Although Bath Golf Club (1880) is the founding father of Somerset clubs, Minehead & West Somerset Golf Club can fairly lay claim to possessing the oldest course in the county still playing along its original fairways.
Founded in 1882, Minehead & West Somerset’s original 9-hole course was laid out by John Allan (the professional at Royal North Devon) who also designed the oldest course in neighbouring Wiltshire two years earlier at Kingsdown Golf Club.
Minehead’s original course was laid out across an exposed rabbit warren bordering the shoreline of the Bristol Channel. In 1901 the course was extended to 18 holes when more ground further inland became available.
Undeniably the best holes are on the back nine, routed closest to the shore, where the links comes alive at the par three 10th, an interesting and well bunkered short hole that plays to the southernmost corner of the course. A Second World War pillbox serves as a stark reminder of darker days, counterbalanced by a cheery row of colourful beach huts.
The short par five 11th plays from an elevated tee at the beachside, from where there are gorgeous views across the Channel to Wales. Missing the fairway on the right from the tee is not an option and being wrong-sided on the extreme, two-tiered 11th green is simply asking for trouble. From here to the home green, which is situated precariously close to the clubhouse, there’s a run of solid and enjoyable links holes.
Minehead & West Somerset doesn’t have the same dramatic dunes or grand scale as enjoyed at nearby Burnham & Berrow, but make no mistake, Minehead is an honest links course with a modest green fee that won’t break the bank. There’s also the gorgeous ancient backdrop of Exmoor and the modern outline of the Skyline Pavillion at nearby Butlins.
I’ve played Minehead and West Somerset twice in the last twelve months, most recently at the end of January 2018 after one of the wettest autumn and winters on record. It’s a great course to play for not a lot of money when the going gets muddy at most other courses in the region. It’s not quite pure 100% links, as the soil on a few of the park-like holes further inland is heavier and the grass coarser.
There’s nothing championship or particularly taxing about Minehead, it’s just enjoyable seaside golf. I liked the opening trio of holes, which play on links ground, before the routing moves away to the softer more lush terrain adjacent to the River Avill. These holes (4-9) are not from the middle drawer but none are a pushover.
The course really gets going at the par three 10th which would benefit greatly from the removal of the scrub trees which obscure the bold bunkering and the interesting greensite. The 11th tee is where you get the first uninterrupted view of the beach and sea. It may only be a short par five, but its stroke index of 6 tells a story which isn’t totally apparent from the tee – however it’s blatantly clear that your tee shot mustn’t drift too far right or it will be beached. The two-tiered 11th green is one of the most unusual I’ve seen which is not tiered from back to front, but deeply tiered from side to side. Meaning you really do need a short iron in hand for the approach because finding the wrong tier will almost certainly result in a three putt or worse.
The remainder of the back nine is honest links golf that is not world beating, just enjoyable and the par three closer is a strong hole. There are some commentators who would place the 9-hole Channel course at Burnham & Berrow in the Somerset Top 10 ahead of Minehead & West Somerset. I personally think Minehead more than edges the Channel course and deserves its place in Somerset’s Best In County rankings. Maybe it should be higher than #10? Rating: 3.5 balls rounded up to 4 because I like the 11th green, despite the fact I didn’t par the hole on both occasions.