Saunton (East) - Devon - England

Saunton Golf Club,
Braunton,
North Devon,
EX33 1LG,
England


  • +44 (0)1271 812436

  • Golf Club Website

  • 8 miles W of Barnstaple

  • Book in advance – handicap certificate required

If there is a need for another seaside Open Championship venue, then surely the East course at Saunton Golf Club is a worthy candidate. Saunton has never held an Open but it has hosted other important events. Sergio Garcia won the Boys Amateur Championship here in 1997, beating Richard Jones 6 and 5.

Saunton is located on the beautiful unspoilt North Devon coast. On the edge of Bideford Bay and the estuary of the River Taw, lie the Braunton Burrows. Unesco has designated the sand dunes at Braunton Burrows of international importance and it is the first site in the UK to become a biosphere reserve. The area is unique because there are more than 500 species of flora; many including the water Germander, are extremely rare. This area will now rank alongside Mount Vesuvius and the Danube Delta.

The East course, laid out in 1897, runs through a small part of this amazing expanse of sand dunes. Herbert Fowler added a bit of redesign magic in 1919 taking full advantage of the natural terrain, routing the holes with skill. This is the man who was responsible for the masterpiece at Walton Heath and Saunton was perhaps his finest seaside creation.

Bernard Darwin fell in love with the ancient links situated just across the Taw estuary at Westward Ho! He frequently made the “reverent pilgrimage” to Royal North Devon. Darwin had probably never played the East course at the time of writing: “Saunton looks at first glance like a fine golf course.” Harry Vardon loved it, saying: “I would like to retire to Saunton and do nothing but play golf for pleasure.”

In 2017, the club commissioned a Historic Research Study on the East course which highlighted extraordinary impact to Herbert Fowler's original design due to military activity during the Second World War.

Today's East course is clearly very different to the layout enjoyed so much by Harry Vardon, but it's undeniably a tough course. With eight par fours measuring more than 400 yards long and only two par fives, low scoring is very difficult, even more so now that the 2nd hole (once a short par five) has been lengthened to almost 530 yards. There are two excellent short par threes, which demand accuracy, and there’s the tough 207-yard 17th hole, which often needs a solid crack with a wood.

Some commentators believe that the East course would benefit from another par three and another par five to break up the relative monotony of umpteen par fours, seven of which arrive back to back from the 6th.

However, surely nobody will deny that Saunton has 36 of the finest seaside links holes in England? The East course is considered to be Saunton's best, but the West is very good too, which combined make this an outstanding venue for a golf day.

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Reviews for Saunton (East)

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Description: If there is a need for another seaside Open Championship venue, then surely the East course at Saunton Golf Club is a worthy candidate. Rating: 8.8 out of 10 Reviews: 65
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Paul Rigby

Simply excellent. A great test of golf on a superb links layout. Not a bad hole in my view. Pretty tough for a 10 handicap off the whites. Driving accuracy and placement at a premium. I've played for 40 years on many courses and this is my favourite to date. Simple as that. And the folks in the pro shop were very welcoming. Thanks for a memorable day.

June 23, 2017
10 / 10
Saunton (East)
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Fergal O'Leary

With 13 par 4s and limited change in elevation, the East Course is a demanding experience. The closing stretch is well designed and the par 3s are certainly a delight to play.

June 21, 2017
6 / 10
Saunton (East)
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Dan Hare

Saunton is a great golfing destination that we very happily played last week in beautiful sunshine with our Editor in Chief. If you are interested in my overall thoughts, rather than copy and paste I would ask you have a look at the opening to my contemporaneous review of the West which we played in the morning.

The East starts superbly with a tough, elevated double dog leg par 4, then reachable par 5 with lateral water hazard at the critical distance framing the fairway. The middle section flows nicely with very good but not stand out holes in the manner of other courses such as Burnham & Berrow, Aberdovey or Royal St Davids before some excellent links holes to complete the round.

The greens were quick and true with strategic bunkering and interesting green sites, and once you turn for home the succession of tough par 4’s makes protecting your score a tough task.

To echo some other reviews, lengthening a couple of holes to make some genuine par 5’s would add some variety and respite to the course, but really it’s great already so make the trip and enjoy a (in my experience) unique 36 hole day of golf.

May 16, 2017
8 / 10
Saunton (East)
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David Oliver

Not many better 36 holes than Saunton. Top, top golf course full of brilliant golf, starting with the 1st. Others include 2, 4, 5, 6, 14 & 15.

March 17, 2017
8 / 10
Saunton (East)
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Russell Mayne
April 11, 2017

Many thanks for your kind review

Regards, Russell

James

Hunkered behind the dunes, not far from the eternal and perpetual Atlantic lies one of the most under rated and under visited links courses of our Islands. This is a sleeping behemoth bypassed by the ticker tape badge collectors but adored by the cognoscenti. Long may it be so. £250 for Kingsbarns? £200 for Old Head of Kinsale? You sir, have been taken for a mug. Head west on the Atlantic links trail and be seduced by the whisper of the relentless Atlantic. Burnham and Berrow, St Enodoc and Saunton are three of the most fabulous courses you could visit on your next trip. As for Saunton, It is that incredible wine you picked up for just a tenner, the shirt you bought for £20 that you have had for years, those shoes you always choose that someone gave you. Saunton has two amazing Links courses asking you to feed your ball through the air and through the dunes to greens that are firm and undulating with hazards of all kinds ready to swallow the errant, drifting shot. And on top of that the beaches are epic, there are some lovely restaurants in Braunton and Illfrecombe and you might see me during the open week in August, Is there better club for welcoming visitors of this staure? I very much doubt it. Check their website for next year. Family holiday AND golf? hard to beat. JCB LAY

August 17, 2016
10 / 10
Saunton (East)
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Russell Mayne
August 21, 2016

Many thanks for your review. Bookings for August week open in early January 2017. Regards, Russell

Alex Hayes
Saunton East is a very challenging course due to a triple threat of thick, deep rough, a number of long par fours with difficult long iron approaches, and hard, fast greens. However, there are scoring opportunities on the shortish par 5s and two of the par 3s. As with many links courses, accuracy off the tee is crucial, but the major difference in terms of the West course is that on the East, even if you are long and accurate off the tee, your approach shot is at least two or three clubs further than on the West. The first 10 holes are all superb, with the only real weakness coming around the furthest part from the clubhouse at 11 and 12, 11 being a shortish dogleg right around an out of bounds field, and 12 a very bland drive and approach that is only saved by a decent sloping green. However, with the exception of an attackable par 5 at 15, the road home can be incredibly tough, particularly into the wind! Overall a challenging, interesting course with high quality design, and a lovely clubhouse to relax in afterwards.
July 11, 2015
8 / 10
Saunton (East)
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Richard Smith
After taking on the West course in the morning editor in chief Keith Baxter and myself had an excellent lunch on the patio overlooking the 18th green of the East course. The competitors from a morning medal competition were finishing, and none looked too happy as they holed out on the 18th. After we played that afternoon and saw the diabolical pin placements chosen by the greens committee, we knew why the players were frustrated.

SauntonSaunton (East) Golf Course - Photo by reviewer East is demanding championship course. With only 2 par 5's and 3 par 3's the strength of the course are the excellent variety of par 4's. The course flows naturally through the surrounding land, fairly flat but defined by dunes and ridges that defined most of the holes. The green complexes are skillfully designed, allowing for some very difficult pin placements, most of which they used the day we played.

The opening hole is as challenging as any in links golf, vying with the first at Muirfield and Birkdale as a difficult opening hole. The hole is 470 yards from the white tee, and the drive must negotiate a dune on the right and bunkers to the left. You are left with a long second to a green that will accept a well played shot. The 4th is the #1 stroke index hole, and deservedly so. Once again the drive must be thread through a dune on the right and a series of bunkers on the left. The bold play challenges the bunkers but if successful leaves a more open approach to the green. The green has severe slopes and the front left pin we encountered demand the ultimate in precision. This is a great hole among many great holes on this course. I also like the 10th. It's a short, 330 yard par 3, and the drive is actually fairly benign. The approach, however, covers two cross bunkers and a steep slope in the front. The green drops off in the back as well. This is a wonderful Saunton (East) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerdesign for a hole of it's length. 16 is a beautiful dogleg left that dares you to cut the corner, but beware of the dunes and rough that will devour your ball should you stray too far left. A birdie here was one of the highlights of my trip.

I enjoyed a great day of golf with Keith. We were able to discuss the strategic and aesthetic merits of many of the holes and compare them to other great links holes we had played. Keith was a gracious host during our stay in Devon and I truly hope we can meet up and play again. The East course is certainly on par with many of the current Open venues. The course really only has one true par 5, the second, since 15 would almost certainly be a par 4 at a modern Open venue. There are several holes that would benefit from additional fairway bunkers to tighten up the driving lines. However, I would take this course as it is and enjoy as a supreme example of testing, enjoyable links golf hosted by a warm and welcoming club. Click the link to read my Atlantic Coast Golf Links story. Richard Smith, Knoxville, Tennessee
June 11, 2015
10 / 10
Saunton (East)
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Keith Baxter

I returned to Saunton last Monday to meet up with Richard Smith from Knoxville, Tennessee. Richard is one of our Top Reviewers and a fine golfer who has visited Britain & Ireland regularly over the last thirty years or so. The southwest of England was a gap in his golfing CV, so I persuaded him to make the trip to see for himself what this area has to offer.

It was a lovely day for golf, with an unusual northwesterly breeze. After tackling the underrated West course in the morning, followed by lunch on the wonderful terrace that affords panoramic views over the Braunton Burrows, we headed for the East’s elevated first tee that is perched atop a sand dune. As I stood on that first tee, I decided that I really should get out more frequently to experience the seaside delights that lie on my doorstep. I last played Saunton almost five years ago.

Most male golfers with a reasonable handicap should choose the white tees. The club allows play from either the yellows or the whites and the whites represent a sensible challenge at 6,444 yards with par set at 71. The first is not a gentle start. This 465-yard par four requires a solid drive followed by an approach across a ditch that lies 50 yards short of the green. The pro’s tip is very true: “A 5 will win the opening hole more times than not. Keep this in mind.” The East’s 1st (“Gullpit”) is certainly one of my favourite opening holes. The first of only two par fives arrives at the 2nd hole and it’s reachable for big hitters, measuring only 34 yards longer than the 1st. Fowler’s green sites are usually interesting and the second green is set in a table-like style that is protected by bunkers left and right but has an opening that caters for the ground game. “Homeward”, the other par five, does not arrive until the 15th and it’s even shorter than the par four 1st.

“Tiddler” the par three 5th is the only one-shot hole on the outward half and as its name suggests is the shortest hole on the card. Short certainly does not mean easy – miss the green long and you can be in a world of trouble as I painfully found out. “Sandhill” the par four 8th is an old school par four that has a totally blind drive over a tall dune to a generous fairway on the far side. The green site on 10 is set on a high “Plateau”, hence the name and it’s an engaging short par four that is all about the approach shot to a wickedly tiered green. It’s one of the best holes on the East course. The 11th “Field” feels rather weak compared to 10 but from hole 12 to the last, it’s one solid links hole after another.

There is no doubt in my mind that Saunton’s East course is big enough to host an Open Championship. But as we all know that is unlikely to happen for a multitude of reasons. Assuming the East was chosen by the R&A, many extra fairway bunkers would be required as these are currently relatively thin on the ground. I prefer Saunton to a number of current Open venues but if the East course had a genuine par five I’d be even more impressed. Keith Baxter

May 28, 2015
7 / 10
Saunton (East)
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Tony
March 29, 2016
Unfortunately the 2nd green is not a Fowler green, the original was a long thin hogs back green raised by about 3 feet, with no bunkers, even though reachable in two, once you missed left or right in the summer it was very difficult to get the ball on the putting surface, so you learnt to focus on the lay up and got the ball right in the throat of the green so you could play a nice bump n run, I remember the 2nd green ysed to have a vicious ridge on the right half of the green going from front to back, if you weren't on the left of the hole the putt from front right was the biggest nightmare on any links course, a lot of quirky Fowler features were lost when the club updated the course. Still the best days golf in England, Saunton has always been about the location, just beautiful.
David Worley
Much damage was done during World War II as this area was used as a training ground prior to the D-day landings. The damage was so great that the East course did not reopen for play until January 1952.

You can’t get a much tougher start than a 478-yard par four. The 2nd hole is not much longer and it is a par five with several fairway bunkers that need to be avoided. Then follow two more par fours over 400 yards.

From the 6th to the 12th is a succession of seven par fours but they are all quite varied and I did not for one moment feel any sense of monotony. At this stage, there has been just the one par three, the little 5th, known as ‘Tiddler’.

The 17th is a very tough par three of 207 yards with three bunkers and plenty of rough-clad mounds. The 18th is a glorious finishing hole, gently uphill and with a slight dogleg right and then a fairly long second shot to a lovely green framed by the clubhouse behind.

Considering there are only two par fives, both relatively short, Saunton (East) is a formidable 6779 yards from the blue and 6427 yards from the white tees. This really is a top class course with plenty of challenges but all set out in a fair manner.

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.
May 18, 2015
8 / 10
Saunton (East)
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Sam Stevens
Played 30th Novemeber 2014. Handicap 9. I am a huge fan of links golf. It poses a constantly changing challenge with no two rounds likely to be the same. I have been for a visit to Croyde the last two years in November and have now had the pleasure of playing both of the courses at Saunton. In my two visits the weather has been magnificent, beautifully sunny and calm, very un-links like. I'm not sure I believe everyone when they say they Saunton (East) Golf Course - Photo by revieweractually get bad weather on the coast there! It has to be one of the friendliest clubs I have visited with no hint of snobbery. Last year I actually had the pleasure of having a round with a member called John. He invited me for another round when I was back however I have lost his number, apologies. My visit to the East course could be summarised as follows: A wonderful set of holes, well laid out, which keep your interest from start to finish. The course was in excellent condition. You seem to be allowed to play off yellow or white tees. The course seems to be very different from yellow to white tees, in some cases making the holes a completly different challenge. I played the Saunton (East) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerfirst off the white as it seemed like the only place to really play the hole from! I reverted to yellow for the next couple of holes but soon realised that it was not the same challenge in difficulty or length and didn't seem to represent how the hole was designed or intended to be played. I resorted to the white tees and thoroughly enjoyed the round. The course seems to have less in the way of level change than the West but all in all it was a great experience. Tips - play from the whites for the full experience, avoid the rough and if you land in one of the pot bunkers, take your medicine and get it out! For a visitor there aren't many places where you can play such quality golf for such a reasonable price. One day I would love to be a member of somewhere like Saunton, somewhere that could boast two fantastic courses to play when you fancied with such a great and friendly club atmosphere.
December 23, 2014
8 / 10
Saunton (East)
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Peter Nicholas
January 12, 2015
I couldnt agree more. Have the great good fortune to be a Country Member. Oh God its WONDERFUL here!!!