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 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 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 strong 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-lined valley. A stream meanders all the way along the right and then cuts back in front of the green before continuing on its way.
Ownership of the resort changed hands in 1998 and an extensive renovation of the facilities took place a decade later. Unfortunately, the new millennium credit crunch put paid to plans that would have seen the English Open staged on the Nicklaus course for an initial 5-year period, starting in 2011.
I try to be as honest as I can on these reviews - honesty is the best policy! And with that in mind the welcome at the club and service in the restaurant was sub-par, or over-par whichever way you look at it. Fortunately though I was shocked at how good this golf course was! I gather from other raters the course can get very wet and unplayable but we didn’t experience this. The holes that run through the valley and the sequence of 10, 11 and 12 are a highlight. St Mellion is a superb course and one I think should be included in any trip to Cornwall.
The final stop of our 5 round tour of Cornwall took us to the outskirts of the beautiful Tamar Valley and to the County’s highest rated inland course, the golf resort of St Mellion.
St Mellion was opened for play in 1988 and was the first European course personally designed by Jack Nicklaus. The course opened to rave reviews with Nicklaus himself being quoted " I knew it was going to be good but not this good". It went on to host the B & H International Open with Olazabal, Langer and Ballesteros amongst the winners. Nicklaus even created his own version of Amen Corner with the 10th, 11th & 12th holes.
There isn’t a clubhouse of such to speak about, the main hotel acts as a meeting point for golfers (both residents and non-residents alike). Unfortunately, the main pro shop had been damaged in a small fire, so a makeshift shop was operating off the hotel reception, but plans are underway to re-open the pro shop soon.
I had heard that the course is renowned for it’s tough opening stretch and those rumours are not wrong. The opening 7 holes plays into a valley and anything but accuracy from the tee will be severely punished. Narrow fairways, hungry streams, thick rough and plenty of sand all make for an extremely tough opening test. The course relents from the 8th onwards, so if you’ve managed to keep your card intact by that point, you’ve done very well.
The first truly beautiful hole is the Par 4 5th Hole. 330 yards off the whites. Tee shots are played from a platform of grass over a 155 yard lake carry. The tee shot itself framed by large trees down the left and a steep bank with Rhododendrons. A gentle dogleg to the left then shows the green well protected by streams and bunkers. A unique and picturesque hole.
The 10th is the start of Jacks version of ‘Amen Corner’ and the best run of holes on the course. The hole is played from high elevation to a green situated some 75ft below the tee whilst a stream hugs the right hand side for any sliced tee shot. The Par 3 11th Hole is a stunning one-shotter with water looming in front, bunkering guarding both sides and the steep fern covered bank to the rear. The best hole on the course for my mind is the stunning downhill Par 5 12th hole. The hole is channelled by large pines rising down both sides of the immaculate fairway, a creek runs down the right of the hole with a stream passing in front of the green framed by a huge property in the background. A truly brilliant hole.
The Par 4 18th Hole, at 455 yards off the whites is a true championship finishing hole. Even the best struck drive will still leave you a longer iron into this well protected green. The large hotel looming to your left as you have to fly the edge of the pond into a tight green. A fine end to a brilliant back 9.
St Mellion is a true test of golf. It’s tough, you are likely to lose balls, but it is well worth the visit. There is plenty of variety and some truly superb holes across the course. It’s in immaculate condition and whilst it lacks the charm that most ‘golf resorts’ do, you’d be remiss to leave this off your Cornish golfing itinerary.
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I do wonder why we all praise (me too at times) a golf course for which we say “you’re likely to lose a few balls”.
I think it’s acknowledging that the course is tough in places, but there’s still some fantastic holes. Reading reports of when the Pros played here in the B&H, even they found it to be a stern test.
Have played the Nicklaus course many times over the years, and despite loving it find it very intimidating. It's a great test of golf, but you've got to be firing on all four to scramble a score together.
If your driving is off, you'll lose a few balls guaranteed, because if they don't go into ponds or streams, you'll lose them in the trees or rough.
The dilemma for me is walk or buggy?? The course is a monster, and if you walk you'll be knackered at the end of it. But taking a buggy is frustrating too, because the cart paths meander all over the place. You think you're just getting to your ball and a surprise u turn will see you ending up miles away from the fairway! You then end up having to take 3 or 4 clubs over to your ball not quite sure of what your lie is going to be like, or exactly what distance you're going to have. Put them down, play your shot, go back to the buggy and them remember you left 2 or 3 other clubs lying in the grass!
Standout holes for me are the 3rd, 5th, and 12th. But I hate the 12th! I always cock it up lol! It's a terrific venue, and I think everybody should play it at one time or another. Well worth the trip down.
Simply a fantastic golf course that will test your game to the max! There are some truly world class holes, the 5th and 12th are possibly my favourite and the 18th is worthy of any championship finish.
There are many top class courses in England which could be debated as better but none of them are priced anywhere near St Mellion which is very refreshing.
Tip: They run a couple of competitions a year from the blue championship tees, these perhaps give a small insight into what the pros went through when they played the British Masters there....it’s incredibly difficult but in a sadistic way quite fun!!
The Nicklaus course is one of the very best in the SW of England and if you get the opportunity to play there, you should take it.
From the dog leg right 1st that fades away down the hill towards the green, to the STUNNING back 9 that is up there with the very best in England, in my opinion. The course continues to fall away into the valley until the 5th hole when the terrain slowly begins to re-gain ground lost earlier in the round.
Speaking of the 5th hole, it was arguably the best hole on the course with a large lake to navigate off the tee, towards a narrow landing area and more water short of the green to put off the long hitters.
11 requires a well struck shot to reach dry land on a par 3 that causes most to reach for the camera on their phones. Make a 3 here and it is a job well done.
Coming down 18 invoked memories of past B&H tournament winners and be sure to save a few good shots for the final hole as there will no doubt be spectators watching from the comfort of the facilities or the hotel rooms that overlook the hole!
Make time to play the Nicklaus course at St Mellion, you will not regret it!
There's a lot to like in the summer... in the winter wellies are a prerequisite. However the Nicklaus course can't hold a candle to the SW's links courses from B&B to Saunton to RND and on to St Enodoc.
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.