It will come as no surprise to note that the Nicklaus golf course at St Mellion Golf & Country Club is the course that Jack built, his first European course design. This is the place to come if you really want to test your game. The recently refurbished (2009) onsite Hotel and Country Club complex has great facilities and is geared up for visitors.
The Nicklaus course opened for play in 1988. The great man was clearly happy with his creation and said: “I knew it was going to be good, but not this good - it's everything I had hoped for and more... St Mellion is potentially the finest golf course in Europe”. The course was good enough to host the Benson & Hedges International Open for six years from 1990 until 1995 with Olazábal, Langer and Ballesteros amongst the winners.
St Mellion is located in the Tamar Valley, on what was once rolling farmland. Bodmin Moor is not too far away but you need look no further – the beast is the Nicklaus course.
Generally, the course is in excellent, American-style manicured condition, with plenty of definition between the sculptured fairways and the first/second cuts of rough; similarly with the greens and fringes. Elevated tees provide a good view of the task in hand. Keep the ball in play, there’s plenty of bunkers and loads of water.
There is no doubt that this is a great golf course and bears the hallmark of a designer who pays attention to detail. Many of the greens are multi-tiered and the hazards are strategically placed, making for intimidating tee shots. The fairways used to get waterlogged but extensive drainage work has resolved that problem.
There are no easy holes at St Mellion but there are many memorable ones, each with its own individuality. The 11th hole is an exacting par three measuring 203 yards; from a high elevation, the tee shot must carry across a river that wends its way across the front and down the left hand side of the green. No prizes for being short here. Our favourite hole is the par five 12th, running through a tree line valley. A stream meanders all the way along the right and then cuts back in front of the green before continuing on its way.
The lower handicap golfer will enjoy this exciting course enormously, but if you are having an off day, you will succumb to the beast of St Mellion. It will be interesting to see how the best European pros fare at St Mellion when the English Open returns to the European Tour schedule and is staged on the Nicklaus from 2011 for five consecutive years.
Tough, tough, tough! I’m a scratchy 8 handicapper and rely on hitting the ball well, finding it and sticking it on the green or near it to make a score. That’s harder here than almost anywhere else I’ve ever played. The rough is long and the fairways are tight.
The views are stunning in places and the playing surfaces are excellent. The design is clever but in my humble opinion better suited to quality professionals rather than handicap golfers.
An experience for sure but bring your ‘A’ game or it is just a bit of a slog.
"They reckon the average Stableford score around the Nick is 24," we overheard a local commenting as we took post-round refreshment at St Mellion International resort.
If the words slightly soothed me after yet another bruising 18 holes, they positively delighted Mrs W who had skipped around the course, designed by Jack Nicklaus, to score 30 points.
This was after she discovered the head had been snapped off her driver, so tightly had we packed our car for our Cornish holiday.
It would be churlish, although true, of me to suggest I could have caught a bus to some of the women's tees so advanced were they by comparison to the men's. Suffice to say I discovered hazards which weren't even on her horizon.
But golf has no time for bad losers, does it?
St Mellion's championship course is a high-quality corporate track but we felt it lacked the charm of those which don't have associated holiday packages.
Nevertheless, it is a test which is far too fearsome for my ailing game.
This is straightforwardly down to how tight it is. I found myself having to risk playing shots into banks in the vague hope that the ball would slide down on to the fairway. Going straight for the light green stuff risked bunkers, water or trees.
Water is a key feature on several holes but should be avoided by anyone playing well. I wasn't, so ballooned my drive straight into the drink on the 5th.
Mrs W probably benefited from only being armed with a three wood off the tee because it kept her on the course and, because it isn't super-long, that didn't impede her chances of scoring well.
Except on the attractive par 5 12th, where she thought she would visit the rather pretty water-fall which was part of the hazard which runs the length of the hole.
The Nicklaus course is certainly a good walk. We enjoy going around under our own steam rather than in buggies but there were plenty of slippy hills to negotiate after a brief downpour.
Nevertheless, it is a course which can be conquered as long as players plot their way around. I didn't and was defeated but witnessed Mrs W stick to script and show me how it's done.
I was really impressed with this course and it exceeded my expectations by a long way. From a lot of the reviews, I was expecting a long slog of a course with plenty of water and not much character. I was wrong!
This course is fun, exciting and offers plenty of variation across some undulating terrain.
The first hole is a great start with a drive down the hill towards a green surrounded by trees and a tricky stream. The third was a particular favourite - a short par 4 played across the side of a hill with the ground sloping to the right (towards the trouble) and a green surrounded by bunkers.
5 was a brilliant hole with the drive played across a lake and the approach to a narrow green with water in front is terrifying.
10, 11 and 12 are all great holes where water comes in to play on all three but with solid shots, you can score well on these holes.
Holes 17 and 18 have a slightly different feel but that’s not to say they aren’t strong holes. 18 is certainly dramatic with the green in front of the clubhouse.
This course is a challenge but it’s great fun and really worth a visit. The second course here is a long way behind but there are a few good holes that make it worth the cheaper green fee.
The four-star St. Mellion International Resort is not short of accolades. The Nicklaus course has been voted the 'Best Golf Course' in the West of England by Today's Golfer Magazine readers and the complex recently ranked 14th in the Top 100 UK & Ireland Golf Resorts.
The Top 100 website has it placed 65th in England which is high praise considering the bulk of contenders are either world famous links or the much admired Surrey-Berkshire heathlands.
The tournament credentials of the 7,010-yard, par 72 layout are in no doubt and will absolutely provide a stern test of your golf game. Tight fairways, several water hazards, forced carries, narrow green entrances, juicy greenside rough and strategic bunkers must all be negotiated at this exceptionally well presented and defined venue. Even from the 6,284-yard forward tees your game will be asked a lot of questions at this American-style venue.
Laid out in Tamar Valley, on what must have been a difficult property for Nicklaus to sculpt the course upon, it sets off at a fast pace with a dramatic opener where the fairway plunges down before rising up to an angled green. The rollercoaster continues with a particular scary tee-shot at the third and a picturesque dog-leg par-four at the fifth.
Both one-shotters on the outward half are excellent (the two on the back-nine aren’t bad either!) but with bunkers and nothing for leaking the ball right they are equally as demanding as the longer holes.
A theme of the front nine is steep rough-clad banking on one side of the narrow fairways coupled with a lateral water hazard on the opposite side. Driving the ball straight is therefore a big asset at St. Mellion.
The back nine – which contains some equally impressive holes –opens up a little bit more as the round progresses. But first, the downhill 10th, short 11th over water and the long 12th are dubbed “Amen Corner” and you can see the similarities. Meanwhile, the closing hole is a grand way to end your round on a layout that contains 18 individually excellent holes.
The walk from the ninth green to the tenth tee (around the hotel) is a little irksome and there are a few other long walks to get to the next teeing ground but that goes with the territory at a modern championship venue such as St. Mellion. Perhaps it was the record-breaking Easter temperatures but I think next time I will take a buggy.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
I’ve played the Nicklaus course at St Mellion regularly over the last few years so it’s overdue a review. There’s no doubt it can be tough challenge if you’re wayward from tee. Most of the fairways don’t contain too much undulation other than incline, however miss them and streams, trees and thick rough with an awkward stance await you if you can find your ball. The course starts out with a blind tee shot that requires you to be bold to ensure the green is visible; it’s also very easy to under club with your approach and come up short. The course then works its way up and down a wooded valley where water is never far away. Personally I feel the back 9 is better, too many long grinding par 4’s on the front 9, feels like you’re always hitting uphill! For me the best sequence of holes starts on 9, a mediocre par 4 followed by 10-12 which are the courses standout holes, 10 is a great downhill par 4 which needs an accurate drive to the left hand side of the fairway, 11 a great par 3 needing a very precise iron shot to carry the water and hazards and have any chance of par. The 12th is probably my favourite, a par 5 needing a fade from the tee too have any chance of seeing the green in two. If you fancy your chances of having an eagle putt you need to carry the stream which crosses the front of the green complex which itself is shaped to reject any careless shots. The round ends with two tough par 4’s, both needing you to position the ball in the right place and have any chance of reaching the greens, the 18th has a pond in front to collect any shots which are short or left. Whenever I’ve visited the greens (and indeed the whole course) have always been in good condition, as earlier reviewers have said they have lots of slope and random humps, a typical Nicklaus design. They’ve always been very true when I’ve played and will punish any loss of concentration with the putter.
The course markets itself a lot to societies and groups so slow play can be problem if you get stuck behind some high handicappers, I always tend to play mid-afternoon when they do some great deals on green fees and most of the large groups will have finished. I prefer to walk courses but I would advise taking a buggy here, there are some severe inclines and long walks between holes, I only made the mistake of walking once. It’s one of those courses I would play if in the area rather (I have family in Plymouth and it’s certainly the best course nearest to the city) than make it a destination, there are much better courses in Cornwall and Devon although if you like the resort style and great conditioning you’ll enjoy St Mellion. Overall a 4 ball course for me when compared to the local competition.
I've played St Mellion a couple of times and feel that it has gone from over rated to under rated due to its American resort style nature and the fact that you really should use a buggy, normally a massive negative for me.
Make no mistake, as the other reviews say this is a super tough golf course where you can easily lose a bag full of balls but still walk off smiling.
Some blind shots, forced carries over water and chasms, danger at every side, big slopey greens, random humps (thanks Jack!) and plenty of length. Have played as a pair and as a society, and both times all enjoyed the course immensely. The beauty comes maybe from its location more than the design, but it's a fantastic value course when either staying at the course or hiring a house in the grounds as a group. Highly recommended, particularly as a stay and play stop over on the way to the many outstanding courses further West.