Exeter Golf and Country Club is located on the southern edge of Exeter (one of the oldest cities in England) and the club is set within the ancient Wear Park Estate that dates back to the 13th century. An impressive early 19th century Georgian mansion is Exeter’s magnificent clubhouse, which rivals Moor Park’s Palladian mansion in terms of stature.
The golf course at Exeter Golf & Country Club dates back to 1929 and it’s a design from the drawing board of five-time Open Champion, James Braid. The parkland course measures a relatively modest 6,018 yards from the tips, but the fairways are cleverly routed through stately trees and around sixty bunkers are thoughtfully positioned, making low scoring easier said than done.
After a gentle opening par four, the two-shot 2nd will focus the mind. A bunker is strategically placed at the elbow of the dogleg which accentuates the narrowness of this bottle-necked fairway. Only a perfect drive will reveal a clear view of the offset green that is protected on both sides by bunkers. A straightaway, short par five represents a real birdie opportunity at the 3rd and a well-bunkered short par three follows at the 4th.
The 437-yard 5th is perhaps the hardest hole on the course and this long uphill par four features a fairway split by a cross bunker which foreshortens the perspective of the approach shot, with the result that golf balls often fall short of the putting surface.
The first of two blind tee shots arrives at the medium-length par four 7th, reminding players that Exeter was fashioned during the Golden Age of golf course design. The 8th is a tough par four that sweeps to the left and the arrow straight par four 9th concludes a memorable outward half.
You can make a score on the first five holes on the homeward nine and birdies are certainly there for the taking at 13 and 14 – two old-fashioned, back-to-back short par fours that measure less than 300 yards from the tips. But focus your mind and be prepared for the tough Exeter finish, which includes a long par four at 15, measuring in excess of 460 yards from the tips, and the signature par five 18th that has wrecked many a a card.
A major re-routing of the course was undertaken by Mackenzie & Ebert in 2015 to reduce the impact of new housing alongside various holes and this work involved several new tees and greensites. We took a close look at the remodelled Exeter Golf & Country Club in autumn 2016. As far as we can tell four holes have simply been reversed and new tees added with the routing sequence altered to accommodate the amended flow. It's a tidy job and hard to see the join.
Exeter delights and dismays in equal measure and the overriding impression is of a pleasant parkland golf course, with some traditional James Braid holes, squeezed into a tight area near to the centre of town. The course is surrounded by decent, unobtrusive housing and has in recent years undergone a sensitive makeover to make full use of all the available space.
The result works although fairways are generally tight and encroached by mature trees. The tees and greens are in excellent order and with the course being short, only 5837 yards from the whites, it’s main defence is the requirement for an exceptional level of accuracy on both the drive and approach shots. To miss the green normally highlighted the need for a tidy chipping game to make bogey or better.
The front nine is mainly gentle parkland with the best holes at 5, a long uphill and tough par four, and 6 which is a splendid downhill short hole. Just after the turn, the challenge increases with a long par three at 10 with OOB all down the left side and the toughest drive on the next hole which requires an accurate uphill shot to a fairway that is wider than it looks from the tee. There are two back-to-back short par fours surrounded by bunkers which are reasonably testing, followed at 15 by a longer par four that plays to a sharp left-handed dogleg and particularly narrow fairway. These holes serve to emphasise the crampness of the site, before the glorious finishing hole which is the longer of the two par fives, and where the green is fronted by a pond and water fountain.
I played Exeter Golf & Country Club last week in lovely shirt-sleeved autumn sunshine. The purpose of the visit was largely to see the changes that Mackenzie & Ebert had implemented last year to reduce the impact of new housing..
The condition of this mature parkland course was simply stunning from tee to green. Kind early October weather allowed the course to dry out and it was running firm and fast. We played from the white tees (5,837 yards) and it felt rather short with significant run on the ball. Largely these firm and fast conditions didn’t help scoring as drives ran out fairway on occasions and into trees – perhaps that’s more about our questionable game than the firmness of the course.
The opening holes set the scene for what is largely pleasurable parkland golf, with two shortish par fours that are routed around pleasant suburban Topsham properties. Flash-faced bunkering is bold on these (and many other) holes, especially protecting the greens. The putting surfaces are generous, but the subtle slopes, combined with healthy speed, accounted for my torrid putting stats.
My pick of the one-shot holes is the downhill 6th with a tough-to-hit upturned bowl-shaped green, which is flanked by bunkers. Left, right or long will leave a devilish up and down.
You cross under the road to #11, which presents a tough uphill blind drive through a chute of trees. This hole and the sharp left dogleg 15th are the best two holes in this rather tight and quirky section of the course. The parallel nature of the quartet of par fours and the rather prosaic par three 12th is an uninspiring interlude which includes two similar short par fours (each less than 300 yards from the tips) that feel rather shoehorned in the middle of this small parcel of land.
A short par three and another short par four precede the signature par five 18th with its pond-protected greensite that’s sited in front of the Georgian mansion which houses the Wear Park Spa and Restaurant. It’s a really good closing hole.
All in all, Exeter Golf & Country is a nice parkland course that’s well worth playing, but I was expecting a layout on a grander scale. It was a bit too tight in places and its modest yardage (5,554 yards from the regular tees) certainly deserves the “accuracy rather than length” cliché.
In my opinion, the new routing hasn’t necessarily improved the overall experience, but it has been implemented relatively seamlessly. As far as I can tell, four holes have been reversed in playing direction (requiring four new greens) and five new teeing areas have been built in order to safely accommodate the new housing, which actually looks very nice indeed and is in no way obtrusive. I’d like to play the course again when there are fewer fourballs in front playing Texas Scramble at a leisurely pace, but that’s a rather insignificant gripe as Exeter Golf & Country Club is probably near the top of Devon’s parkland courses list.
Exeter is lovely parkland course, a little on the short side in terms of yardage but a good golfing test nonetheless. For the best experience on the greens play the course in the summer, they are simply excellent and very tricky, especially if you are on the wrong side of the flagstick. 5 is the toughest hole on the outward nine and the only P4 going out that that measures more than 400 yards. From 15 on Exeter is a tough finish with two really challenging P4s at 15 and 17 before you get a chance at a closing birdie at the P5 18th. This is one of Devon’s best parkland tracks for sure.