I suppose it would be best to start this review by stating that I have not played many truly top courses. St. Enodoc, St. George's Hill and Woodhall Spa are my only World Top 100, along with Notts Hollinwell and Vilamoura Old & Victoria courses, which are also ranked highly regionally.
But what I can say is that I whole-heartedly believe St. Enodoc is a truly remarkable place. A cut above anywhere else I've been and I find it very hard to imagine that golf can get much better than this anywhere else in the world.
First of all, it's the only course I've ever played where I could vividly remember every hole, days, even weeks later. Each one is unique. Each one poses different questions and presents a different challenge. Each one is worth at least a couple of sentences. So on that note…
The first is great opening hole and a really fun par 5, which is just as well because you will have to wait until the 16th to play another. High sand dunes line the right hand side of one of the most undulating fairways you’ll ever walk upon. The approach is played blind up over a hump about 200 yards out, which once traversed, reveals an unguarded green and the beautiful Camel Estuary with the dramatic cliffs of Stepper Point in the distance.
The second is a strong par 4 with a tee shot played between the sand dunes and up towards an elevated green. A steep false front and large, deep bunker on the right hand side will punish any approach played without conviction.
The third is one of those holes that you only find on old links courses. By that I mean, nobody would design anything like it today. From an elevated tee you play a long iron down a wide fairway towards a wall and public footpath. The hole dog legs left as you play a mid to long iron over the wall towards a narrow green with out of bounds lurking to the right.
Four is classic risk-reward driveable par 4. The brave player may attempt to hit a sweeping draw to find the narrow putting surface in one. But anything other than a perfect shot will result in the ball finding a deep bunker, gorse bushes, out of bounds or some other form of nastiness. The safer play is a fairway wood to the top of the hill followed by a simple pitch down the angled green. But where’s the fun in that?
The fifth is the first par 3 and is no walk in the park, especially from the back tees. Played over a ravine towards a well-guarded green, anything short will roll some 50 yards down a slope leaving a devilish pitch back up. It’s all too easy to make a 5 on number 5.
And now the most iconic hole on the course. Number 6 with the infamous Himalaya bunker. A towering pit of sand that, when viewed from the end of the fairway, seems to stretch miles into the sky. If you do manage to keep your nerve, a crisply struck short iron over the mountain hazard will be generously rewarded as everything slopes in towards the punchbowl green. But if you do find yourself in you-know-where, playing out backwards may not be silly as it sounds.
Played from the yellow tees, number seven presents an uncomfortably blind drive over the back of the Himalaya sand dunes. But played from the reds, whites or blues, you find a much more pleasing prospect. A spectacular view across the course towards to sea and a downhill drive into a wide, though well bunkered fairway. The approach is simple enough but avoiding the bunker short right is a must.
The eighth is a fine par 3. Short but with a green sounded 8 pot bunkers. Getting up and down out of one of those will feel as good as making birdie.
Number nine is probably the most generous driving hole on the course as the fairway spills over onto the 16th coming up the other way. A large green attractively framed by tall scots pine trees should be an easy target to find. But a bunker and a stream lie to the right.
Ten is another of those holes that you simply would not design today. Why? Because it’s inherently, yet brilliantly unfair. For all but the very longest of hitters to have a chance of reaching the green in regulation, the drive must find a strip of fairway no more than 3 yards wide. Anything left will find a stream, anything right will find a bank, which will likely propel the ball left… towards the stream. If by some miracle you do find this hallowed ground, you’ll be tasked with hitting a perfect draw with a long iron around the corner of the trees towards a hidden green. Over turn it and your ball will never be found. For once a weak bail out to the right isn’t such a bad play. In fact, aiming for the chapel 30 yards right of the green and fancying your chances of getting up and down, may well be much more likely to yield a par. Ten is horrible. Ten is brilliant.
From the back tees, Eleven is longest par 3 on the course. As it invariably plays into the wind blasting in from the ocean beyond, it feels very long even from the yellow or white pots. Left or long finds a stream, right finds one of 2 pot bunkers.
Number Twelve is memorable in that it’s the least memorable on the course. A pleasant enough 2-shotter that would probably be regarded as a strong par 4 on a lesser links, provides little if not a breather between the drama of the holes it lies between.
Thirteen is a strong, uphill par 4 that inspired the most famous (the only?) golf poem. Instead of reading what I have to say, read John Betjeman’s ‘Seaside Golf’ for a review of this tough hole.
The Fourteenth is a really fun, quirky test. A tricky drive over a chasm towards an angled fairway with gorse lying in wait on its left hand side. It’s wise to play to the left side of the green as it’s literally perched on top of a wall on its right hand side. If your ball just drops off the edge, your only option will be to play back down the fairway.
Fifteen is probably the most beautiful on the course. A lovely downhill par 3 played over another chasm and a lake towards a small green surrounded by gorse and bunkers. The panorama of the cliffs and estuary beyond is truly enchanting, especially as the sun start to set. Despite playing 30 yards downhill, the hole often plays every inch it of its yardage as it nearly always plays into the wind.
Finally we reach the second and final par 5 on the course. A booming drive on number sixteen may manage to get over the large hump in the fairway. If so, as the ball is propelled down the other side, you may have a chance of reaching the green in two. The green, nestled in amongst sand-dunes and bunkers, is an attractive but dangerous target.
If you were hoping for a gentle finish to the round you’ll be disappointed, as seventeen and eighteen are two of the toughest on the course. Seventeen is a long, up-hill par 3 with a deep bunker short right that gobbles up any weak, slicy long iron.
Eighteen is as strong a closing par 4 as you’ll find anywhere in the world. The rumpled fairway will leave anything other than a flat lie as you fire a mid to long iron approach up the hill towards the green. Finish your round with 2 pars and any howlers earlier on will vanish from memory.
In summary I believe St. Enodoc to be a truly unique and memorable golfing experience. It thoroughly deserves its place in the World Top 100, but more than that, I think what’s worth remembering is that that list is full of exclusive and maddeningly expensive courses. A round at St. Enodoc, a course as impeccably maintained as any links, is going to set you back no more than £100, even at a weekend in summer. With that in mind, I’d bet anything that you can’t find a better value golfing experience than this one.
Date: December 09, 2019