East Devon Golf Club is absolutely enchanting, the golf course is laid out on high ground, 400 feet above the sea, close to the clifftops, where one can drink in the most spectacular views in golf. The sweeping panorama of Lyme Bay is in view, and on a clear day, you can spot the Isle of Portland, jutting out into the English Channel.
The fairways have been cut through a profusion of gorse and heather. It’s as pretty as a picture, an undulating seaside heathland course with an overwhelming feeling of spaciousness because wide tracts of gorse and heather divide each fairway.
Robert Tosswill, a retired army officer laid down the original course, working with the natural lie of the land and it opened for play in March 1902. James Braid visited the club the following year, and according to Golf Illustrated, his work didn’t just involve lengthening, but “considerably altering and improving” the course.
Herbert Fowler made further alterations in 1913 and after the First World War Harry Colt remodelled the course, creating the layout largely played today. Braid returned to the club in 1931 to alter today’s 8th hole, 18th green and surrounding bunkers.
Measuring a little over 6,200 yards, East Devon is not championship material, but with a lowly par of 70 and some tight drives, this is a challenging and attractive test of golf. Right from the off, the course wends its way slowly but surely to the clifftops. The climb is gradual and certainly not hard work. Many of the holes are memorable and certainly the 9th, a downhill par four, was a record breaker for T. Aydon. In 1934 he entered the Guinness Book of Records for hitting the longest recorded drive. It was measured at 450 yards and he reached the edge of the green. It is no longer featured in the current records, but bear in mind that this drive was struck 70 years ago without the aid of modern technology.
East Devon’s one-shotters are charming, and the pick of the bunch is the 10th, a stunning par three played from an elevated tee across a valley clad in gorse and heather to a well protected, three-tiered green. “The best view in golf”, according to Peter Alliss, can be taken in on the 16th tee, a 406-yard par four. This is the start of the downhill stretch back to the clubhouse. Don’t go too far right here – there are cliffs and out-of-bounds waiting to catch the slice. Anything too far left will be caught by heather or blocked out by trees. The 17th is a delightful long par four with another lovely view and loads of heather and gorse. A par here will feel like a birdie.
East Devon is an elegant course on charming heathland. It’s relatively unknown, but it’s certainly discerning and immensely enjoyable – well worth a visit.
Frank Pont was appointed in 2019 to conduct a research study with a view to developing plans for future restoration work on the course.
I was fortunate to play East Devon on a beautiful Spring evening recently and I can’t think of many more delightful places to visit when the sun is shining and you feel the warmth on your back. Combining both rolling heathland and beautiful coastal views are not commonplace in the golf world, maybe Isle of Purbeck is the only course I can think of that offers something similar, but the coastal-heathland combination is one that I would suggest that the majority of golfers would find most pleasant.
A feature of East Devon is that it is a course that benefits a fader of the golf ball. Holes 3, 11, 12, 14, 15 and 18 all turn left to right whilst it’s only the 7th that requires you to work the ball in the other direction. This probably suits most amateur golfers, as will the playing areas which are reasonably generous across the course, contributed to by the recent work carried out in removing areas of gorse and low-lying vegetation to help open up sight-lines. The first two holes, that head out and back to the clubhouse buck this trend slightly and give the expectation that the course will play tight and punishing since the heather cuts into the fairway on each of these opening holes, but thereafter, the additional width is pretty constant.
In addition to its coastal-heathland identity, the greens are the making of the course. An immediate hint towards this is the two-tiered green on the 2nd hole whereby hitting the wrong tier will likely result in a three-putt. By the 5th hole, the land has moved away from heathland and now shares characteristics more akin to downland or parkland. 6 and 7 then lay upon a separate finger of land to the northwest of the property and there is an obvious sense of moving towards a different terrain. 6 itself represents a good birdie chance as a downhill par five, only the troll’s layer to the left of the fairway in the landing area for the second shot needs to be avoided. 7 meanwhile, represents an easy opportunity to immediately return that shot back to the course.
I felt the course really started to awaken at the 9th, and unsurprisingly, this is where the heathland returns. Here, the golfer is asked to drive blind over a marker post to another wide landing area, but then I read in the course guide that avoiding long or right is the strong recommendation. This is where a steep shelf is located beside the green. Avoiding this side is easier said than done however since the fairway leans to the right throughout the length of the fairway so it’s easy to squirt one in that direction. This next run of holes represents the best part of the course. 10, a beautiful short par three with a three-tiered green is easy to hit with a short iron, but again, finding the correct tier is essential. The two naturalised cross bunkers that bisect the fairway at 11 provide visuals resembling a links on what I consider to be one of the course’s finest, whilst 12 is a good driving hole that sweeps to the right and back uphill.
14 was a hole I found to be not much more than a long, climbing slog, I suppose there ought to be one or two like this to test the power-hitter, but the fun then returns for the closing four holes. 15 gives the golfer the opportunity to go for broke on this short par four, whilst 16 and 17 then provide the crescendo, offering comfortably the best scenery on the course over towards the bay at Budleigh Salterton. Both of these holes are stretched out along the sandstone cliff and play downhill, with the 17th fairway interrupted by a large strip of heather meaning a long iron drop-shot is needed to access a plateau green with a valley front.
East Devon is a fine course but unfortunately, it’s located on the wrong side of Devon to be accommodated within either a North Devon or Dorset tour, but I’d still strongly recommend visiting if in the general area. I must also mention the club’s excellent twilight rate of just £35; East Devon is a course that comfortably deserves its spot as an England top 100 course, and whilst most courses close to East Devon’s class are charging well over £100 to play at the weekend, East Devon demonstrates that there are still bargains to be had at some of our country’s best courses.
"The troll's layer"...what great terminology! Perhaps my appreciation is heightened in that I just began reading 'Beowulf' for the first time yesterday evening...hope there were some nice views of the "whale's road" from the course.
Ryan, unfortunately you picked up a typo. It should have been lair and not layer, but maybe both work? Maybe the troll’s layer is the level below where the pixies play and where birdies are made? If your metal enthusiasm stretches to prog rock then maybe you can help fill in the blanks!
In an area of the country that isn’t awash with good golf, East Devon is the exception. A stunning setting, lovely heathland turf (for the most part) and a number of very good holes makes it well worth a visit and thoroughly deserving of its place in England’s top 100.
East Devon is a charming course that feels like a heathy-linksy hybrid. Fantastic views and full of character from start to finish. Perhaps lacks the big hitting holes that would elevate it further although the views are spectacular. Well worthy of its place in the top 100 and a great course to pad out a trip to the West Country.
Other reviews and descriptions of East Devon get the facts right. It is a hilly course with a mix of parkland and links elements, but it is defined by the location with glorious views over the Jurassic coast, the Exe and the local area. We played in high winds (the Met Office said to expect 40 mph gusts) and clear sky. The wind converted a good course into a serious challenge. It would be much easier on a calm day but the high, exposed position of most holes suggested that those conditions would be the exception. If part of the reason for these reviews is to recommend other golfers to visit or avoid, East Devon is firmly on the ‘you should play it’ list.
East Devon GC is an enchanting course, set just outside Budleigh built on the cliff tops playing through wonderful heathland surroundings of gorse, Heather (which was coming into full bloom) and a mix of mature deciduous and evergreen trees. Enchanting is the word for this out of the way Course. Played it given it was the highest rated of the South Devon courses and on a late Summers afternoon with the sun shining I knew we would be in for something special - and we were. The reviews of Keith Baxter and Ed Battye were a further reason to play. We were not disappointed.
Turning off the main road and up a private driveway through woodland, you then turn into what is without question a traditional club, warmly welcomed by the pro and members. It is worth mentioning the practice facilities - we arrived with plenty of time to use the short and medium pitching greens, bunker practice and putting greens. It really added to the overall experience.
As others have mentioned, it is not a long course at 6200 yards, and it is relatively open with wide fast running fairways, giving plenty of room off the tee. There is heather primarily lining the fairways, so an errant drive could prove costly and on some holes, the trees can come into play.
There is also plenty of variety in the holes throughout the course. Nothing feels ‘samey’. Even the greens, some of which are quite large, had plenty of variety to their shaping and contours.
After a gentle start, 2 short par 4’s, the course then picks up a notch with SI 1 par 4, 3rd hole playing uphill and at 411 yards into a gentle breeze. The hole sweeps gently round to the right, so accuracy off the tee is important to enable you to reach the green in 2.
Then comes the 1st of the par 3’s, all very good holes and varying in design, whether playing short, long, uphill or downhill.
The 4th is 140 yards, played over 2 bunkers protecting the front to the left and right. A large receptive green awaits.
The next par 3 is the 8th, a long 204 yard played into the breeze and to a raised green. Accuracy is key as again any shots to the right will end up down the banking with trees and OOB not far away. This is a part of the course where the 8th and 14th greens, 9th and 15th tees meet. For anyone after a shorter round jumping onto the 15th offers a 12 hole option.
The pick of the par 3’s is the 10th, 146 yards, played from an elevated tee box across a valley of purple heather and to a magnificent 3 tier green. Bunkers again protect the front.
The last of the par 3’s is the 13th, played downhill 173 yards. Whilst not as pretty visually as the 10th it is a good looking par 3.
There are 2 par 5s for the gents (6 for the ladies) and both were strong holes. The 6th, the first of them, plays down a wide fairway, with trees to the left, leaving a 2nd shot to a long narrow green, protected by waste area to the front left and bunker to the right, Meaning to get there in 2 requires a very accurate shot.
The other par 5 is uphill following a sweep to the right and playing 491 yards. Whilst uphill, this is a good birdie opportunity.
And that is another nice thing about this course. With some shorter par 4s thrown in, birdie opportunities are there. The pick of the par 4s for me were:
9th - magnificent views off the tee ( same applies on the 8th green) playing 465 yards downhill. The approach shot is either made or ruined by your tee shot, so preferably be left or central and then with a downhill lie to a green cut into the banking, anything right is down the banking or in bunkers.
11th - a true risk and reward short par 4, 321 yards, played across the valley and with a line of bunkers ready to catch your tee shot. Question is how much to take on. An excellent opportunity for birdie.
16th - again the view are magnificent from the tee, or nearby trig point, and again like the 9th played downhill as you start your way back to the clubhouse.
17th - again downhill from the tee, this is all about your tee shot. Too long and you will run out of fairway, before your second over a valley of heather to a plateau green. Anything short will not bounce forward but run round into bunkers or remain on the banking. Worse still end back up up in the valley.
And the last poses some questions off the tee, again how much of the dog leg right do you take off with OOB and thick heather down the right, and the clubhouse viewers to the left.
This is a delightful course, wide open enough t9 relax on the tee, but accuracy finding the fairway is key to good scoring. I found the course easier than back home and my scoring reflected that.
This isn’t quite 5 balls for simple reason, whilst the greens were true, they were a bit slow and the fairways were in need of a cut, just taking a shine off what could be ‘excellent’. That said it is truly deserving of its England ranking and I would strongly recommend you play. The twilight rate is excellent value.
We played East Devon as the 1st of 4 courses during a weekend to Devon (both Sauntons & RND were the others), and whilst there's a bit of distance between East Devon and the courses North of the county I'm glad we made the effort.
We arrived early and so enjoyed breakfast, in the sunshine, on the patio overlooking the 18th fairway and green. From the clubhouse you can see the undulations of the course and the 2nd green gives you an indication that your putting game better be up to scratch (mine wasn't).
We were welcomed on to the tee by the starter, who gave us some advice for the round ahead, and we opted to tee it up from the white tees.
East Devon isn't a long course, but it's one that you have to plot your way around, ensuring you approach each green from the correct side to avoid racking up a big score (a course guide is a must if you're visiting for the 1st time).
Some of the holes were tight, some uphill, some downhill but all of them offered a test of some sorts and all were a joy to play. The views from some parts of the course are fantastic (particularly the 16th tee), and are well worth a photo or two.
The course was in great condition and members and staff alike were very friendly and were keen to find out our thoughts once we were back in the clubhouse.
As an added bonus we were allowed to use our County Cards for a reduced green fee, which meant the value for money was outstanding for such a top course.
The other 3 in our party thought East Devon was the best course we played over the weekend, which is testament to how good it is, and we all agreed it should be higher in the rankings.
We played East Devon today in lovely sunshine on the swing from Saunton to Ferndown, the golf preceded by a scenic drive across green and pleasant Devon. We had a local ale on the terrace of the friendly, very well appointed cub course over looking the heather lined 18 th whilst also looking up to a gorse lined fairway seemingly up in the sky on the side of a hill. It was like one of those cartoons that was popular back in the day of outlandish golf courses. How on Earth do you end up there? We were about to find out. The start was a little like Crowborough Beacon, gentle heather lined rolling holes, but then moving into some very nice tree lined holes then up to altitude. Despite the up and down holes it never felt one of those Grand Old Duke of York courses where you slog up a hole called Heart attack hill then immediately have an elevated tee shot back down. It's very well presented but never prissy, good greens with plenty of slope, and of course the jaw dropping views from 15 to 17. Good value too, an excellent way to bridge the gap on the way back from the beautiful South West.
East Devon, at Budleigh Salterton, is a golf course that had eluded me for far too long. However, I set that matter straight with a visit in the early Spring of 2017 and came away very impressed with how the course played, especially for the time of year.
It’s a venue which is quite difficult to build into a high quality multi-course trip; a little too far west of the famed Dorset contingent and a niggly cross-county trek from the magnificent links on the North Devon coast. That said, it is certainly worth making a detour to visit this charming cliff-top cum upland-heathland layout.
The par 70 (SSS 71) course has a particularly lovely start with a couple of sub 350-yarders to get us warmed up. Avoid the heather from the tee and put your ball under the hole with your approach at both of these gentle par-fours and you may pick up a birdie. On the other hand, tangle with the gnarly rough or leave yourself a downhill putt and you could be frustratingly dropping shots left, right and centre. The four-quarter-level green at the second is truly fantastic whilst the third is also a particularly fine hole sweeping elegantly to the right.
Between the 7th and the 13th East Devon is exceptionally strong. The three-tiered green at the 163-yard 10th is a highlight whilst the following hole, a tempting par four (maximum 335 yards from the tips) with a drive across an angled valley to a cross-bunkered fairway, is equally wonderful and a prime example of how fun yet demanding a hole of this length can be for all standards of golfer. The long 12th is a bit of an uphill slog but the angled green makes up for this whilst the next is a very pretty dropping par-three.
Holes 14 and 15 are the first of five consecutive par fours to finish the round.
East Devon isn’t a course that will beat you up but don’t expect it to roll over and allow you to tickle its belly either. There’s a great mix of holes over some fairly wild terrain, the turf is excellent and there’s a lovely atmosphere around the club. What’s not to like?
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
East Devon flies under the radar because it’s out on a limb at Budleigh Salterton near Exmouth on the Jurassic Coast. There are no other courses of great repute nearby, so you need to make a special trip to play here – most therefore don’t bother. Touched by Herbert Fowler and Harry Colt it’s a course that really should be better known. It’s a subtle routing that tracks in every compass direction but it’s let down by a rather prosaic parallel starting duo of holes.
#6 was one of Henry Cotton’s favourite par fives where OOB runs down the right and the fairway slopes unkindly towards it. A grassy hollow eats into the fairway for the approach and the green is tricky to hold. The short par four 11th is an interesting risk/reward driving hole across a valley where you need to decide how much of the dogleg to take on. There are plenty of other holes of note from here on in that are routed across the high ground.
I’m a fan of the greensites here and I love the wonderful feeling of spaciousness where there’s plenty of generous width to most fairways which are divided by broad sweeps of heathland. The width provides a multitude of angles for approach shots and I admire this about Budleigh. There’s nothing at East Devon that will blow your socks off (except for the views on a clear day), it’s a course that is simply solid and it gently lulls you into a false sense of security.
It hasn’t got length by modern standards, but it’s not easy on which to score and it plays firm and fast. I doubt many will match their handicaps here first time round. If you like fun golf and appreciate the subtleties of Golden Age design, then East Devon is worth the detour.
For me, East Devon is a tricky one to rate. It’s not quite a 5-ball but it’s better than a 4-ball. It’s a course where the round seems to come to an end all too soon and my glass is half full.
Very happy to see this positive review of East Devon. I've only played it once, (got paired up with a 92-year-old member who walked and carried his bag), but remember it well. I think this is because both the course, and the club, feature so much of what I feel is the unique charm of English golf.