Golf on the North Devon Coast
OF THE SANDS
The North Devon
coast has long been home to holiday golf that can match the finest
of Britain’s championship courses. DOMINIC PEDLER went in search
of linksland with history, tradition and raw beauty.
So, what is
the finest view in British golf? Now there’s an evergreen
locker-room debate with a familiar cast of candidates. Among them
the awe-inspiring terrace at the Turnberry Hotel, the hallowed vista
from the R&A Secretary’s office in St Andrews - not forgetting
certain Heavenly-sited clubhouses spanning Cruden Bay, in Aberdeenshire,
to La Moye, above Five Mile Bay, in Jersey.
visitors to the Saunton Sands Hotel, near Barnstaple, will know
that the feast for the eyes that greets golfers to this remote
Devon hideaway arguably tops anything our revered coastline
has to offer.
like a veritable Crow’s Nest above a mile of silver sands, the
hotel presides over the deliciously wild wastes of Braunton
Burrows - some 3,000 acres of the finest uninterrupted stretch
of duneland in the United Kingdom.
And that’s just
for starters. The panorama here takes in the full beauty of the
Heritage coastline, from the granite crop of Lundy Island in the
Bristol Channel, to Hartland Point on the Western tip of the sweeping
Bideford Bay far beyond the seaside resort of Westward Ho! home
of the legendary Royal North Devon Golf
Club. As darkness falls you can even make out the glimmering
lights of Clovelly, the former smugglers haven turned quintessential
tourist attraction, and almost an hour away from Saunton by road.
Name your cliché.
wait a minute. Technically (the purists might argue), this doesn’t
qualify as a ‘golf view’ as, unlike our more conventional candidates,
any golf activity is tantalisingly out of sight. The 36 flags
of Saunton Golf Club are barely a
walk away, back down on terra firma, but most are hidden
in the dunes, nestled in their own linksland corridor that comprises
perhaps the most underrated of all our exacting championship
tests. More on this in a moment
of a wonderful piece of British golfing eccentricity the Saunton
experience most definitely qualifies.
So proud are
the golfers of their blissful location that they have been known
to play cross-country golf matches between their 1st
tee of Saunton and the 18th hole at Royal North Devon,
on the far side of the bay. So while the conventional route between
the county’s two flagship courses involves a 17-mile trip by road,
adventurous members have been known to literally ‘play the view’.
Two-and–a-half-miles of beating a golf ball, ‘as the crow flies’,
over towering dunes, saltmarsh, shingle banks and even across the
estuary of the Rivers Taw and Torridge. Over the years the low-tide
mark at this most unsuspecting of golfing water hazards has risen
such that the carry is now around 200 yards.
cross country challenge was first done in 1964 to commemorate
Royal North Devon’s centenary, and again in 1997 for Saunton’s,
when the use of Polo mints as tee-pegs on the shingle bank proved
a bone of contention with one team
knocking 11 shots off the ‘course’ record of 59.
global warming finally puts an end to this particular form of high
jinx, the members will just have to stick to playing golf in more
conventional venues – at their respective clubs.
Not much of
a hardship, admittedly. After all, six-time Open champion Harry
Vardon was just one of many who have dreamed of a blissful golfing
retirement in this corner of England. And, equally blissfully, little
has changed at either of these two courses since Vardon’s day. Or,
indeed, for half-a-century prior to that.
Great Golf In
RND may be the flagship courses in the area but North Devon has
a fine collection of courses within a 20-mile radius of the main
centre of Barnstaple. These include Great Torrington, Hartland Forest,
Holsworthy, Ilfracombe, Libbaton, Portmore and Willington Valley.
details on all the golf and other activities in the area contact:
The North Devon
Marketing Bureau, Barnstaple; Tel: 01271 323030 or view the website