Dartmouth Golf and Country Club is a friendly and relaxed resort, located in Devon’s sheltered South Hams. Four miles away is the historic town of Dartmouth, carved into the banks of the River Dart, where the views over the estuary are stunning. The medieval town has narrow streets full of restaurants and shops and is well worth a visit.
The Championship course opened for play in 1992 and is set in 225 acres of rolling, sometimes hilly countryside. The British golf course architect Jeremy Pern designed Dartmouth and many people believe this is one of his best creations. Pern is now based in France and has designed numerous courses on continental Europe; one of his most famous designs is the Wadi course at the Emirates Golf Club in Dubai, which is now called the Faldo course following a 2006 re-make by the 6-time major winner.
There are some thrilling holes on the Dartmouth Championship course, which makes creative use of the undulating terrain. A great deal of water comes into play and there are some tough, long drives from the tee. The first two holes break you in quite gently but the drama really begins at the demanding 3rd, a dramatic drop par three. Here, from the elevated tee, the prospect is daunting – the tee shot must carry across a lake (some 60 feet below the tee) to a green that is 50 yards long – three putting here is commonplace.
The hardest hole on the course, the 4th, continues the drama. This snaking par five, measuring 533 yards from the back tees, has a stream running along the left side and a steep bank and a rock face to the right, with out-of-bounds lurking beyond. An accurate approach shot is required to a green, which is well protected by two ponds to the left and trees and shrubs to the right. An incredibly tough par three concludes the round, measuring 244 yards from the back tee. Again, the forced carry is across water – a par here really will feel like a birdie.
We are by no means buggy-lovers, but the Championship course is set up for carts and some of the walks between greens and tees are long and steep. The club has numerous buggies for hire, so we recommend one in this instance.
Undoubtedly, the Dartmouth Championship course is tough – the layout stretches out to almost 7,200 yards from the back tees, but there is a great deal of excitement to be had here, even for the average golfer. This is a course to plot your way round – no two holes are the same and you’ll need every club in the bag. If you are in the area, make sure you play here. You’ll have lots of fun.
A round at Dartmouth is to play 2 nines of very differing quality and architectural note. Constructed on terrain thats not naturally suited for setting out a course its very reminiscent of St Mellion, a purpose built golf resort surrounded by farmland (and calling itself Dartmouth even though the sea is some 5 miles away!).
The front 9 is pure quality and very tough, carving its way through and up and down a narrow wooded valley; it demands you bring your ‘A’ game from the tee or you’llll be reloading a lot. It starts out with an uphill par 4 then a cracking downhill par 4 where danger awaits if you’re too long and stray to far from the fairway. Then an excellent par 3 which is hugely satisfying just to find the green from the whites. There's no let up on the par SI2 4th, that did eat a couple of my golf balls even though the shots only slightly drifted offline. The quality continues with a tough 200 yd uphill par 3 at the 7th, going out finishes with a couple of nice par 5's. Unfortunately after that the quality dips considerably with succession of pedestrian par 4's which while quite long and tough don't reach the highs set earlier on, only the SI1 par 4 15th and closing par 3 18th remain in the memory post round.
For mid-October and events this year the condition was excellent, the greens were little slower than I'd have liked but still had nice roll. As ever with these resort type courses pace of play was pretty appalling, I suspect there is no restriction on handicaps which on a tough course like this is a recipe for glacial slow play, I watched one 4 ball tee shots not even reach half way to one of the shorter par 3's! Also I would recommend a buggy, it has some of steepest walks between holes I've ever seen and some big gaps.
Notwithstanding that I did enjoy my round at Dartmouth, comparing it with St Mellion it lacks that courses consistency but being generous I rate it as 4 balls for the front 9 alone.
Great fun in a beautiful location, excellent value, and a top place to stay and play in the lodges with a group of friends.
Don't take the golf too seriously, and I would strongly recommend taking a buggy (very rare for me) - the comparisons to St Mellion are well founded in that walking and carrying on the course, particularly in hot weather, is a bit of an ordeal. Not helped if you and your friends have had a long night of cards and drinks the night before in the lodges..
Dartmouth is much more popular with sailors than it is with golfers and there’s a great deal to like about this upmarket sailing port. Dartmouth Golf & Country Club is the only UK layout that French-based Brit, Jeremy Pern, has designed and it’s one of the more exciting modern layouts in England’s southwest. I wouldn’t recommend it for the traditionalist but if you’ve got a sense of humour, more than an ounce of stamina and you’re prepared to lose a few golf balls then it comes with a cautious recommendation… take a buggy unless you need the workout.
The Championship golfing moniker is overused when naming courses but this is a proper golfing test that deserves more than a modicum of respect. Leave the tips alone unless you’re feeling lucky or are a long hitting single digit golfer – the West Region PGA Championships have been hosted here half a dozen times for good reasons. It’s tough and in places rather too tough for comfort.
In many ways DG&CC reminds me of the Nicklaus course at St Mellion, there’s elevation changes (Dartmouth is more severe than St Mellion), lots of variation, some average holes that are counterbalanced with a good number of exciting holes. Architecturally you won’t find much that you haven’t seen before, but there are more than enough thrills to be had to bring a smile to the face. My first grin appeared at the drop shot par three 3rd which is lovely medium length one shotter that’s almost quarry-like in appearance, requiring a forced carry over a lake to a green some sixty feet below the tee. To be honest, I’d go as afar as to say I enjoyed all four par threes.
For me, the front nine (with three par threes, three par fours and three par fives) is more interesting than the backside, which has six par fours on the spin with more than a touch of brutality at #11, #14 and #15 where pars will be few and far between. The closing par three reminds me a bit of the last hole on the Arden course at the Forest of Arden – a long par three across water.
There’s more than enough interest and movement in the greens to make DG&CC a course that perhaps could move a tad higher in the Devon rankings. There’s also a very reasonably priced Best Western hotel on site which caters well for golfers. I find it difficult to decide whether I like this course more or less than St Mellion’s Nicklaus course. One thing is for sure, I can’t wholeheartedly commend the 9-hole Dartmouth course, but it’s acceptable for a warm up and much better than the driving range.
I found Dartmouth to be very similar to the Manor House at Castle Combe. Both are quality modern layouts with pleasant rural backdrops set over undulating terrain. Castle Combe rightly has a good reputation, but to my mind it also has throwaway holes such as the almost comic, placeholder 13th. Dartmouth though has arguably the better (and tougher) holes. Ones played down into the valley, ones played along the valley floor, as well as ones that bravely cling to the side of the hills. You will not find an entirely flat hole. Due to the undulating nature of the land, finding the firm, well-mown fairways is preferable, but the light rough will stop a reasonably good shot from running off into severe trouble. The design and conditioning work well together to make the course playable for a variety of skill levels, although novices would be better off playing the still challenging 9 hole course. One mild criticism would be the amount of greens which had a collar of rough at their entrance, making the run up shot either a lottery or irrelevant. This is a shame given that so many holes can be played in a variety of ways, with a bailout option for a miss on the ‘correct’ side. One exception is the par 5 4th which demands accuracy for its entire length. For me it is the standout hole where the designer comfortably earned his fee. OOB and thick vegetation enforce the entire right side, all but guaranteeing a lost ball. The stream flanking the left side is the lesser of two evils and its gently babbling soundtrack soothes frayed nerves on this beauty and beast of a hole.
The back nine is much longer than the front although it plays to the same par. Playing into the wind really does require powerful striking or suppressing the ego when playing par 4s such as the 14th or the 15th. While on the 15th I thought that many will consider it unfair with its slopes all leading to the lake at two thirds distance. The marker post, tight to the right edge of the fairway shows the necessity of keeping on that side. Upon reflection, and irrespective of conditions, the 15th is best viewed as a classic par and a half hole, playing the second shot from the plateau at half way with a long iron and relying on the short game if you don’t manage to hit a career shot.
The par 3s are of uniformly high quality. If the designer were to create a par 3 course I’d queue up to play it. The 3rd and 18th are the most photographed short holes but are matched or exceeded in design and beauty by the charming 5th. At 130-160 yards it proves length is not essential for a great short hole. There is water tight to the left and a steep bank to the right, with bunkers short and long that act as score savers rather than card-wreckers, preventing a dreaded ‘splosh’ breaking the rural tranquillity.
The 18th provides a marvellous finale (and a chance for a wager) although the fact it is the only par 3 on the back nine is a shame and is perhaps why I preferred the front nine along with its apparent greater maturity and more ‘natural’ look. Having played Dartmouth twice in a weekend, once carrying and once by buggy, I would recommend a buggy for keeping energy levels high on the back nine.
The cunning little 5th hole, a short par 3 with well guarded water and bunkers leads you to your first climb and at this point the blood is truly rushing through your veins for walking this course can be in itself a stern examination. The course though is well catered for with buggies an option, but for many guests the enjoyment of having 3 sets of nine to choose from (with the additional 9 hole Dartmouth course) means that mixing half a round each day is a good way to play the 27 holes that are on offer. As I paused to enjoy the view, piece and simple tranquillity beside the 6th green I reflected on the challenge of the 7th a beautifully crafted par 3 that measures over 230yards from the Championship tees – if ever a hole gave you satisfaction for achieving par then this was it!
As you play back to the clubhouse with two par 5’s you have a fair walk past the clubhouse (an opportunity for some to contemplate retiring?!) to then tackle the hilly terrain to the front of the hotel. The 10th is a classic par 4 carved through the hillside with an exposed rock face to the left which hugs the whole length of the hole and sets to intimidate as one drives to a relatively tight landing area. Overall the back 9 is longer than the front and sets a true championship pace with a sequence of par 4’s in excess of 400 yards. Although many sit on higher and slightly flatter ground you do return to be in sight of the clubhouse by the 17th hole, a strong par to a rising green. The 18th is a second signature hole very similar in design to the 3rd with an elevated tee and water guarding the front. Both are played at around 200 yards in length and are fantastic holes to grace any ranked course. The 18th represents a great finish to the sternest of championship courses.
Dartmouth is a true test of golf, but can be enjoyed by all if you play from the front tees. We felt that playing a mixture of tee placings would give you the opportunity to play the greatest holes as the architect intended, but also not beat yourself up for consistently having to hit long approaches to plus 400 yard holes. I would thoroughly recommend a trip to Dartmouth, the course is very well kept all year round and enjoys the welcome of an extremely friendly and courteous staff. Staying a weekend in the Country Club, in a beautiful spot that typifies the rolling South Devon countryside with 27 holes of golf, Dartmouth deserves recognition as a great place to stay and play golf. Ian Henley