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.
The first thing that strikes you as you look out from the front of the clubhouse is the vastness of the landscape before you – over 400 acres, I’ve heard. There’s so much land untouched that I’ve been told by someone who’s walked through the dunes that a third course could easily have been laid out in and amongst the sand hills - though maybe not nowadays, of course, with the (environ)mental lobby protecting our precious numbers of snails and the like living on our coastal fringes.
Anyone who visits Saunton must surely warm up for the East by playing the West; just don’t expect it to be an easy stroll because it isn’t. Measuring a comfortable 6138 yards off the white tees with a SSS of one less than the par of 71, the West can flatter your game (as it did mine) in benign conditions but it will test your game nonetheless.
I found it hard to believe the course had only been in existence for less than 35 years as it had the feel of a links that had been there for a very long time. I really enjoyed the short holes, even if they were a little long with only one of the five par threes less than 177 yards off the tee.
Two of these testing short holes are played at 16 and 18, either side of an eminently birdieable par five, adding a nice match play twist to the end of the round. Indeed, my partner and I found ourselves two down with three to play then proceeded to win all three closing holes for a 1 up victory – did I mention earlier how much I liked the par threes here?