Norfolk Golf & Country Club is a 9-hole semi-private course located in the small town of Simcoe, Ontario. With history dating back to 1895, (the 17th oldest club in Canada), Norfolk is a hidden gem for those seeking classic golf architecture laid over intriguing terrain.
It is easy to overlook the par 34, 2,610 yard layout as a rather tame challenge, especially with both par 5s measuring under 460 yards. This is all a deception! Norfolk truly is a shotmakers course. It is extremely intriguing round after round, and filled with strategic decisions to test golfers of all skill levels.
Take the 1st hole, a 306 yard, par 4. Should you hit driver from the elevated tee, your approach will be a challenging pitch from an uneven lie, over a small bunker to an elevated green with a false front. Not the easiest way to start your round. Laying back with a long iron increases your odds of a flat lie, however, accuracy is key with this strategy. The left half of the fairway has severe undulations that tend to kick your ball into the rough. Even the shorter hitter must decide between driver or less as the fairway is widest and flattest at the 150 yard marker.
An extremely short green to tee walk (a consistent theme at Norfolk) brings you to the 145 yard par 3, 2nd hole. The green is cut into a steep slope, and reminiscent of the 4th hole at Pinehurst No. 4, only more severe if you miss left or right.
The par 4, 342 yard 3rd hole is one of the best at Norfolk. The tee shot is partially blind thanks to a pair of massive hills that form the beginning of the fairway. While you can see the flag from the tee, taking dead aim brings you unnecessarily close to OB right and will result in a blind approach blocked by trees and yet another steep slope leading up to the elevated green.
The 453 yard 4th hole is the first of back-to-back par 5s. While relatively short by today’s standards, a good drive is required to reach the crest of the hill. From this point you are rewarded with a clear view of the green. Anything landing short of the crest will kill the rollout of your drive and result in a blind uphill approach. For a bit of variety, I sometimes play this hole as a long par 4 from the front left tee.
My favourite hole on the course is the 5th, a dogleg right par 5 that measures 456 yards. The elevated tee offers a glimpse of downtown Simcoe, reminding you the course is only a short walk from the main street (a unique characteristic Lorne Rubenstein recently wrote about). A perfectly placed drive up the left side of the fairway gives you an angle to go for the green in two. The trouble is the shot is blind, usually sidehill/downhill and played to a green surrounded by OB on 3 sides. A layup is nearly as challenging given the blind approach and severe pitch of the fairway.
The 6th hole is the most challenging par 3 on the course. In part due to it playing 184 yards to an elevated green, but mostly due to it being the most severe green on the property. Stay below the pin at all costs, otherwise you risk putting your ball off the green. An interesting feature of the routing is that the 6th hole returns to the central clubhouse, pro shop and 1st tee area. Returning to this gathering point adds to the social nature of the club and permits a number of interesting loops. I have played a variety including loops of 3, 6, 10, 12 or 15 holes.
This brings us to the 7th hole, which is a relatively straightforward par 3 measuring 149 yards. The green, well guarded by bunkers, features a severe downslope for shots missing long and left.
The 8th hole is the longest par 4, measuring 405 yards. The tee shot is also the most demanding due to the narrow shute of trees and penalty of a blind approach if you come up short. As you approach your drive, the great reveal to the green-site below makes for the most spectacular approach shot on the course. When conditions are firm, you can run your drive down the slope, but the advantage is rather limited. The lie tends to be more random than if you play to the top of the hill.
The routing ends with a par 3 measuring 185 yards. This green is well bunkered, features severe slopes and a few rather tricky pin locations towards the edges of the green. Short is the best miss here.
This past season I participated in a hickory club event hosted by the Golf Historical Society of Canada. Playing Norfolk with hickory clubs further brings to life the classic architecture and phenomenal topography. GHSC has an event tentatively scheduled for 2023 at Norfolk, which I highly recommend, especially if you are new to hickory golf.
Given the steep club history, I was curious to learn more. Starting with The Canadian Golfer, I came across articles dating back as early as 1915. These interesting articles documented the club’s early history while being mentioned in the same breath as other early Golden Era courses such as Toronto, Hamilton and Brantford. I also acquired a copy of Norfolk’s centennial book, published in 1995. To my surprise, it included a description of the pre-1935 course routing. I’ve attempted to sketch the routing based on the written description and my knowledge of the property.
Hole 1, “Orchard” — 362 yard Par 4
From a tee at the top of the hill on the present 8th fairway, the hole plunged into a gully, with the approach shot to a hidden green in an apple orchard. This area is now a small subdivision of townhouses. An aerial from 2006 appears to show what looks like a small green tucked away in the former orchard.
Hole 2, “Flats” — 400 Yard Par 4
The tee was located just to the north of the present 1st green—which at the time was beside the original clubhouse—and played to the present 8th green. Golfers would often meet other members on the 3rd fairway playing in the opposite direction.
Hole 3, “Brook” — 403 Yard Par 4
The tee was the site of the current 9th tee and played to the current 1st green.
Hole 4, “Majuba” — 330 Yard Par 4
This hole is the current 3rd hole, however there was an alternate tee box to the south of the current 2nd tee. Now covered by a thick growth of trees, this tee extended the hole to a 410 yard, par 5.
Hole 5, “Halfway” — 135 Yard Par 3
The tee was located at the current 4th tee and played to a partially blind green in the valley below.
Hole 6, “Ladysmith” — 193 Yard Par 3
Up the hill from the 5th green, the 6th tee was located on the current 4th fairway and played over the valley guarding the current 4th green. This hole must have played like a par 3.5 given the club technology of the time. In my opinion, combining these two holes into a single par 5 makes for better use of the natural terrain.
Hole 7, “Lynnwood” — 450 Yard Par 5
This hole remains the same as the current 5th hole. Good thing it was left alone because this is the best hole on the property.
Hole 8, “Hill Top” — 323 Yard Par 4
The hole played from a tee just to the north of the current 6th tee to a fairway near the current tennis courts and lower parking lot. The hole then required a short iron to the current 7th green.
Home 9, “Home” — 154 Yard Par 3
The hole played from the current 8th front tee to a green at the top of the hill on the current 8th fairway. It is noted that balls would sometimes roll past the green and down the hill. I can only imagine the difficulty of the recovery shot one would be faced with.
Now for the burning question you might be asking: “who is the architect of record responsible for all these changes?” Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not so clear. Once speculated to be a Stanley Thompson design, there is simply not enough proof to confirm whether this is true. Given the Thompson brothers frequented Norfolk during this era, it is hard to believe they did not offer the odd suggestion here or there. If only the clubhouse walls could talk.