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: 78
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Cédric
To me, definitely the best course in the area. Is has absolutely everything and ticks all the boxes. Regarding the possibility of hosting the Open, it might never happen as a member confessed to me. They lack the infrastructures, namely the one and only narrow road leading to the club. There is no doubt the course would be up for it and they are still lengthening it for other Championships. This is really a model club, very friendly, with 36 great holes. And their yearly membership fee seems ridiculously low given the quality of the golf. Cedric
April 13, 2011
10 / 10
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Allan Wright
I have played Saunton East from time to time over the past 25 years, and each time I come back I am reminded what a fabulous test of golf it is.Two points I wanted to add not covered in the reviews below. The first is that yes, there are 13 par fours, but look at the range of yardages and you will see that you have to play every club in the bag, even on a still day - 337, 362, 370, 380, 392, 402, 408, 414, 428, 434, 441, 455, 478. Secondly, I played last Saturday as a visitor in a club Stableford - I was playing with and introduced by a member, but the third member of our three ball was a total "roll-up". So it seems that anyone with a handicap certificate can get the chance to play a competitive round off the back tips (yup, the full blue tees at 6779 yards), a real thrill. Mind you, it acts as a stern reminder that, even on a still day in March with not much growth in the rough, when faced with a proper championship links at full yardage you may not be quite as good a player as you think you are. But it's yet another reason to make the pilgrimage beyond Barnstaple and I am certain you won't regret it
March 20, 2011
10 / 10
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Dan Hare
The day we played Saunton was apocalyptic weather, on one hole I screamed a drive out of the middle and it never looked like getting over the dune with the line marker on the top.The rain stung your face like needles, and my "wind proof" brolly was completely destroyed - as were any claims to water resistance from my clothes and shoes.Nevertheless, we had a great time and would love to go back to finish the round !!!
January 21, 2010
8 / 10
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JAS964
Just to set this review into some context it was my buddy and I’s first round of the year. We had made the 2 and a half hour trip to the seaside because all our local courses were snowbound for the 3rd weekend in a row so there may be an element of seeing Saunton through rose tinted glasses as we were so grateful just to get a round in.

I’ll try and keep it as balanced and objective as I can. The first thing that hits you is the view as you turn off the B3231 road to Croyde and into the car park. I’d defy any golf lover not to mutter at least Wow!! My buddy, who’d never played a links course before, blurted out a full blown PHWOAR!! The sight of a beautifully conditioned 18th fairway winding it’s way up out of the vast expanse of dunes is indeed a sight to behold and get the juices of anticipation flowing. A golf magazine front page if ever there was one.

The next thing I noticed was that members in the car park and in the clubhouse all had a smiling “good morning” for us. Mind you, I’d be full of the joys of spring too if this was my home club. Having drove a long way we were keen on a bit of breakfast before setting off but were a bit disappointed that only toast or teacakes and tea/coffee were available before 11.00. No sooner had we reluctantly agreed to the teacakes than the barman came back and said “The Chef has arrived early would you like bacon sandwiches?” Marvellous.

Had a quick ping on the range, now if forced to try and identify a shortcoming at Saunton it could be argued that the (irons only) range falls a bit short of what can be expected at a top class venue. Especially given that the 1st hole will generally require 2 decent hits with the longest 2 clubs in your bag. So after taking in the lovely views on arrival, meeting the friendly locals and sampling some tasty breakfast fayre. All of a sudden you’re standing on the 1st Tee and realising that there is a steel fist inside this velvet glove.

We elected to play the whites so 470 yards of brutal, into the wind PAR 4 lay in front of us. I duly started by leaking my drive right and donating a shiny new Pro V1 to the sand dune fairies. I did well to scrape a double bogey with a 3 off the tee. After a safe par at the Par 5 2nd the course then turns again into the wind (and the somewhat blinding winter sunshine). It was becoming clear that this course is very demanding of your long game accuracy. I found myself constantly questioning myself, taking driver on fairly tight fairways to give myself a chance of reaching Par 4 greens in 2. Then there’s Tiddler (the par 3 5th) which asks you for a bit of subtlety. The 8th is a totally blind tee shot over some dunes. On arrival on the fairway you find that the green is trying it’s hardest to hide away in more dunes on the back left of the fairway. The 10th is a rare short par 4 but makes up for lack of length by a particularly daunting approach to a 2 tiered green.

I could go on waxing lyrical hole by by hole but no, I’ll leave the description of the rest of the back 9 to your own imaginations, other than to say that 16 & 17 are great golf holes and any faux pas you have on 18 will be in full view of the Clubhouse bar/lounge. The course was in great condition and the greens fairly true. Yes, there was some G.U.R. areas around 16, 17 and the 18th tee but nothing to detract from the experience and to be fair this is the time of year such work has to take place. For £42 inclusive of a bar meal afterwards this has to be one of the best winter deals to be found.

In summary I found the East to be a fantastic test of golf, the long par 4’s are relentless. Leaving location and supporting infrastructure aside, if asked the question...”Is Saunton East a suitable course on which to hold a major Championship?” I would say yes. For the reasons left aside it probably couldn’t hold the Open but I believe it deserves say the British Senior Open or the British Ladies Open. Having now played about 20 of the top 100 I’m beginning to get a feel for what to expect and in my honest opinion I think Saunton East is more than worthy of a significantly higher ranking. It feels more like a 20 something than a 40 something to me.
January 20, 2010
10 / 10
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shab
January 25, 2010
Wowee. Now thats what I call a review. I can echo your sentiments. The view of the miles upon miles of green dunes is stunning. Didn't use the range so can't comment. Wish I was a member there too!!!!!!! Def in my top 3 favourites.
Anthony Daniels
September 21, 2010
Great review for a great course. It certainly is a brute as you have aptly described. In my opinion what makes Saunton Golf Club so good is the complete contrast offered by the West Course. It's a trickier, more fiddly and intricate little sister and a smashing course in it's own right. Look the two of you that have posted before, I too wish I was a member there. In fact, the membership rates are some £300 less than what I pay now for a far inferior course and club in Hampshire. Now, how can I engineer a job move to North Devon........?!
Dr Shahab Hussain
Played the wonderful East course in mid-december for £42 with a meal. Barmy day with blue skies and wore a t-shirt all day!!!!!! Locals were saying probably the brightest day of the winter. If this course is not a six ball I don't know what is. From the moment I viewed the dramatic green sand dunes as far as the eye can see, I knew it was going to be special. First tee has massive elevation and simply stuning views. Not a weak hole on the course. Each hole has it's own unique feel and blends in superbly with the natural beauty. Thank god the design acknowledged what a special place this is, and the course is bulit around the natural landscape. Stand out holes, where to start...... first is brutal but a great hole. Par 3 Tiddler is so sweet. par 3 17th is a brute and if you find the green here you can really call yourself a golfer. ( I did and then 3 putted!!!) Is a challenge but you can score well here if you a re a longish hitter. Locals told me the shorter hitter would prefer the West Course. Dry as a bone after recent wet weather. Not surprising really as we were informed by one local that the course rests on 600 foot of sand!!! I am already planning a return trip in January to play the West Course. If heaven is somewhere in North Devon gents, then I think I may have found it!!!!!!
December 13, 2009
10 / 10
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Billy
I returned to Saunton to play both courses in April and we played in a heat wave with temperatures more akin to Spain. Played the West course in the morning and the bigger, grander East in the afternoon. It was a fantastic 36-hole combination and I’m not sure whether I prefer the less big West course to its older brother the East. If there were a criticism of the East course then it would be that there are not enough par fives to break the monotony of par fours and there are only three one-shot holes and two of those are mere flicks with a short iron. You hit the run of par fours at the 6th and it’s not until the 13th that you get a break. Naturally a course with thirteen par fours is tough and there is no doubt that the East course is a tremendous test but I wish it had a little more variation. That said, I would be a very happy man if Saunton were my home club. I think Saunton has the finest 36 holes of links golf in Britain, arguably only St Andrews comes close.
November 07, 2009
8 / 10
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shab
December 20, 2009
Lots of par 4's yes. But each are so diferent and unique for me it does not feel monotomous at all.
Kye
June 28, 2010
If you think 13 is a flick with a short item, try playing it into a strong north wind. I hit the ball a long way and play off 12 and have hit 3 iron into this green. Play it when the pin is on the ridge!!
John G. Holbrook
Played this course on a Sunday at 3pm and wasluck enough to get a twilight rate of 35 pounds.The first hole is brutal 460 yard par 4 into the wind,this course had a nice variety of holes with many elevated greens and forced carries on the drives.The course was in excellent conditon, the greenswere fast and true. I was only sorry we could notplay the West course which looked almost as good.The best value I got on my trip, would recommend this course to anyone.
October 20, 2009
10 / 10
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Anthony Daniels
I played the East course in the middle of July. We turned up in a howling gale and this continued for the duration of our round. That is not to say that it made it any the less enjoyable, but it certainly made it tough. This is borne out when you see that the best score in our fourball through nine holes was ten points (not me!!), and the best score through 18 holes was 28 points (which was me!!! - it was irons only on the back nine!!). The course had suffered in the days before we arrived as it had absolutely chucked it down for days on end, including the morning before we arrived. That meant there were puddles on several fairways. The greens, however, were immaculate - a sign of a truly great track. It is difficult to pick memorable holes around the East course as they are all memorable and individual. On any given day, depending on which way the wind os blowing and how strong, I should think that any of the holes could be classed as memorable. On the next day, this will change completely, and that is the beauty and challenge of Saunton. On the day that we were there the memorable holes were 5 (hitting a four iron to a 113 yard par 3!), 9 (having the wind affect putts so significantly), 10 (having the wind stop your ball halfway up a 45 degree slope on the green!!), 14, 16 and 18 (three beautiful and fantastic golf holes). In fact, on any day the 16th would be classed as a truly great hole (despite the fact I fatted my second shot and my "friend" has photographic evidence!!!), and it is no wonder why Peter Alliss rates this as one of the finest holes in golf. The clubhouse is good, if a little dated, although they do serve one of the finest bacon and mushroom baguettes you will ever sample. Simply put, a visit to Saunton is essential for anyone who is serious or fanatical about their golf. I, for one, will certainly be back soon to hack my way round the West course.
September 04, 2009
8 / 10
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Sam Baldwin
An outstanding course through and through. We played in the Open Week for £25 and it was an absolute bargain. The opening hole is one of the hardest I have ever played. It is very difficult but very enjoyable throughout. Shame you can't see the sea but I feel that it would be even more difficult with a howling sea wind! The condition of all aspects, tees, greens and fairways, was fantastic.
August 04, 2009
10 / 10
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Jim McCann

For me, Saunton is on a level with Ballyliffin in Ireland (The Old and the Glashedy) and St.Andrews in Scotland (the Old and the New) as having 36 holes of excellent links golf at one venue and I think it’s a much under rated golfing destination that all links loving golfers should try to play at some time. It makes no sense at all to make the journey here without playing the West course first, of course, so make sure your game is tuned up on its fairways before tackling the tougher East track.

Saunton (East) - photo by Jim McCannAnd what a start on the East, where the opening shot is played from a tee position high on top a sand dune in front of the clubhouse! Just check the scorecard though after you’ve cracked a very satisfying drive away to see that this par four hole measures 470 yards from the regular tees so already the scale of the East in relation to next door should be apparent.

There are only three par threes (the first two of which are played to fantastic greens that fall away on all sides) and two par fives on the scorecard so that leaves a lot of par fours to be played (seven in a row from the 6th hole) which one of my playing partners felt was a little excessive.

I have to agree the routing could be a little more balanced but let nothing like a tiddler of a technicality detract from such a marvellous course. “The Gap” is a wonderful two-shotter at hole 4 on the front nine and the quirky 8th has a blind tee shot followed by an approach to a blind green ringed by low-lying sand hills – delightfully old-fashioned. “Fowler,” the 16th, is a fantastic, dog legged par four named in honour of the East’s esteemed architect, played to a putting surface semi obscured by a ridge that runs diagonally in front of the green. My second shot round the dune on the right side of the 18th fairway somehow made it onto the green, twenty feet short of the hole but my attempt to imitate Sergio winning the British Boys Championships here in 1997 didn’t quite come off – that lucky Spaniard! Nonetheless, a tap in par finish was a great way to round off a wonderful 36 holes at a top links location.

Some people ask the hypothetical question of whether Saunton East is good enough to host an Open. My response to that is that there are at least two current Open venues that I’ve played, both on the west side of the UK, that Saunton could easily match – given the opportunity to toughen up its bunkering and allowed to tighten up some holes.It's just a pity the Devon club doesn’t have an enormous edifice of a clubhouse with matching egos inside to attract attention.

Jim McCann

April 07, 2009
8 / 10
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