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, of course, has never held The 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 an Historic Research Study on the East course. The report highlighted a devastating impact to Herbert Fowler's original design, caused by military activity during the Second World War. This resulted in an early 1950s C.K. Cotton restoration.

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 the East course at Saunton Golf Club might be a worthy candidate. Rating: 8.7 out of 10 Reviews: 76
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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
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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!!!
James
It has taken me 18 months to write this review, mainly because I am scarred. I was brutally swept away like aged flotsam on the nearby sands. After a morning round on the West that finished +1 (my best of the week), there were 18 holes left and my chest was puffed out. I climbed the first tee of the East and squinted into the breeze on this opening par 4 of over 500 yards. My stomach rolled over and my resolve wavered – this is golfing entropy. You will find out about your game on the East. This is in the Top 5 golf courses I have ever played. Before you read the rest please bear in mind I have only played here once and I can't wait to go back, to learn its nuances, character and perhaps, on a benign day, its vulnerabilities, for I found none on this outing. Simply because it is a monumental challenge laid over spectacular ground and will require every shot you could conceive and some that you have never conceived before. Each hole presents a new examination.

After a six-day North Atlantic Links Tour, which culminated in late night festivities at the nearby Saunton Sands Hotel (that saw the revelry last into the early hours), it was off to Saunton GC for 18 holes on the West in the morning. However, the East Course picked me up, took one look at my golf game – as the afternoon breeze asserted its mischief on my ball striking – and dismissed me into the prodigious and ubiquitous rough, hazards, ditches and gorse that surround the fairways and greens, which sit like impregnable fortresses amongst the towering dunes. Just play it. In fact play it more than once. I dare you. This is a links titan from the top drawer of what Britain has to offer, and it has much to offer, but this is a unique and special layout that has a feel all of its own. Check out the club website for sensational opens held throughout the year and expect a very warm welcome. Why on earth would you pay £250 to play Kingsbarns when you can play here for far less? It goes without saying the course was in very good order. We are still talking about that day. JCB Lay
October 22, 2014
10 / 10
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John
November 21, 2014
A good and positive review of the East course, which is frankly great value and pure links. My only issue is that I think it just falls short of a maximum rating due to the it having only three par threes and two par fives. There are too many par fours on the card for my liking.
Maarten
The East course starts with an intimidating teeshot (if you had to run straight from your car to the pro shop to the first tee) that is set on a large dune that gives you an overwhelming panoramic view over the superb linksland that both courses were built on. My father and I played both courses on the same day and boy was it a treat. You need to be 100% from the start (which I wasn’t) or this course will eat you up. This course requires great shotmaking skills more than anything, especially when the wind is blowing. There are many doglegs, gorse , high dunes and deep rough and most approaches are played to fast, sloping greens. If you keep the ball on the fairway there are some scoring opportunities though, but when I eventually got in my game I lost my momentum a few times because I didn’t have the local knowledge, which I think is a great advantage on this course, tricky as it is. Of course this is a great reason to visit Saunton again (and again and again), and let the course grow on you; because I imagine you will never get tired of playing Saunton. This is, apart from Ballybunion maybe, the best 36 holes- venue I have played, as the West course is equally enjoyable albeit a little easier. Go see for yourself and have a blast. In the area the East has the edge for me against Burnham & Berrow, that we played the following day. MO
October 14, 2014
10 / 10
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Ivan
Wonderful links golf course. I am sitting here think why I liked Saunton so much ? We had a beautiful day, no wind +20 at the being of October, that helps! No, the real reason Saunton East is so good is that unlike some other top links courses, you really play golf in the dunes. There are a number of elevated Tee shots, not sure I would have liked those if it had blown. The holes follow the natural terrain, through the dunes, with some holes like the 3rd just protected by them and no need for bunkers. Talking of which the ones they have are true links bunkers attracting ball from further away than you would like, and devilish to get out of.The general terrain is highlighted by the fact you stand on the 16th & 17th Tees and cannot even see the clubhouse which is elevated itself. The course is very challenging but fair, highlighted by our 4 ball’s scores of 23, 24, 25 & 31 points in ideal golfing conditions.The clubhouse was refurbed in the winter and is magnificent, the staff and members very friendly and helpful. Topped all by the fact that the club allow county cards from the 1st October so at £39 per round was great value.Thanks Saunton and to Andy & Deb who we teamed up with, great decision as 4 extra pair of eyes was very useful!
October 03, 2014
10 / 10
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Tony White
This course grows on you, at first the holes don't appear too spectacular but the location grabs your attention, then you play it again and realise that the design asks you to really control the ball, if you do this you will play near to your handicap, otherwise you will rack up a score in no time at all, and then the wind blows a bit, that's another story, to the members I would imagine they must play a different course every time they tee it up, and then they have the West, which is equally enjoyable, if not a little more enjoyable as it has slightly more variety., lucky members, make room for me ASAP....
September 30, 2014
10 / 10
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Paul
Its a treat and a special time when you start on the elevated first tee. The course just gets better and better.Its a shame that the transport links to the area are not better, its the only thing (surely) holding it back from holding many Opens!My favorite course in the country, so much so.... i would think about leaving London and moving down there to play it more often.An under rated gem and should be allot higher than 11th in Englands top 100. Far better and more enjoyable than Woodhall Spa and Ganton, nicer views and more of a challenges. A pleasure to play and experience it and its surroundings..................and the West course isnt bad either
November 19, 2013
10 / 10
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Harrison Brown
June 13, 2014
Luckily, it will never hold the Open as UNESCO would not allow it, thankfully. It would ruin England's best 36 hole layout. Sell up, get a job working from home and play here for the rest of your life, that's what I aim to do asap...sod the wife and kids.
Phil B
November 02, 2014
I did leave London and move here to join Saunton and have enjoyed every minute. Course knowledge and management is fundamental. Every shot is tested, and of course there is always at least a breeze. Also not mentioned is the fact that both courses have different cards for the shorter yellow tees. On the West, two of the par-5's become very tough par 4's with the stroke indexes adjusted accordingly. So it's not just a shorter version of the course, it's actually a different course!
Tom Hargreaves
Saunton East was the first world class links courses I played at the age of 18. I fell in love with it then and it has remained for me the yardstick for other courses to beat. The course is vast, carved through an enormous set of sand dunes which help to funnel, disguise and shape the holes. The long par 4s are the signature feature of the course and are brutal.. the 1st specifically so measuring over 400 yards into the prevailing wind. For me Saunton betters all the great Irish links courses (Waterville, Tralee and Ballybunion) and the Kent links courses except Royal St George's which is on a scale of its own. I recommend Saunton to anyone and at £40 in the winter it's probably the best value course in the UK
October 28, 2013
10 / 10
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Nick Adams
Just returned from a 2 day September break in saunton. We warmed up on the first day with a very enjoyable game on the West course, but the fun really started on day 2 with a game on the fabulous East course.Very friendly members and staff apologized for the relative poor condition of the course, the green's had been hollow tined in the last couple of week's and they had put a dressing on the fairway's and introduced preferred lies.They need not have apologized however, myself and my 2 partner's brilliant and the balmy sunshine only added to the enjoyment.I found 17 of the holes utterly first class the only one I wasn't sure about was the par4 6th which we couldn't really work out where to drive.Wonderful views and great time had by the 3 of us exploring the course through the dune's. It is expensive but we did negotiate a small reduction to play after 2.30 (twilight).We will be back.Nick
September 26, 2013
10 / 10
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richard orme
Visited Saunton with a group of 16 last week (early September) having played several times before and it being one of my favourite courses. Sadly the course was in poor condition with the greens recently hollow-tined and as a consequence very bobbly and slow. The fairways were also extremely scabby. We were asked to pay for 3 days' golf in advance before we had even set foot on the course, and the reason was plain when we did. I complained and was refunded a small proportion of the green fee.While I understand that this sort of work on the greens iis necessary, it diminishes the experience to such a degree that to ask for anywhere near the full green fee is an insult, as was the attempt to get away with it by charging up front in the presumed hope that we would not complain. Golf clubs should have the courtesy to contact upcoming societies in advance and explain the situation when the course is so poor rather than wait until the day itself. Saunton charges £99 per person for a day of golf, is very popular and therefore should be able to look afeter its visitors far better if it wants them to return. The course is fantastic and we were well-attended to in the clubhouse, but we felt let down by the way we were treated with regard to the golf.
September 10, 2013
8 / 10
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Alistair Wilson
Played this course with my dad for Fathers day this year.The course was very well presented and provided a very stiff challenge with the stiff breeze but just didnt offer the wow factor that I got off other courses of this nature.Everything about the course was very good, presentation, layout etc, but I was left a bit disapointed that I didnt enjoy it more.For the same price I would recommend St Enodoc in Rock which was a far more enjoyable experience. Dont get me wrong, this is a very good course, but I have played better respective to the ranking in the top 100.
August 07, 2013
8 / 10
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Andy B
August 14, 2014
Interesting you regard St Enodoc as more enjoyable because in my view it isn't even close to Saunton East in terms of the examination of a players shotmaking ability. I have been fortunate enough to play some of the best courses in the Uk and Saunton East is in my top 5 vying with Hillside ( for it's back 9) and only just behind Birkdale, Carnoustie and St Andrews Old