Landscape painter Thomas Gainsborough, born in nearby Sudbury, has Stoke-by-Nayland’s championship course named in his honour.
It’s a fitting tribute, though the cream of Europe’s Challenge Tour will need an artist’s imagination to build a score when they compete here from July 26 to 29.
They say there are no pictures on a scorecard when a player rides his luck, but as I discovered, the competitors will be in for a thorough examination of their skills, not least their touch and creativity around the greens.
Stoke-by-Nayland has two courses - the Gainsborough, which has already staged European Seniors and EuroPro Tour events as well as a previous Challenge Tour tournament - and the Constable, named after another of the region’s artistic sons.
“The Constable is just as good a course as the Gainsborough,” says the club’s golf secretary Adrian Bullock. “A straw poll of the members would say a 50-50 split, if not a bias to the hillier Constable.”
Like so many courses in the recent rain deluges, the Gainsborough has found it a battle against the elements so plays longer than golfers would traditionally expect. It’s a tough enough par-71 at 6,545 yards off the whites – but off the blues at 7,134 yards it’s something of a monster.
Emphasis is placed on so many aspects of your game - the ball above and below your feet, firing into half blind elevated greens or, in the case of the short third, floating a wedge into a small putting surface which sits well below the tee.
Nearly every hole makes you think. For example, the second needs accuracy with water left and right before you face the dilemma of laying up to more water or going for glory with a 3-wood in your hands.
But there are balanced opportunities on both nines to score as well as very testing holes where you need to protect your score. From a visual perspective, the tenth - a 418-yard par-4 that requires a tee shot over water and an approach back across it - and the par-3 18th, again over water, are two great challenges.
The strategic par-5 fifth with its narrow green and the par-4 8th with threaded between out of bounds and a long sand bunker were among my favourites.
While most fairways are fairly generous, miss them and you can end up in lethal ‘hay’, so clubs should be chosen for accuracy rather than length.
The Gainsborough is a firm but fair challenge for all golfing abilities and with yellow tees playing more than 300 yards shorter than even the whites, some par-4 holes - six, eight and 17 in particular - can play considerably easier.
The shop is well stocked and summed up the all-round welcoming experience. I even received an in-depth description of how the PING G20 driver has developed from my G10, while also accepting some common-sense advice about my Vokey wedges.
Into the clubhouse and a toasted sandwich before the round will set you back £3.40 and the daily ‘specials’ menu is well worth considering with a tasty lasagne, chips and salad for just £6.50. My pint of lager was £3.80 and the big Sky Sports screens added to a good all-round atmosphere.
Here’s the deal
Societies and golf break visitors won’t get on either course at weekends before midday and members also get food and drink at a preferential rate. But there is a 20-bay driving range with a great short-game practice area and putting green.
The Challenge Tour is in town for the annual ‘English Challenge’ from July 26 to 29 and you can play the track - as covered by the aspiring professionals - for just £10 from July 30 if you tee off after 6pm. You might keep an eye on the clock to complete your game but where else can you follow in the footsteps of the next generation of Tour legends for a tenner?
Other deals include the ‘Par Package’ (£52 and includes coffee/bacon roll, 18 holes of golf and three-course carvery). Stoke-by-Nayland also makes a great location for a Society overnight trip with its two courses and on-site 80 bedrooms.
Stoke-by-Nayland is fairly priced, has extensive luxury facilities and you get treated well by everyone at this independent family-owned business.
Ratings (out of 10)
Address: Keepers Lane, Leavenheath, Colchester, Essex, CO6 4PZ
Contact: 01206 262836
Weekday green fees: £60 (day rate); £45 (before 12pm); £35 (12-4pm); £25 (4-6pm); £10 (after 6pm)
Weekend green fees: £80 (day rate); £65 (before 12pm); £55 (12-4pm); £30 (4-6pm); £10 (after 6pm)
Gainsborough Course: Par 71; 6,257 yards (yellow), 6,545 yards (white)
Constable Course: Par 72; 6,212 yards (yellow), 6,544 (white)
Public transport: Stratford – the home of the Olympic Stadium – is served by the Central Line and Jubilee Line from central London and is just 30 minutes from Colchester by National Rail