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 Land Rover found crashed in a Royal North Devon bunker… click here for more
England's oldest golf course is disappearing into the sea click here for more.
I can only imagine that some of the less than complimentary reviews elsewhere for Royal North Devon are penned by golfers who “just don’t get it” with RND and where it stands in relation to the modern game of golf. Thank God the members here have preserved such a timeless jewel in a world of pristine tee boxes, manicured fairways and greens that run to double digits on the stimpmeter. Indeed,
RND is as raw as it gets when playing golf nowadays but don’t be put off by the elemental nature of sharing fairways with sheep, cattle and horses – embrace the fact that you are still able to emulate the greats such as five time Open Champion JH Taylor over such an unspoiled tract of common land.
The opening and closing couple of holes you can regard as a means to get from the clubhouse to the more interesting land along the coast but they are far from boring or bland. The holes from 3 to 9 are the best on the property (with the drive over the famous “Cape” bunker at the 4th one that will live long in the memory) as they dip in and out of the sandhills by the shoreline.
There then follows some of the most unusual holes I’ve ever played, with some long carries over or past huge clumps of tall, spiky sea rushes to fairway areas hidden from view and the timing of these intimidating obstacles arriving so late in a round is just perfect. Greens when we played were absolutely top drawer - fast and true - and all that a golfer would ask for anywhere, so what if the fairways are a little unkempt in places?
The clubhouse is so atmospheric, with a wonderful open lounge area set aside to allow visitors to admire the various golfing artefacts, photos and letters that have accumulated over nearly 150 years. If you visit RND and don’t experience a wee tingle as you walk along the main corridor with names chiselled (I kid you not) onto the huge honours boards flanking both walls then it’s time your doctor paid a visit to confirm that you’re officially dead.
I hope the weather is kinder next time I visit as thick fog on the back nine made life very difficult but, in a strange way, the conditions added an even greater mystique to this Grand Old Lady. It’s fair to say the spirit of Old Tom Morris lives on at places like Westward Ho! and for that we should all be eternally grateful.