“If, besides golf, you can list your recreational activities as bird watching, train spotting and naturalism (that’s the one in which you keep your clothes ON),” wrote Kevin Lee in The Golfers Guide to the West Country, “then a visit to the Warren will make you think you have died and gone to heaven.
Not only is this the only true links course in south Devon – it has been referred to, and with some reason, as the ‘St Andrews of the South’ – but is situated on a narrow peninsula, in truth not much more than a wide spit of land, between the sea and the estuary of the River Exe.
The area is an internationally-renowned wildlife conservation area, flat as you might expect, with the usual enemies on a links course, such as narrow fairways, gorse, heather, naturally-occurring bunkers, the odd sandhill, a none-too-friendly wind and the occasional train. This being Dawlish, the coastal railway line is never that far away, although far enough never to disturb the peace, except on the 18th.
The last hole is exceptional in that, from the white markers, the tee is on an island when the tide is in, and players have to cross a little bridge to get to it. It shares a fairway with the first and the green nestles below the Paddington-Penzance West of England main line.
The other hole which will burn itself onto the memory is the seventh, which tempts you to play across a bay on the estuary, but slightly too far right lands you among the bucket-and-spade brigade on the beach.”
It’s a real shame that Warren Golf Club, located at the seaside town of Dawlish Warren in South Devon, was omitted from the “True Links” book showcasing the 246 true links golf courses of the world.
I’m sure The Club would have welcomed and appreciated the inevitable additional visitor footfall this would have brought.
It is obviously a genuine error because there is no doubting that this delightfully rustic layout meets all the criteria the authors set for inclusion. Indeed in many ways the course is a throwback to how links golf will have been played many decades ago and it certainly succeeds in capturing a moment in time.
Situated within a nature reserve on a narrow spit of land in the mouth of the Exe estuary the 18 holes, which stretch to just less than 6,000 yards, is surrounded by innate beauty. In the main the linksland is firm and has that crisp, rugged seaside feel to it where you might not always find perfect turf under your ball…. but you will always be able to play it as it lies.
The actual layout of the course has not changed much since 1927, although the forces of nature mean that there is continual maintenance on the estuary side of the course.
The nature reserve provides a major roosting site for wading birds and migratory waterfowl, and serves as a habitat for the endangered petalwort plant. It is also one of only two sites in Britain where the Sand Crocus grows, locally known as the Warren Crocus.
The land towards the marsh side of the slender promontory is a little softer and here you will find a few tiny ponds in natural wet spots to aid drainage. From a playing perspective they don’t really bring much to the party but they grab your attention nonetheless.
There are some nice green complexes on the way to the turn; in particular a basin green at the short third and a well sculptured one at the sixth where you literally shoot to the very tip of terra firma. The eighth also boasts a well located putting surface on a plateau.
Gorse-lined fairways are in abundance during the middle section of the course where the scorecard chews up plenty of ground. The yardage for holes nine thru 12 are; 431, 462, 510 and 477. The latter two are admittedly par fives but there is a lot of walking between hitting.
You must, or at least can choose to, flirt with the sea at the seventh on a very unique hole whilst most of the final five holes also play along the edge of the coastline. The last doesn’t but this finishing hole is perhaps the most unusual of the lot with a green parked tightly between the entrance road (which you must cross with your approach) and a high wall and fence protecting the railway line. The clubhouse itself and the car park are also very much in play! It’s a hole that wouldn’t be built today and that is a shame because it’s a wonderful way to end an old-school round of golf.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
First of all a word about the setting… stunning. Secondly a word about the par three 8th… outstanding. Sadly, as a whole, the Warren doesn’t fit together very well. It is shoehorned into a parcel of land that is simply not big enough for an 18-hole course, 12 holes would sit here very comfortably but 18 holes make for scary golf when the course is busy (take your tin hat).
The opening hole and the closing hole are very weird. The first drive cuts across the road and the corner of the car park while the closing hole plays to a sunken green set hard to the high metal fence of the railway line... surely this should be used as a practice green? There are some nice holes on the way out and a couple on the way back, but it’s all a bit too tight and hemmed in for my liking. I'd be surprised if James Braid originally laid the course out as an 18-holer.
I returned to the Warren at Dawlish earlier this month, more than ten years after I first teed it up here. I think my 2009 sentiments are too harsh. The main challenge for the club is that the property is part of a SSSI Nature Reserve and there are so many restrictions preventing the course from playing anywhere near its full potential. The weed to grass ratio on the largely bare fairways is 50/50 and while this is not ideal (to say the least) it does not detract from a round of golf on a course that fervently harks back to yesteryear.
The front nine is much stronger than the back, or at least if feels more spacious. There was much more to enjoy than just the stellar 8th hole. The 7th sweeps around the Exe estuary daring golfers to bite off more than they can chew and the green complex on the 12th is among the most unusual I’ve ever seen with its raised circular platform sited in the back left quarter of the green.
If the club could remove some badly positioned gorse bushes (which they can’t), sightlines from a few tee boxes would be greatly improved. Since I was last here a good number of drainage ponds have been installed along the marshy estuary holes… I’m not convinced about the placement of some of these.
Yes it’s still too tight for comfort on a few homeward holes and the 18th is one of the weirdest closers I’ve ever played… but, it has one of the coolest back tees I’ve ever come across on a links course, marooned on its own little island in the estuary and reached by a wooden footbridge.
My drive on the last caught the right side of the fairway, requiring an approach directly over the roof of the clubhouse (and the entrance road and clubhouse car park) to the sunken green that’s set below the railway line and hard against a high metal fence. Thankfully the shot came off and found the front of the very long, narrow green.
If you like your golf to be fun, have a sense of humour and can live with a bit of rough (and ready), you’ll be grinning most of the way round. Heck, I’m upping my rating from 3 to 3.5.