Travel shop and resources..

‘Heaven In Devon’
Golf on the North Devon Coast

 

THE RIDDLE 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.

But 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. 
Perched 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.

Breathtaking? Name your cliché.

But 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 few
minutes 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

But courtesy 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.

The 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
unofficially knocking 11 shots off the ‘course’ record of 59.

Still, when 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.

FACT FILE

Saunton Sands Hotel
Nr. Braunton
North Devon
01271 890212

Great Golf In North Devon

Saunton and 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.

For further 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 at www.northdevon.co.uk

  Email this page to a friend | Return to top of page