“Thurlestone was founded in 1897 on a massive rabbit warren, covered with scrub, brambles and gorse.” Wrote Peter Alliss in the Good Golf Guide. “Put another way, it was almost the ideal for golf – once the fairways had been carved through, and greens laid. Once this had been done, many balls were still lost but some provision was made for this. A device was kept in the clubhouse to stamp members’ initials on golf balls, and any found were supposed to be handed in to the professional. Original owners could then buy them back for a fee of twopence”
“Yet another of those edge-of-cliff courses that
Devon seems to specialise in,” wrote Kevin Lee in The Golfers Guide to the
West Country, “and yet more of that heady mix – breathtaking costal views,
a saltiness in the air and a downland track littered with what nature intended”.
Nominated as a gem by David in November 2006, Thurlestone Golf Club is certainly still a gem but has now been awarded a coveted ranking position. David’s original nomination comments are as follows: “Thurlestone is one of the most beautiful courses in the South West of England – reminiscent of Pebble Beach, in places, and compared favourably with Pebble by none other than Peter Alliss. The first twelve holes, which are absolutely magnificent, go out right along the headland and verge on true links, while at the same time giving the turf a thick, springy quality that truly encourages a good strike on the ball. The course fades very slightly with three long par fives in a stretch of four holes which could be considered one too many, although the quality of the holes themselves cannot be doubted, before finishing with three very strong and truly memorable holes. It is one of my favourite courses that I have ever played.”
Thurlestone Golf Club originally started out in life as a short 9-hole course and was later extended and modified by Harry Colt and the routing of the course along the coastline of Bigbury Bay is dramatic to say the least. Views easterly to Bolt Tail headland and westerly toward Plymouth Sound create a distraction that is almost as challenging as the wind that often howls over the cliff tops.
The par 33 front nine, which was the original 9-hole course, measures only 2,640 yards from the back tees but the last two holes on the outward half are particularly challenging par fours. The 3,500-yard par 38 back nine is where a score can be made, especially on the quartet of four par fives, which, as David mentioned earlier, may be considered one too many.
Despite the scorecard imbalance Thurlestone is a course to be enjoyed. As well as the golf, the club boasts three beaches and a dozen tennis courts which will keep most non-golfers happy for a few hours.
A bit like a coin there are two sides to Thurlestone. It packs a lot of fun and entertainment, as well as plenty of good golf, into its modest 6,189 yards that run alongside Bigbury Bay.
The fun actually starts long before you reach the golf club and begins on the three-mile single file Devon country lane that leads down to the wonderfully located course situated in an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’. Whilst there are several passing places it was more like dodgem car racing than typical British motoring on the June morning I attempted it.
As soon as one eventually arrives in the car park though you are instantly hit with the brilliant green complex of the opening hole. Harry Colt is credited with the design of the course and it is clear to see the hand of somebody who knew what they were doing, especially in the opening third of the course.
There are two distinct parts to Thurlestone and there is undeniably an imbalance to the layout. The undulating front nine plays to a par 33 (just 2,620 yards) whilst the sweeping back nine can stretch to 3,559 yards (par 38!). This is not something the club can easily overcome but have recently consulted golf architect, James Edwards, to help bring more life to some of the longer cliff-top holes; the 10th, 12th and 14th in particular. Having been shown artists impressions of these from the Club Manager they will certainly improve the holes from a visual perspective as well as from a strategic stand point too.
The short and sweet first six holes are played over slightly more linksier ground and are simply wonderful. Although this start to the course contains three par-threes, a very driveable par-four and a couple more two-shotters under 350-yards it is good golf and exceptionally fun. The skyline green at the second, the backdrop to the third, the hogsback nature of the green complex at the fourth and the treachery of the bunkers at the short sixth get the course off to a flying start. I played with my 12-year-old son and he loved this opening section of the course.
The seventh is also a fine hole with a stonewall to contend with as this 339-yarder transitions us out towards the sloping cliff tops where some big hitting is then required.
From here we mostly face a barrage of long par-fours as well as three par-fives in the space of four holes. The green complexes are not as impressive on this part of the property but there is still some very good golf to be played and the round ends in fine style with an excellent par-three at the 17th followed by the impressive closing hole which can play as a short par-five or long par-four.
I was particularly fond of the 10th thanks to its bold green setting and the views from the 11th, 12th and 13th are spectacular. The 16th is also an interesting hole with a 90 degree dog-leg in the fairway and a green you certainly don't want to miss.
Thurlestone is a feel-good course you should certainly add to your South-West golf itinerary. It won't break the bank as should be noted from the fact it recently appeared in Golf World's Top 100 golf courses in England with a green-fee under £60. The setting is exceptional, the views (Thurlestone Rock to the East and the Avon Estuary & enigmatic Burgh Island to the West) are simply stunning and the golf is very good too for the most part, excellent at times.
You'll no doubt get a warm Devonshire welcome and although the back nine plays a touch on the long side it is not a golf course that will beat you up. Enjoy.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Thurlestone has long been on my target list and finally got to play a new course post covid in May 2021. Once you have negotiated the country lanes to get there, a spectacular setting coastal setting awaits you and having arrived in plenty of time the short walk to the beach and coast path was a great start to the day.
The course starts with a fabulous short par 4 from an elevated tee above the clubhouse with the coastal views to your right. The 2nd is a good uphill par 4, and the 3rd a spectacular par 3 heading straight towards the sea, slightly downhill but into the wind !. The 4th is a fairly short par 4 heading inland but with a delightful approach into a narrow green with run-offs either side, very links like. Back to back par 3's at 5 and 6, and I'm not sure what to make of the 5th; a par 3 of over 200 yards into the wind and with the rain now coming down none of us got near the green. The 7th is stunning par 4 running along the coastline. What a start to a golf course !
Holes 1-7 are for me the best holes. After that the course rises to higher ground and seems to play around a clifftop plateau with a wider more open feel, sloping fairways and a number of blind shots. For me the course starts to lose it's flow and quality up here and becomes more of a holiday clifftop golf course . The views however remain with you and the approach to the 11th is excellent with stunning views of Burgh Island from the green. Three par 5's at 12/14/15 were really fairly mundane but the 13th was a good looking par 3. A good finish however awaits as you drop downhill for the last three holes. If I was a member and the course empty I'd be very tempted to play 1-7 and then cut across and play 17-18, so yes a course of two halves.
Course condition was ok although found the greens a bit slow which undoubtedly was because of the clifftop location and exposure to the wind, which at 20-25mph was undoubtedly a major factor in playing the course. Reminds me very much of Nefyn, with some spectacular coastline, some holes along the coast line and some holes on higher land and some slightly inland. Like Nefyn ultimately I came off the course a bit flat largely because the best holes were at the start of the round. Not at the level of Pennard which manages to combine the views with a terrific flowing golf course. The welcome and the post covid organisation was excellent and we did enjoy our day so are planning to return next year, therefore it must by definition be worth a 4 ball.
I had the great pleasure to play Thurlestone yesterday and it was worth every minute of the hour drive and 3:30AM departure!
The course starts well with a drivable par four, it would’ve been drivable had I not driven so long to get there anyway... it gets better and better from there too. Whilst nominally short on the front this is more than made up for in design. Both par threes in the first five holes are longer than their respective yardages as they play directly into the prevailing sea breeze. They’re thoughtfully laid out and they are truly breathtaking!
The entire first 12 holes as often written are excellent. There are some for whom the collection of par fives on the back are one too many but, whilst valid, is an objection I believe to be entirely subjective. They are all entirely gettable in too, if you have the nerve. I desperately wanted to take them on but in all but one instance I chose to lay up, that for me is the signature of well designed par fives and should be applauded. You’ve read already about the finish. I agree with others, the last three holes are very, very good fun.
My only negative thought about Thurlestone is one that cannot be changed and is present at all the old greats. You must be aware of the proximity of players on the adjacent fairways, they’re close by and can if one is wayward be a little dodgy at times.
Here’s the thing, this course is as good as any of the best courses in the region. Highly recommended by me!
It had been too long since my last visit to Thurlestone, I enjoyed even it even more playing course in high summer. The front 9 runs along the spectacular south Devon coastline before heading inland and uphill before returning to the club house towards the sea again, the UK’s Pebble Beach tag is well earned.
The back nine is very much secondary in quality and architecture, only the last 3 holes meet the high standard going out but the holes are still fun, just a few too many pedestrian side by side holes for my liking. For me it’s the par 3’s which standout as the best holes, especially going out, all have their own character and are orientated in different directions so there’s the need to take the wind into account on every hole.
Some might describe this as ‘holiday golf’ but I think it’s a tougher challenge, the fairways are generous but when I played very firm so it wasn’t too difficult to see balls to run out and the rough can really cost you, especially if you’re too wayward you’d end up in waist high rough and a lost ball. The courses main defence is the wind and the green complexes which harbour a lot of deep bunkers and drop offs, the greens don’t have too much slope and medium pace so you’ll normally be able to 2 putt without problem.
I had a pleasure of playing with a couple of members who were great company and generous with their insights into playing the course. If you’re in the South West it’s certainly worth seeking it out, I think it deserves to be higher in the Devon rankings but still behind the classic links of the north coast.
Played here on a sunny April day. Course well presented - greens about 6 or 7 on the stimp but rolling true. Fabulous views from almost every hole but especially the first seven which play along the cliff edge before the course climbs onto higher ground for the back nine. This was allegedly Colt's contribution but (apart from the wonderful 11th with its second shot having to be faded into a green perched on the edge of the course) it has too many blind tee shots up hills onto sloping fairways. The finish is good though - long dogleg par four 16th to an infinity green, then short par three to a massively deep green followed by the last, a two shotter off the forward tee with a memorable shot in to another raised green. Turf good, greens good, friendly club and the green fee is exceptional value for money. In terms of shot values it's not Pebble Beach, but it's at least as pretty.
I very much agree with the comments made in the review below. Thurlestone was a thoroughly enjoyable experience when I played here a week ago in glorious but rare summer sunshine. The greens were a pleasure to putt on and rolled out very well indeed, in fact they rolled out better than they looked like they should. For me, the original nine holes of the front nine are the best holes, as a few too many holes after the turn are rather bland and a little too uphill and down dale for my liking. However, I really liked the closing few holes, which left me walking off the last green with a pleasant feel good factor. Thurlestone is a very welcoming club which seems to be doing lots of things right. This is one of the few golf courses where you can see the sea from every single hole. I’d certainly include Thurlestone in any South Devon golfing itinerary… it also gives East Devon a run for its money in a few places.
It’s interesting to see Thurlestone riding so high in the rankings and well deserved I think because it’s a great track that ticks most boxes. Harry Colt had a habit of creating courses with five short holes, Rye and Sunningdale New are two examples. He’s done the same here and has even slotted in back-to-back P3s at 5 and 6. With 13 and 5 measuring around 200 yards from the yellows, these are not easy pars and the short holes will probably be the key to whether or not a decent score is carded. In a way I agree with the review below in that there are similarities here to Southerndown, but Thurlestone I think is less good but plays much closer and is more intimate with the sea so you feel your are playing a seaside course rather than an upland layout. Alongside Teignmouth, which is underrated, Thurlestone is a good course, put East Devon into the mix and you have three cracking seaside courses that will clense your lungs and won’t dent your wallet. Niall