According to Frank Pennink's Choice of Golf Courses, [the] “original course of nine holes opened in 1890 on the inland side of the railway line. Later re-designed by H.S. Colt on the seaward side, except for 1st and 18th holes. Ted Ray came as professional here, on first leaving his native Jersey.”
Author Mike Berners Price gives more information about the early development of the course in this edited extract from The Centurions of Golf: “Churston started as a rough 9-hole course laid out over the Galmton Warborough Common on the inland-side of the Great Western Railway. The small tees and greens were maintained by one man employed for one day per week and the clubhouse consisted of a room rented for £15 per annum from the landlord of thae Harris’ Railway Hotel.
Lord Churston was one of the founding members and he personally contributed the £200 required to clear the ground and make the extra tees and greens when the course was extended to eighteen holes in 1896. The holes on the common were a hazard to walkers and other users and Lord Churston then arranged for the club to develop sixteen new holes on his private estate which enjoyed superb views over Torbay.
Harry Colt and Fred Hawtree made competing bids for the development and Colt won the contract to develop the new course which was ready for play in the autumn of 1924. Colt observed: ‘a reasonable amount to spend on the construction of the course would be £5,000, and personally I have every expectation that the club should be a complete financial success. In my opinion, the outlay would be amply justified by the increased value of the surrounding land for building purposes.’
Characteristic Colt features on the course are well illustrated at the par three 17th, requiring an accurate tee shot to an elevated and sloping green which is well protected by greenside bunkers. The 1st and 18th holes are original remnants of the old course and the 1st has been changed from an easy par four to a very testing opening par three. The front nine stretches away from the clubhouse and into the countryside towards Bixham Harbour, and although mature trees surround the far end of the course, it is still possible to see beautiful views across Torbay towards Paignton and Torquay.”
A first trip to Churlston and it did not disappoint. The 1st and 18th were a bit odd being detached from the rest of the course (holes 2-17) which are on the other side of the steam railway. These holes ( 2-17) have a traditional out and back layout which gives the course a nice flow and although there are houses both sides you do get occasional glimpses of the bay. A nice mixture of holes with two par 5's, four very different par 3's and a good combination of short and long par 4's. Quite a quirky natural course with plenty of slopes (both on the fairway and on the greens) with line off the tee very important (looking forward to going back to try to learn from my mistakes !). Favourite hole was probably the 13th, a unique short par 4 with wickedly sloping fairway and green. Good quality testing greens and every hole is different. Very enjoyable and another Colt gem. I have played Exeter, Tavistock and Torquay recently and I think the case could be made for Churston to be higher in the rankings than all of these.