Some Cornish people regard Cornwall not as a county of England, but a Celtic independent province. Not wishing to offend anybody we will simply say that Cornwall is a beautiful part of the British Isles, a place where the influence of the sea is everywhere.
The golf course at St Enodoc Golf Club is no exception. It’s located at the royal sailing town of Rock, the links overlooking the Camel Estuary and the picturesque harbour of Padstow beyond. The Church course at St Enodoc takes its name from the tiny 13th century place of worship that stands to the right of the 10th green. In the middle of the 19th century, a fierce storm completely covered the church in sand and it was eventually extricated in 1863.
Although St Enodoc Golf Club was founded in 1891, it didn’t really become a good golf course until James Braid did a proper design job on it in 1907. In his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, Bernard Darwin wrote: “Cornwall has several pleasant courses… of these, St Enodoc is a course of wonderful natural possibilities.” Braid returned to update St Enodoc in 1936 and today’s layout hasn’t changed much since.
St Enodoc is certainly a quixotic and rather hilly links course, set amidst towering sand dunes clad with tufts of wild sea grasses.
"Seaside Golf" by John Betjemen
How straight it flew, how long it flew,
And down the fairway, far along
And so I did. It lay content
Ah! Seaweed smells from sandy caves
The fairways undulate and ripple just as if the sea had ebbed only moments ago. We have to own up – this is one of our favourite links courses because the terrain is entirely natural. The dunes are so pronounced that you cannot help but feel humbled, the holes are varied and charming and finally, so much of the experience is memorable.
There are many great holes here at St Enodoc, but the 6th is a bit of a collector’s item, a hole of absolute uniqueness, a blind drive followed by a blind mid iron second shot which must carry over a confrontational sand dune called “Himalayas”. This stands some 100 yards out, guarding the hidden green. Let’s be honest, this is an enormous dune, worthy of its name, rising up over 75 feet high. Make sure you get your club selection right and that you strike the ball cleanly! The 10th is also an unusual hole, apparently one of Peter Alliss’ favourites. The hole follows a natural ravine and requires a solid drive from an elevated tee across a valley to a pencil thin rippling fairway below.
If your ball happens to come to rest in the churchyard after a wayward shot, keep an eye out for John Betjeman’s headstone. The Poet Laureate lies buried amidst his favourite seaside course. After a rare birdie on the 13th, he penned his famous poem “Seaside Golf”.
There is a hint of moorland and an inland flavour to some of the holes, especially those surrounding the church, but this simply provides variation. We could go on, but alas we wouldn’t want to spoil all the other lovely surprises that are in store for you here at St Enodoc.
Played a round here in March 2017. A stunning course only let down by a bland stretch after going past the Church on the back nine. All of the holes around the coast are magnificent and the condition of the course was terrific. Some of the greens were if anything too fast and smooth considering the squally conditions we had interspersed with glorious sunshine.
Highly recommended, just ignore the very few dull holes in the middle.
A classic mix of holes. Apart from the 4th hole, the front 9 is excellent especially 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8. The infamous bunker on 6 is ridiculous but in a charming way although the hole is not a particular great golf hole. The 10th is brutal, combing length with a tough green complex and surround. The course drops off on the back 9, (11 to 15 are, in my view, only “ok”), but all in forgiven with an astonishing last 3 of which 16 is truly wonderful and can be sensibly described as world class.
I have always believed quality golf starts squarely with superior land. In any assessment of a course it is the terrain from which any course emanates from. In my mind, no less than 60% of any course rating is based on how good the terrain is. Rarely will you find a course with dead flat land being rated a top tier course -- a notable exception The Old Course at St. Andrews.
Any visit to southwest England must include some serious time at St. Enodoc Golf Club. The club is blessed with 36 holes but one's time must be particularly focused on the renowned Church Course. Rest assured - you will need to say your prayers when playing the course because you will find numerous instances when the Almighty had best steer you through the range of top tier shots you will be required to play time after time.
The Church Course is a links but its location is set along Daymer Bay and is not immediately adjacent to the sea itself. There are striking views of the nearby Atlantic Ocean in the far distance as well as the community of Padstow which lies across the bay.
The quality of the golf starts immediately at the first. Playing under 530 yards would seem to provide a quick opportunity for birdie. The hole has high dunes on the right and features a rumpled fairway akin to an old man's face. There's sufficient rough on the left side for those who shy away from the right. Best of all, the hole has a narrow passage way roughly 150 yards from the green. The key is getting into position for a short pitch but be ever mindful of the false front that repels the weakest of plays. What appeared initially as a birdie hole can easily mean a fast bogey for the careless golfer.
The uphill long par-4 2nd that follows is a stout hole. At first glance it may appear heading down the right side is the best bet -- that position only leaves a blind approach to a green nearly all tucked out of view. Going down the left side opens up the approach but pulling a shot can mean menacing rough awaits. What many can't appreciate in their first round is a devilish hidden greenside bunker lurking on the far right corner of the green. The approach play must be well executed -- with falloffs on the different sides of the green.
The 3rd is a brilliant counterpoint to the 2nd. Playing downhill with a blind tee shot the 440-yard par-4 requires total confidence in the line of attack taken. There is an internal road which cuts in diagonally -- favoring the left side is preferred but a pulled shot will mean an even more exacting approach.
After two long par-4's the 4th is a seductive short par-4 -- out-of-bounds hugs the right side and while the bold play can reap rewards the certainty of punishment for a wayward play will have you think otherwise and opt for a fairway metal or hybrid. The green is narrow and the same OB which protrudes on the tee shot is equally a force to the right side of the green. Just a grand hole for the multitude of decisions it mandates the player to decide.
At the par-4 6th you encounter one of the truly majestic holes in golf. The drive turns left and it's best to favor the left side but be mindful of the land pulling shots even more to that side. On one's approach you see a gigantic dune with a sand bunker cut into its 40-foot face. The green is hidden behind and set in a wonderful bowl setting.The target is small and far from easy to hit in the regulation stroke.
The remaining holes on the outward nine are a good mix but not in the same league with the first six played.
The back nine starts with a hole equally fascinating and bewildering. The fairway is as narrow as Marilyn Monroe's waist and anything hit left will be deader than Elvis Presley. A steep hillside confronts the golfer on the right and landing in that area doesn't automatically mean one's ball will kick down to the fairway. The smart play is to hit for no more than 250 yards so that you can likely get an angle to the green hidden over a hill tucked more to the left than you might initially imagine. My only issue is that the player must throttle down to the point of a forced lay-up because the opportunity to do more is simply not a realistic option. Great golf holes do not mandate players having to play the hole in a one-way manner. The most unique bonus feature of the 10th comes with the beautiful St. Enodoc church -- just off to the right of the green.
The uphill par-4 13th at just under 400 yards.is one of St. Enodoc's best holes. Generally, played into the prevailing wind the hole requires a solid tee shot -- avoiding -- two fairway bunkers well-positioned on the right side. The green is also slightly elevated above the fairway so gauging one's approach distance adds an elements of concern. The greatness of the hole is that it is not cluttered with all sorts of distractions -- it falls squarely on the player to execute at the highest level.
The Church Course ends in grand fashion - a superlative troika consisting of a par-5, par-3 and par-4 combination. The 16th is 560 yards and often is played into the prevailing wind. The land rises to a plateau that provides a slew of different stances and lies. The strongest of players can clear the plateau but there's no reprieve without successive quality shots made. The green provides another elevated target so even a short pitch shot is tested.
The par-3 17th is listed at 206 yards but there will be times when far more club will be pulled from one's bag. The green is protected by a solitary deep bunker on the right and like the preceding hole - the putting surface is elevated just enough to prevent the half-hearted play from succeeding.
Topping things off is the final hole -- clearly one of the finest one will find in this part of England. At 469 yards the tee shot is central in order to have any opportunity for success. The fairway is quite wide but there's a bottleneck point the longer one attempts to go. The green is blessed with subtle contours and again is slightly elevated.
The richness of St. Enodoc speaks volumes to the misnomer that any course with a par less than 70 is likely to be seen as a lightweight. That is clearly rubbish -- St. Enodoc provides a scintillating setting for the talented golfer able to play the fullest range of shots. But there's also enough playability so all players can get in on the fun. Unlike so many other courses which have highly irrigated and fertilized rough that can be completely 100% green and often deep -- the rough areas at The Church Course feature a range of situations -- some tilting to the advantage of the fortuitous players -- at other times causing a major point of frustration. Golf, like life, means being able to handle the unpredictable bounces of the coin.
So much of modern design has been geared towards pushing total yardage to ridiculous outcomes. Little real emphasis on escalating character -- facing shots and holes in which a combination of power, control and finesse are woven interchangeably together. At The Church Course you play a layout that's under 6,600 yards but pound for pound oozes memorability and a rush to head immediately over to the 1st tee when the round concludes. Not all of the holes are top tier but even in the lulls that happen The Church Course provides a clear embrace that "fun" golf -- not laborious slog type holes -- is something so many other courses would be wise to follow.
Your prayers will not always be answered when playing The Church Course but you will be blessed in making sure you're in the right pew in savoring a memorable time when playing here.
By M. James Ward - photos courtesy of David Cannon, Stuart Morley and Top 100 Golf Courses
I played this James Braid gem on a beautiful spring afternoon and what a jaw dropping, joyful experience it was; scenic, challenging, dramatic links golf personified, exuding character and originality. Immaculately kept too I might add, with outstanding greens. I look forward to returning to this beautiful corner of the country and would recommend highly. LB
This is a wonderful course, everything I look for in great golf. You need every club in the bag, if you switch off for a second you're in trouble, and that's difficult when the views are this good. The course is also routinely in perfect condition. If you play to handicap here you've had a blindingly good round. I've played it many times now and it doesn't get easier. I still have no idea how to play the par 4 10th - a bogey there is a great result.
The course demands excellent driving on every hole to avoid the hills and rough, and the approach shots demand precision to avoid the hills, slopes and runoffs that abound. There are many great holes on this course, and several that rank among the best in the UK and the world. I thought the short par 4 fourth was one of the best 300 yard holes I've ever played. Out of bounds dominates the right side of the fairway as it doglegs left. There is no bailout left, however as bunkers, dunes and steep rough await you there. Appropriate to such a short hole, absolute precision is required. The 6th with it's famous Himalaya bunker is well known, but the steep slope from back to front left makes keeping the ball on the green as much a challenge as negotiating the intimidating fairway bunker. These holes are the stuff of genius.
The back nine begins with the incredibly intimidating tee shot on 10 which once again demands your best to thread your ball between the burn on the left and the hills to the right. The uphill par 4's at 13 and 14 were difficult to hit as well. The fairways had just enough angle to them to make choosing the proper line very difficult. The finishing stretch of 16 through 18 involves a sequence of a very difficult par 5 at 16, a difficult par 3 to a bowl shaped green at 17, and a long downhill then uphill par 4 at 18. After you finish it's almost impossible to believe that the course is 6300 yards from the white tees and 6500 from the blues. It plays much more difficult than you could ever imagine. This may be the most difficult driving course I've ever played and there is really not an easy or bail out shot to be had. This is exhilarating golf which requires your best.
The course was in tremendous shape, and the greens were simply the best I've ever encountered on a links course. In fact the entire course was in excellent condition. The best thing I can say is that I remember each hole, in fact each shot, with extreme clarity. This course is a tribute to the genius of James Braid, and surely deserves all of it's praise and accolades. I don't think a UK golf resume is complete until you've played here. Click the link to read my Atlantic Coast Golf Links story. Richard Smith, Knoxville, Tennessee