory rate of $99, with a replay for $25.

This one’s a must-play for Spring Training fans flocking to the Valley of the Sun to see Cactus League baseball in a couple weeks. It’s off I-10, about 12 miles northwest of the Metro’s western-most Spring Training venue, Goodyear Ball Park, where the Cleveland Indians and the Cincinnati Reds train.

Designed by PGA Tour player Tom Lehman, the Victory Club was built on a former proving ground for Caterpillar heaviest and toughest earth-moving equipment.

Victory Club at VerradoLehman called his new layout “surreally beautiful.” He said the rugged rock environment dramatically contrasts against “immaculately maintained fairways and greens.”

In every way, he said, “We’ve truly used whatever the land has given us and left the terrain all natural, so it looks like the course has been built right into the land. In fact, I can’t think of another course in Arizona that is quite like it.”

The Victory Club is the first course to open in the West Valley since its sister course, Verrado, opened in 2002. Its opening coincides with Arizona’s peak golf season.

“Because Victory’s debut is so special, we wanted to do something special for our guests, too,” said Doug Foss, director of marketing for Verrado Golf club. “We know there has been a lot of anticipation about the course opening, and I think what people will find when they come and play it is that Tom Lehman has really added another true gem to the Arizona golf scene.”

The Victory Club is 32 due west of Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport, hard against the White Tanks Mountains.

To play Victory now for just $99, and get the replay, which the club is calling “the bounceback round,” for just $25, visit www.verradogolfclub.com or call (623) 388-3000.

Dan Vukelich, former editor of Sun Country Golf magazine, in Albuquerque, N.M., is the editor of ABQ Free Press, an alternative newspaper. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Golf Travel Writers Association. Reach him at dan@freeabq.com.