The borough of Torbay is known affectionately as the “English Riviera” – and for good reason. The climate is mild and the sandy beaches and coves are perfect for surfing and swimming, not to mention non-stop entertainment along the coastline. It’s unsurprising that the area has been popular with tourists since Victorian times.
The late Ross Salmon (writer, BBC broadcaster and explorer) played every course in Devon and he commented as follows in his book Devon Clubs: “The first golf course ever to be built on the South Coast of England was established by members of the Royal Torbay Yacht Club in 1882 at Walls Hill between the beauty spots of Oddicombe Bay and Anstey’s Cove.
This nine-hole course became too popular with golfers and crowds of holidaymakers with their picnics. In 1909, it was decided to build a full-length course at Petitor, near St Marychurch.
This beautiful course is a combination of parkland and cliff, being laid out on the rolling headland 600 feet above the lovely beaches of Babbacombe and Oddicombe. There is little doubt that this ideal holiday golf course played an important part in establishing the present thriving tourist industry in Torquay.”
The professional at Royal North Devon, John Allan, laid out the course. Allan also fashioned the oldest courses in the counties of Somerset and Wiltshire – Minehead & West Somerset and Kingsdown respectively.
In 1911, an exhibition match featuring two of the Great Triumvirate, Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor, commemorated the opening of the new Torquay course. Two notable amateur golfers also took part in the exhibition match: C.V.L. Hooman, who competed in the first Walker Cup matches at the National Golf Links of America in 1922, and Arthur C.M. Croome, designer of the course at Liphook Golf Club.
Ironically, Torquay Golf Club completed its triangular historical acquaintance with the Great Triumvirate after the First World War when James Braid was commissioned to make some alterations following the course’s requisition by New Zealand’s armed forces.
Much has changed at Torquay Golf Club since those early beginnings; in fact things are different since Ross Salmon described the layout in his book, published in 1984. In the last thirty years or so, the course has reduced in length from 6,251 yards to today’s modest 5,826 yards from the back markers.
There are still a number of adventurous old-fashioned holes on the clifftop, including the blind par four 6th, which plays to a lovely infinity green, and the also blind uphill short par four 7th, where the walk will be rewarded by glorious sea views from the greensite.
#8 is the club’s newest hole which has recently been remodelled into a quirky short par four that requires a mid iron to the corner of the right-angled dogleg where an under hit tee shot will leave a tricky approach over a small copse of trees. #9 is a pretty drop shot par three and #10 is an inviting downhill short par four with a narrowing fairway between trees the longer the tee shot.
It’s fair to say Torquay boasts a number of memorable holes, including the long and tough left doglegged par four 11th that plays to a green tucked tightly into a corner of the property. #14 is another attractive par three across a duck pond and the par four 15th features a generous, false-fronted, two-tiered green.
Nick Faldo won the Torquay Golf Club Pro-Am as a young 17-year-old, claiming his first pay cheque as a professional. As part of the club’s centenary celebrations, his inaugural win is commemorated in the clubhouse by a number of mementos donated by Sir Nick, including a signed photograph on which the six-time major champion wrote: “To Torquay Golf Club my ‘First’ Major!!”
Torquay Golf Club was due to host the Senior Men’s County Championship finals in October 2020, an event contested by four senior men’s county teams, each representing one of England Golf’s regional groups, but the event was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Basic parkland on a fairly confined site. Holes 1-5 and 11-18 are at low level around the clubhouse and are characterised by up and down fairways with side slopes, and as my trip to Torquay in June 2022 coincided with dry hard conditions mean't it was difficult to keep the ball on the fairways. Holes 1-5 were a good start with four of the harder (stroke index) holes in the first five holes, including the 4th which I thought was probably the best hole on the course. Holes 6 - 10 take you up to a plateau and back down again and you only really get a view of the bay as you approach hole 7 and on the 8th tee. From here I felt the course lost it's way with an odd short par 4 at 8, a long wait on the short 9th and a further wait on the driveable downhill par 4 at 10. Back nine did include the only par 5, but the par 3 finish capped a reasonably uninteresting back nine. Star of the show was outstanding greens; excellent condition, quick with slopes !. The greens make Torquay worth playing if in the area