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.
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England's oldest golf course is disappearing into the sea click here for more.
Your first impression might leave you feeling disappointed as you survey the flat, rather featureless, opening and closing holes. This may even lead to bemusement when you also notice the sheep around the burn in front of the 18th green and the horses nearby.
The 1st, 2nd and 18th holes, together with the 17th green, lie on the flat land on the clubhouse side of the narrow road that provides access to the beach for the public. All of these holes have a burn running alongside or across or both.
From the 4th to the 16th holes, Westward Ho! reveals its true self, with crumpled fairways, penal bunkers and the dreaded tall and spikey sea rushes occupying large areas of the middle of the course.
The par four 4th is over the famous ‘Cape’ bunker, stretching across the whole fairway and supported by railway sleepers. This is a blind drive and you will need to carry about 180 yards to be sure of clearing the hazard.
If you still need to be convinced that this is not a mundane outing then wait until you survey the 10th hole. I did say hole, not fairway, because all you can see from the tee is the invasion of the sea rushes. Your drive can be right of the marker post but left is very dangerous.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every English course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
When I last visited Devon and played RND, along with both Saunton courses, St Enodoc and Trevose, RND’s greens were the best of the bunch. RND should never be able to compete with Saunton from a condition perspective. RND has twice as many members as Saunton and only one course. RND also has more green fee paying visitors and other extraneous factors (livestock etc) which continually cause the club major problems.
Stuart Eastwood is correct, RND bears no comparison to Saunton West, they’re entirely different courses playing across entirely different terrain. I’ve never seen a goat at RND but I have seen plenty of sheep and horses, so I guess it’s more of a sheep track than a goat track. I think Cedric is right about the dull and rather flat holes but these are where you can make a score, but I feel he caught the canteen on an off day because my experience of the food has always been good. And before anybody suggests I’m a member, I can tell you I’m not. But if I lived in Devon I’d rather be a member of RND than Saunton any day.