Royal North Devon Golf Club, or should we say Westward Ho! This nostalgic and monumental links course fits firmly into the “must-play” category. In 1864, Westward Ho! opened for golf and it remains the oldest course in England still playing along its original fairways. It is also the oldest links course outside Scotland and home to the second oldest ladies’ golf club in the world, founded in 1868. The first ladies’ golf club was founded at St Andrews, one year earlier.
“To go to Westward Ho! is not to make a mere visit of pleasure as to an ordinary course;” wrote Darwin in his book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles. “It is, as is the case of a few other great links, a reverent pilgrimage. Was it not here that Mr Horace Hutchinson and J.H. Taylor, besides a host of other fine players, learned the game?” Originally, the course was laid out by Old Tom Morris and revised in 1908 by Herbert Fowler. Nothing much has changed since then, except the sheep have fattened.
When you look out of the clubhouse across the course, you might struggle to define the holes. They simply blend into the surroundings. There are no trees or hedges, except if you count the brambles alongside some of the fairways. There are, however, plenty of reeds and rushes waiting to catch the wayward shot.
This is common land golf “au natural”, with a combination of tranquil, flat and folded fairways. Possibly, the only sound you will hear is that of the wind and if you are lucky, the sound of galloping hooves. Here at Royal North Devon, the sheep and horses have life membership. Don’t forget the local rule – if your ball ends up in a hoof mark, you may drop without penalty.
Make sure you buy a yardage book if you don’t know the layout; otherwise you might find yourself teeing off in the wrong direction on a few holes. “Finally,” wrote Darwin, “no account of Westward Ho! would be complete without a reference to tea at the club-house. There is a particular form of roll cut in half and liberally plastered with Devonshire cream and jam. Epithets fail me, and I can only declare that the tea is worthy of the golf.” Not only is tea good but also the panoramic view from the clubhouse is magnificent. Check out the golfing memorabilia in the museum area and, above all, enjoy the spirit that is Royal North Devon.
A man has been charged with drink driving after Car crashes into Royal North Devon bunker.
Recognised for being the oldest links course in England, Westward Ho! is one of those marmite experiences that either falls well short of expectations for a club with royal pedigree, or for others, provides a unique, traditional encounter like no other.
Grazing sheep, sea views and fast and true fescue greens, combined with a historic clubhouse that offers a window to golf’s past is a given. Whilst the course, in its current layout since 1908, has the feeling of being untouched.
The flat appearance of the course is immediately apparent on arrival, but rather than being deterred by this, the open expanse of links turf and swathes of sea rushes was one that stirred my golfing soul. The first two holes represent a challenge as burns zig zag across the fairways on both holes. The 1st a par five and the 2nd a par four, both play a similar distance more representative of par 4.5 holes. The public access road to the beach comes into play on the 2nd as you negotiate these deep sea rushes and unless you have the brawn to make the green in two despite the prevailing wind, will leave you with a pitch that plays to a lovely upturned green. Immediately, within two holes, despite the flat land, I found myself thinking and plotting as to how I need to strategise my way through the holes if I’m going to make a score. A flat, featureless field this is not.
That being said, the stretch where dunes do come into play from 4 through 8 is as good as I’ve played anywhere. 3 gives a glimpse of what’s to come, whilst, 4, Cape, RND’s most famous hole with its enormous sleepered bunker shouldn’t come into play for most decent strikers of a ball as a generous fairway lays beyond it. 5 is a glorious raised par three and the uneven fairway on 6 is unparalleled. 7 and 8 then have you playing out to the beachside where sand and fairways merge, 7 playing as a par four over the reeds and 8 a par three playing to the furthest point away from the clubhouse to a green framed by a sea wall.
Outside of this most amazing stretch of golf, 9 represents one of the more interesting flatter holes where again you’re required to plot your way down the fairway before the bumpy lumps return on your route through 10 and 11. Admittedly, the second half of 12 and all of 13 is indeed field-like and I was worried that the course was going to spiral downhill quickly at this point, but the 13th green, perched up in a plateau above this starkly flat gradient makes up for a disappointing patch of land. For many a golfer will likely be left bemused as they see their ball roll off the other side of the putting surface on what seems like the most bland hole tee to green, yet they still manage to walk away with bogey.
The flatter stretches of the course that come after this, whilst not at the level of the front nine are still well designed and are carved through the sea rushes with strategy still in play, and all the while being enhanced with interesting green complexes that come with drop-offs and in places, some excellently wicked slopes. Those sea rushes are a real feature across the course, and whilst some may find them a little unsightly, make for some interesting and blind tee shots. The round closes at 17 and 18, firstly with a five shot hole oddly playing over the live road - a little frustrating where we had to wait for several minutes to play our approach shots for the traffic to pass, whilst 18 makes a mockery of its stroke index 18 at 414-yards into the wind with a large ditch in front of the green.
On finishing my round, I had to think “seriously, what’s not to like?” It may not have the dunes that many associate with and seek out when playing links golf, but this course is a haven and a museum to golf’s historic past. Accept that you’re going to face a pretty sparse terrain when playing here and instead enjoy the intricate test and rugged beauty that the course offers.
Royal North Devon is a weird one. To start, the locker room is very cool, as is the snooker room. The course however is like Marmite, however I am in the middle.
I'll start with the positives. It's very old school which i like, and it has lots of really good holes. The stretch of 4-8 is full of good or great holes. 4 is a blind tee shot and a funky green, 5 a lovely uphill par 3 surrounded by bunkers, and 6 is the best hole on the course. A stout par 4 with a downhill tee shot and uphill approach, which runs along the beach. 7 is a great dogleg left and 8 a lovely par 3 right on the beach.
Now onto the negatives. Holes 1, 2, 3, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 are just a field. They are flat, have no definition, and the ball can be hit absolutely anywhere and still be found. I should say that 11 and 16 are good holes.
For me, there are too many boring holes on dead flat ground where you can hit the ball 200 yards offline and find it, for it to be a great course. It's worth playing, but don't expect the back nine to match the front.
The first 2-3 times I played this course I also thought the back 9 was a flat field. I wondered where the course was at times because of the lack of definition. By rounds 4-5 things came sharply into focus. Hole 10 kicks off the back 9 by introducing you to the sea rushes as you decide how much of the dogleg to bite off. Hole 11 has a seemingly a blind drive over a sea of... sea rushes. Hole 13 has an excellent tiny raised green that is very difficult to hold with your second shot (and your third). Hole 14 is a par 3 with a good green complex, and hole 15 invites a drive close to trouble in the inside of the dogleg to give a better shot in. Hole 16 is a great short hole with another green that is difficult to hold, this one well bunkered. I don’t care for 17 too much, but the shot over the road is always fun if you can hit a car. Hole 18 requires a good decision if the wind is in your face - do you try to carry the estuary inlet fronting the green? For a modest hitter like me it’s usually a 50/50 call. The wide fairways at RND may cause trepidation if you have a fear of wide open spaces, but there is usually a correct place to put your tee ball if you want to score well. It’s just less obvious than at some courses I’ve played. I appreciate that not everyone has the time or inclination for multiple plays - and many of my own reviews are from a one night stand at a course - but this sheep track rewards repeated play like Billy Joel’s best work. I don’t disagree with a 4-ball rating, but the devil is in the detail: RND is a flat field of dreams
Playing RND is like stepping back in time and playing golf how it was a hundred years ago.
It’s unique, full of history and simply has to be played and experienced by any serious golfer.
Yes, the conditioning won’t be great (not unexpected when you share fairways and greens with sheep and horses). Yes, the first 2 and 18th holes are played on flat and uninspiring land. And yet this place feels magical.
A heavy sea mist kept creeping in and fading away throughout my round and it added to the mystery of this place.
As has been noted, the course gets going from the par 4 3rd where the land starts to get bumpy and interesting. The drive over the huge bunker on 4 is awe-inspiring and the short par 3 5th is one of my favourite holes. Short but completely surrounded by bunkers - if your short iron doesn’t find the middle of the putting surface, you’ll be in trouble. 6 and 7 are great par 4s along the beach (the approach into 7 was great) and the 8th is a beautiful par 3.
Following this, you head inland to the flatter land and the reeds/gorse. 10 is a great hole with a terrifying drive over the reeds to a blind fairway that bends to the left (even more scary when the sea mist is in full force). 11 and 12 were good holes and 15 and 16 were the pick of the later holes for me.
This place is different and not everyone will love it but I think it needs to be cherished. I want to go back (hopefully with a bit of sun) and learn more about the intricacies of this place. Definitely give it a go and relish the uniqueness of this golfing monument.
After many years of wanting to see Royal North Devon (Westward Ho!), I finally played Royal North Devon in the summer of 2018. I was intrigued by this course for nearly twenty years after I read articles on it during the time I lived in England from 1993-1998. I learned four things from these articles: 1. It was on flat land and next to a popular beach, 2. It was the oldest continuous golf course in England 3. It was the rare course that despite being done by Old Tom Morris was substantially changed by Herbert Fowler. 4. The clubhouse had a nice small golf museum inside.
Let me begin by recommending the small golf museum. We arrived early and I was able to spend 45 minutes looking around the pieces and reading various articles. I was so interested in the historical golf pieces that I had to run to catch my three playing partners on the first tee. I encourage all visitors to Royal North Devon to spend some time inside the clubhouse, whether it is a first visit or a repeat visit. It is really interesting.
We were only able to play one round due to a mid-morning tee time. I could not convince my playing partners to go back out as we were staying in Rock that night and we wanted to take the ferry to explore Padstow. I would have liked to have played it a second time as I think it is a course that reveals itself over the course of six-ten rounds.
For those who have read my reviews, you will know that I typically comment on the routing, especially for a course that sits so near the sea, yet has its beginning holes on the coast from the second green to the eighth hole. I truly wonder why this course is not laid out exactly the opposite (eighteenth green as the number one tee, eighteenth tee as the first green, etc.). Instead of 2-8 being on the water, the “new” holes on the water would be holes 10-17 (hole ten tee would be current ninth green; seventeenth tee would be current second green). I think the “new” second would still play the same as the seventeenth while the current starting hole would also essentially be the same except the fairway burn would be left. This routing would build in excitement leading to the holes along the sea, which is typically the holes that golfers favor, as well as build towards holes more in dunes with the more undulating and interesting fairways. Perhaps it was routed the way it exists due to wanting to keep balls off the beach as more players move a ball left to right? Perhaps they wanted the effect of higher wind closer to the sea to come early in a round so that golfers would not lose their spirit?
Whenever I look at Royal North Devon on google maps, I always think about that routing because I think flipping this course would make it much better. As an example, the current twelfth starts with rushes to either side of the fairway, it the rushes cease about a third down the right. Flipping the hole to make it the sixth hole would bring those rushes/bushes into play for both the tee shot and the approach shot.
To my knowledge, only Eugene Country Club was brave enough to do a complete flip. It worked out for them; for many years they were considered a top 100 golf course in the USA.
As good as they were, how much better would Old Tom Morris and Herbert Fowler have been with topographical maps and gps? Haha. (As an aside, it was only by researching the history of the course and its battle with environmentalists that I discovered it was Herbert Fowler who changed Pebble Beach’s eighteenth hole from a par four to a par five).
Yet we evaluate a course as it is and plays.
There was a decent breeze the day we played, not as strong as I am certain it can be but it was noticeable and factored into the type of shots we had to play.
I like Westword Ho! for its naturalness. In reading some of the reviews, we did not find it difficult to find our way around the course and only once were we caught out by the markers on the routing (it had a profound impact on one of my playing partner’s score when his caddie twice gave him bad advice on the tenth hole). None of us also found the green at the short par 5 ninth hole to be as difficult as described. Any interruptions we had on the golf course from walkers, animals, or cars was minimal.
I found some of the fairways to be less distinguishable than typically found on a golf course. It reminded me of Brora and not just because of the animals, but having a similar look with many of the fairways blending into the rough. On most holes I did not find the rough to be very penal. I thought the green complexes were inconsistent where some were excellent and some were average. I had a similar criticism to Perranporth in that I thought it could have had a better placement and use of bunkers. Unlike Perranporth which suffers from a lack of bunkers, Westward Ho! does have them and when you find them they can be tricky. Yet I felt some of the bunkers nearer the green were set too far away.
The holes I liked the most were ten (and not because what it did to my companion’s score) and twelve. I also liked the par 3’s although I did not find any of them to be exceptional.
The first and second holes feel like one is taking a walk towards the beach. They are not without difficulty given the burns that cross or parallel the fairway. The greens on the first two holes are primarily devoid of bunkers and I did not feel they were strong enough to serve as a proper defense or level of interest. Because these holes feel as if they are in a field as they lack a bit of definition. Some may like the look of golf this way…..put down a tee and hit with the land being the defense…..while others might ask for a bit more of a challenge.
Once one hits the third hole the interest level increases as you play closer to the beach and the fairways rise and fall and are definitely more rumpled with smaller valleys lurking, and bunkers well placed. Holes three to eight is especially fun and offer a good blend of birdie opportunities and terror. None of us in our group thought any of the holes were excellent, but we thought they were good. The land for the fairways is more interesting. In this run of holes the highlight are the greens complexes with mainly good placement of greenside bunkers, and good contouring of differing tilts and shapes.
All of us were disappointed by the ninth hole despite the green. We found everything about it less interesting from moving away from the beach, a fairway too wide open, to losing the better contours on the fairway found in the previous holes, and a lack of defense.
We especially liked ten-twelve because there is more challenge and definition to the holes. The green are well defended and shaped. I will always remember eleven for the amazing par I made; too hard to explain the stance I had to take in the front bunker but using my putter threading it by the next bunker to a back pin with the ball moving various directions as it made its way towards the cup.
Of the remaining six holes, the sixteen is a nice mid length par 3 with a nicely contoured and well defended green. Sixteen has a more interesting view from the tee over the taller rushes. The other holes feel a bit more like the first two although seventeen has the added element of crossing the road and eighteen brings a burn into play at the front of the green. Simply put, the majority of these holes either lack the fun of the undulating ground from holes three-seven, or the definition found in holes ten-twelve.
I have yet to do the reviews on Saunton and Burnham & Berrow, but for the courses I played in the area, I would rate this the fourth best. I do rate this as a course one should go out of their way to play if they go to the area a lot, they live in the UK or Ireland, or can easily come through the English tunnel. For Americans/Canadians/Aussies, etc., there are better choices in terms of golf unless they have already played them.
It is a course in four parts, the first two holes wide open, the next six holes along the sea, some holes defined by the bushes and rushes, and then wide open again. It has some very good contours on many greens and is very playable.
What initially stuck in my mind as a positive of RND was the routing. It is a great walk exploring the burrows. If you let an enthusiastic Springer Spaniel off the leash at the 1st tee, perhaps with a GPS tracker attached, it will return an hour later having followed Fowler’s route back to the clubhouse.
Although I do love to be beside the seaside, I do love to be beside the sea towards the end of a round. However, at RND you would risk the class of the course - holes 4 through 7 - if you were to reverse the routing
A different style of course, Royal North Devon is rough-hewn and is not in the least bit polished. Therein lies its charm. Playing at Royal North Devon is the antithesis of sitting in a golf cart for a five hour round waiting for the group ahead of you to line up their fourth putt. This is golf at its simplest and purest. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the common land, the course is a bit rough around the edges. There are also no yardage markers, but only simple grey rocks to mark off 150 yards. The greenskeeper here clearly doesn't have Augusta envy like many courses in the U.S. This is a course where you play the ball where it lies, commune with nature and go back to the game's roots. If golf is a metaphor for life, then Royal North Devon is its best example: it's not all neat and tidy; rub of the green as it's called. Royal North Devon also features a lot of blind tee shots. There are aiming poles on quite a few holes, especially on the back nine, which plays away from the water and features an abundance of marshland grass. These grasses are called 'Great Sea Rushes' and you want to steer clear of them since they eat golf balls. The thirteenth hole is a 442-yard par five named "Lundy." It is a unique hole in several regards. First, it is short for a par five. Second, it is really a sheep pasture masquerading as a fairway, and third, the green is diabolical. How do you make a very short par five a difficult hole? Put in an inverted saucer green, make it circular and only 25 feet in diameter. I am embarrassed to say that I four putted the darn thing after being 10 feet off the green in two. This is golf from the old school, and although it probably won’t appeal to everyone, it is a special place to enjoy the game and its history.
An open-air museum in the Southwest of England! I’ll admit to playing golf for far too long without a visit to the Southwest of England which could well be one of the most underrated and overlooked golf havens in the world.
My first trip started in style, even after my flight over from Amsterdam was cancelled in the morning. Luckily, I was able to find another and with the Golf Gods on my side managed to make it for an afternoon tee time still. Stepping out of the car at the parking lot it already hits you. That feeling of having just driven across the time bridge back into the late 1800’s. You won’t find any fancy frills and over exuberant luxury here but rather an extremely downplayed and simple facility, most certainly adequate and full of charm. Enter the club house and the center point, the social point as is the case in many old school club setups is the bar which looks every bit the typical pub. Brilliant, something you will almost only find in the UK.
The course has hardly been altered from its original routing which works its way out towards and along the sea before turning around and coming back to the club house. A true links that plays out through some very flat land I the beginning which seems more tidal marsh rather than links land. The course makes really interesting use of this flatter area before really heating up and heading into and making brilliant use of the coastal dunes and some of the most wonderful and unexpected land movements. The 4th holes plays across one of the most iconic and massive bunkers you may ever see. The 6thmay well be my favorite hole on the course. Teeing off from the highest point on top of a dune it affords the best views and plays out to one of the most natural and crazily undulated fairways you will ever see.
Once back into the flatter sections of the course it twists and turns its way in various direction before heading home. These lowland holes are characterized by some kind of marsh grass that is very tall and acts to create a feeling of blindness on quite a few holes and framing on several others. These tall grasses need to be avoided at all costs but there is plenty of width to work with.
It’s unfortunate that flooding and severe erosion are causing some big alterations to the course and namely to a few of the holes and green complexes I liked the most. I’ll need to pay another visit after to see what impact this work has had. In the meantime, I can’t urge you enough if there is still time to get to Westward Ho! before these changes are done if it’s not already too late.
Having played a single round of golf at Westward Ho !, I can not understand how some of the previous reviewers may dislike the course. Well, to be honest, I can understand it, since the course and its presentation may not be the taste of all kinds of golfers.
However, it is a real pity that Royal North Devon is not appreciated for what it is: a true monument of what the game of golf was at its dawns, and possibly a reference of what it should be in the future.
So, in front of manicured fairways, pristine buggy paths and overwatered greens, Westward Ho! It offers sheep and horses freely traversing the course, animal depositions, native vegetation, old-fashioned obstacles and, as a major challenge, the action of nature. And, beside all that, the feeling of having penetrated in the true spirit of the game of golf, which is already evident in the clubhouse itself and its museum.
Therefore, although we must accept that golf can be presented in many different ways and forms and that any taste is respectable, I can only recognize my respect for a club that, despite the passage of time, has decided to maintain the spirit of the game, becoming a flagstick of tradition and sustainability.
Regarding the course itself, although the level of the holes is uneven, in my opinion, the stretch from hole 4 to 9 has nothing to envy the best of links. I also found that the holes in which the "sea rushes" come into play are great fun, and although some of the holes back to the clubhouse can be somewhat bland, they all add something to the challenge of the course. In fact, even holes 1, 2, 17 and 18 did not displease me, since the strong wind made them a tough test (in fact, the wind brought into play some features like the Cape Bunker, which was not so easy to overcome on the day).
Some of my mates showed their disappointment for some of the last holes, but for me, the course must be evaluated as a whole for what it represents and, in that sense, Royal North Devon is an obligation for any authentic golf lover.
M.M. Azagra, Barcelona, Spain.
Royal North Devon-I was very much looking forward to playing Westward Ho....I had heard much about it. Much like many times when you build up the expectation the result comes up short. RND is a fine course. It steps out to its linksland area with two holes which are routine. It has a few great holes and then enters its marsh waste area which defines the playing areas with marshland water plants. For the newbie to this feature a raised teebox or two would be nice. You then come home with a few strong holes which have water hazards dramatically in play. It is an odd collection of holes which add up to the oldest course in England. A very welcoming club which deserves a visit if you are in the area.
I will make myself unpopular here but, history apart, this is one course I would not want to play again. Does not surprise me that its has fallen out of the BI Top 100. No comparison to the two Saunton courses which are both excellent.
Eastwood Woe at Westward Ho!
RND is a course that requires multiple plays to appreciate more than any other I’ve played. After my first 2-3 rounds I still wasn’t even quite sure there was a golf course out there. I feel differently now.
Admittedly we don’t all have time for repeat plays and all look forward to the next course, but then be aware you could be missing out on something.
History aside, RND is an atypical yet classic course
I must admit to BB that I did have a 'mare'.... and yes, perhaps playing courses more than once can make you like them better but... something about RND that just did not click with me! Apologies to all who love it!
England’s oldest course is a museum piece. Little has changed in over a century and the entire experience is history lesson. The golf almost keeps pace, though I found too many uninspiring greens (1, 5, 10, 12, 13, 15 and 16) and too many par 5s with no challenge on the second shot to make it a 6 ball course. Still a very good golf course and an experience not to be missed.
Steve gives a fair appraisal in his review. I do feel the greens on 5, 13, & 16 are quite interesting, but they do lack significant contouring, which a number of golfers may prefer