Golf Links Road,
- +44 (0) 1237 477598
2 miles N of Bideford
Telephone in advance
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.
To start with the summary, I’ve never had so much fun on a Golf Course!
RND gave me a warm welcome and you could feel the history of the place as soon as you stepped inside.
The course starts with a fairly simple par 5 which I think is no bad thing for a handicap golfer. It really gets going from 4 onwards with a great variety of holes and stunning views.
I played on a sunny afternoon with a decent wind which made it all the more interesting. The occasional band of Sea mist blowing over added to the atmosphere. The Sheep wandering around amused me!
All in all it was a very unique experience and I’d go as far as saying it is the most enjoyable course I’ve played so far.
I played here recently with a group. On the positive side everyone was welcoming and the history is very evident (loved the German binoculars).
On the course, the greens were very good typically fine grasses and, as others have said, there are some excellent holes on the front 9 especially.
However, the general conditioning was poor, the bunkers stoney and they have used that terrible plastic matting for faces in a 'natural' golf course. Everywhere you will stand in sheep s****t so will need to wash everything afterwards. In places you can hit the ball anywhere.
As it is common land, be prepared for dog walkers who clearly expect you to wait for ever before hitting your shot. As it crosses a busy road you need to be very careful.
I'm glad we visited as I love 'natural' golf courses but I would go to either of the Saunton courses any day.
When you first drive in, and when you look out from the clubhouse, you would be forgiven for thinking that this looks a little bit ordinary, and for the first 3 holes, I maintained that thought.
1 is an easy short par 5, 2 is a tricky par 4 with the shape of the fairway, and 3 isn’t the greatest of holes. I would call it a fairly gentle start. Then business picks up.
4/5/6/7/8 is among the greatest 5 hole stretches i have played.
4 is a short par 4 over a cavernous bunker that is reachable in favourable wind conditions, I normally HATE blind tee shots, but the landing area on 4 is very very generous, which made it a much fairer shot for someone who isn’t a local.
5 is a brilliant short 3 playing up the hill slightly to a green protected by the sand dunes so you can’t feel much wind, but as soon as your ball is in the air it’s at the winds mercy.
6 has breathtaking views off the tee over the sea, and has possibly the best second shot on the course. I love when a golf course allows you to make mistakes, or use slopes efficiently, the approach into 6 is simple, keep it left and it will feed in, and miss right no matter where the pin is and you’ll be in a lot of trouble and a long way from the green. Superb design and enjoyable for the better player but no doubt for the mid handicapper too.
7 is a newly redesigned par 5 that is risk reward also, with a swamp right and rushes to carry to get to the green in 2.
8 is a brilliant mid/long par 3 with a big seabed protecting the left side of the green, very intimidating!
What a great stretch. A lot of the holes give you a LOT of room off the tee, but then you get a stretch of holes from 10-12 where accuracy is placed more at a premium playing in amongst rushes left and right of the fairway, a new challenge. Then you get a very very short par 5 13th, where you can open the shoulders and leave yourself a flick wedge into the green with almost no consequences for a bad swing, but the approach to the green is devilish, it’s so easy to miss the green even with a wedge, and if you do, getting up and down is exceedingly difficult. I had gap wedge in and made par only!
This golf course is just a perfect combination of fair, challenges, and it doesn’t stress you out with high difficulty for every shot; it actually offers some very easy shots for the very average golfer, but EVERY hole has its own element of difficulty aswell.
Timeless design, and what fun I had. Conditioning wasn’t perfect, but for £60 it is worth every penny. A must play.
Also, the members were all absolutely delightful.
Cards on the table, I love Westward Ho! I favour older courses over newer ones, and they don’t get much older than RND, as its known. The oldest course in the world outside Scotland is a delight, a real museum piece (as is the clubhouse). Its fun, quirky, surprising, never boring – a real antidote to modern larger scale courses. I know its not everyone’s taste, but everyone should try it once if they can. A friend joined me to play it for the 1st time and loved the course.
Ranking RND is hard, its definitely a 4.5 at least, but I believe has enough quality, history and uniqueness to edge up to 5; there is a special feel to the place and for that reason I am going to go with my emotions and go high... Together with Saunton it can form a weekend's golf to rival any in England.
I grew up at Saunton over the estuary and therefore have not played RND enough but I am making up for that now. If I were to be a member I would choose Saunton, however, in terms of a one off round, the value is to be had at RND, where green fees remain great value, especially when the kind pro cuts a deal due to a late-ish tee time and bad weather. At £35 there cannot be better value in the UK?
We played RND last week in the teeth of the storm that swept through the UK, so even walking was tough on some of the holes back into the wind, but we had a blast.
I was concerned that there was standing water on the 1st and 18th due to exceptional weather (the lowest art of the course), but the rest of the course was bone dry and in really good nick. The greens were excellent as usual, and downwind putts were treacherous despite this being the last week of October. Some people complain about the rough and ready nature through the green but I love the naturalness, the sheep and the horses adding elements to the experience you don’t get at most courses. Its a special feeling standing on the 1st tee looking out over that timeless piece of land, anticipating the ages-old challenge ahead...
Yes, its wide open in places off the tee, but then the greens might be raised a little, run away from front to back or are cunningly protected by little pot bunkers. The beauty of golf is that every course is different – embrace uniqueness I say!
The Club are in the middle of creating 2 new holes to mitigate the effects of coastal erosion. It’s a shame as I loved the holes around the turn as they were, but time and tide literally wait for no man! So we played the new par 5 7th, which will mature into a fine hole, with a tempting risk / reward carry over reeds to the green. The old 8th is still in play as they build the new one; its difficult to see how that will look and play at the moment, but it will give great views over the estuary. The new 9th tee will turn it into a par 4 – I love that green complex, but I am not sure its suited to a long approach as a par 4!
In terms of the rest of the course, the par 3s are superb, facing different directions and are well protected. The par 4 3rd, 4th, 6th, 10th, 11th and 15th are all strong holes which pose different challenges and test every club in the bag, whilst 18 is a tough finisher keeping you honest to the end. My heroic attempt to carry the ditch into the teeth of the storm was always destined to fail, but it couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for this timeless classic!
Playing with a large group, Royal North Devon split opinion exactly as you’d expect. Much of it as flat as a pancake, some holes seem as wide as they are long, and thanks to the tall reed beds you’re often left blind and wondering where to walk or aim. Add some sheep, horses, a busy road, stones for markers and in my case a dog stealing a ball, it’s maybe the quirkiest place I’ve played. All this makes for a lot of fun.
The common land allows for cheaper rates but the greens were still excellent and true. There are relative peaks and troughs along the way, obviously the hillier, sandier parts of the course are the highlights but the land has been used to its best potential and the walk feels like an adventure. It’s no pushover either with forced carries, streams, some upturned saucer greens and penal bunkering punishing the errant. The reed beds are particularly nasty too, which are nearly as sharp and ball thieving as gorse.
I’ve only played RND once recently but the new layout on 7, 8 and 9 seems to work well. 7 is now a do-or-die par 5 over the reeds, the short 8th still plays towards the sea but is presumably in a safer location, then 9’s tees are a bit further inland. These are on raised ground so give a great view of where you have been and will be. So of course play Royal North Devon if you can, it may not be to everyone’s tastes but I think everyone could agree it’s unique and memorable.
Royal North Devon Golf Club, alternatively known as Westward Ho! is the oldest golf course in England, and one of the iconic early links that defined golf in the U.K. The golf course leases it’s area from the local authority and is subject to the rules of the park.
It is quite novel to be playing a hole with sheep on the fairway with you, but it’s common here. A herd of horses also drifted on to the course while we were playing.
There are some concerns, however with the Atlantic Sea buffeting the coast that holes 7 & 8 in particular will be eventually eroded.
Over the years that the course has been in play the locals have always protected the course by piling stones along this part of the coast as a rustic sea wall- and this method has successfully protected the course. Now however Natural England has declared this practice cannot continue, and erosion is becoming a factor.
Like many old links courses, RND is a book with many chapters. The first few holes- 1 & 2, and the closing holes- 17 & 18 are routed through low marshland, effectively connecting the clubhouse, and access to the course to the wonderful linksland beyond.
Every so often with wild weather this area of the course is reclaimed by the sea for a few days. Apparently if this only lasts a day or two, the sea water eliminates the bugs from the grasses, and the fairways flourish.
The next section of the course enters fine rolling dunes land perfect for golf, and holes 3-9 are high quality links holes. Then we move into lower marshland with rushes a major feature.
The fairways are flatter, and on holes 10 & 11, good holes though they are, there is limited visibility of the fairway of the tee. Holes 12 & 13 head out of the rushes, but the terrain is still basically flat- and again they are decent holes. Holes 14, 15 & 16 are back to rolling linksland before those final low lying holes that connect us back to the clubhouse and dry ground…
Playing golf at Royal Nth Devon is like stepping back in time- the clubhouse is full of history, but the course is the real treasure. The 4th hole with it's famous bunkers is one of the iconic golf holes of the world, but the entire round will be an experience you will cherish.
Links golf as it was- with sheep and horses on the fairways, and beachgoers as well... Don't miss a chance to play it.
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
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