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.
Date: October 15, 2016