Saunton Golf Club is located on the beautiful unspoilt North Devon coast. On the edge of Bideford Bay and the estuary of the River Taw, lie the mountainous Braunton Burrows – one of the largest systems of sand dunes in England.
The West is the second course at Saunton and was originally laid out in the mid-1930s by Herbert Fowler as a short holiday track. The land was used as a training ground during the Second World War and it lay dormant for over 40 years. Frank Pennink brought the West back to life and the course opened for play in 1975.
According to Frank Pennink's Choice of Golf Courses, published in 1976, "the pre-war New Course is now rapidly coming into play, designed jointly by the Secretary [J.W.D. Goodban] and myself... For reasons which I will not go into now, apart from its inherent character and charm, Saunton is one of my favourite links, and the New Course seems destined to become equally popular."
The West is slightly shorter than its older sister – the East – but, nonetheless, it represents a fine test, now measuring nearly 6,600 yards from the blue back tees. It challenges the very best golfers, playing host to a number of County Championships and the EGU Seniors Championship.
It’s a more than worthy understudy to the East, requiring accuracy from the tee. Both courses at Saunton have par set at 71, but the configuration of holes on the West’s inward nine is unusual and more varied than its older sibling. Three back-to-back par fours in the middle and three par threes and three par fives interspersed at the beginning, and then again, at the end.
A number of narrow streams (if we were in Scotland we’d call them burns) come into play and many of the holes feature doglegs. Apart from the opening hole, which plays directly through towering dunes, the rest of the course plays over pleasant undulating links land, where the dunes are far less imposing.
Tom Mackenzie has recently completed a West course renovation and commented as follows: "In 2016, a significant package of work was under-taken on the West Course, adding drive bunkers, re-aligning ditches and adding tees. The aim was to close the perceived gap in standard between the two courses."
The West is undeniably a very good course and some would say that alongside the mighty East, the West plays second fiddle, while others have it in the leading role.
In terms of value, a day at Saunton Golf Club is hard to beat anywhere in England. Billed as the country’s best 36-hole links venue, it’s impossible to argue that claim. However, can anyone think of another 36-hole links club in England? I can’t.
I’m a lover of links golf and a strong supporter of England’s southwest. This is where I’ve chosen to live but as yet I have not joined a golf club in North Devon. The dilemma I face is that I can’t decide which club to join – Saunton or Royal North Devon. I’m still deliberating but it’s more likely that neither club would have me as a member.
The West course is more fun than its older sibling the East. There’s more variation, with three par fives (albeit short ones) compared to the East’s two short par fives. There are five par threes on the West (only three on the East) and every one of the West’s one-shotters capture my attention and fuel my imagination starting at the downhill 4th (“Covey”) and concluding at the home hole (“Rookery”), where I threw my match away against Richard Smith when I played here last Monday.
The East is undeniably the stronger course at Saunton Golf Club, but if the West course belonged to separate club I’d probably choose to join it rather than joining the East’s club. The reason for this is that the West is a course that always entertains me from start to finish. It’s a course that surprises me because I’m always amazed that the round finishes so quickly such is the engagement throughout. The course would benefit aesthetically and in terms of challenge from a few more fairway bunkers (as would the East) but this is a small criticism because the West course is simply a little charmer in my eyes. Keith Baxter
After a succession of different length holes, the 6th heads back into the dunes. The dangers are the grassy mounds jutting into the fairway and the green which has two bunkers front left and which slopes from back to front.
The start of the homeward nine also provides for varied holes but the finish is unusual with two par threes in the final three holes. The 16th is rather like a shorter version of the 17th on the East. There are two bunkers at the front but it is a large green so hit one more club than you might think.
The par three 18th is somewhat tougher than the 16th and has plenty of gorse and buckthorn for a poor tee shot. The green has a number of mounds and anything too strong can finish in a bank with long grass.
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.