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.
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.