“Yelverton is one of the finest courses in the West of England,” wrote Peter Alliss in The Good Golf Guide, a 1986 book in which the former Ryder Cupper and veteran commentator chronicled the 200 best courses in the British Isles.
“This is heathland golf of a high standard over a course similar to Walton Heath but without trees and some 600 feet above sea level. Situated on the edge of Dartmoor, the members would give you an argument if you claimed more beautiful views were to be found anywhere else. If Walton Heath was architect Herbert Fowler’s masterpiece, Yelverton is really only inferior in terms of sheer length.”
Golf was first played at Yelverton in 1904 when a short, rudimentary nine-hole course was laid out close to the present clubhouse. Another nine holes were quickly added, but the Great War soon put paid to that early golfing venture. After the First World War a small band of keen golfers persuaded Lord Roborough to allow them to fashion an 18-hole course on Roborough Down.
Herbert Fowler was the architect commissioned to design the layout on the southern slopes of Dartmoor. From the master’s moorland fairways there are panoramic views of seven Dartmoor Tors. The new course at Yelverton Golf Club opened for play in 1920, one year after Fowler had completed the highly acclaimed East course at Saunton Golf Club.
In a similar vein to the Old course at Walton Heath, Yelverton starts with a challenging long par three, which is set on the western side of the Plymouth to Tavistock main road and adjacent to the club’s impressive practice ground. A tough par four follows at the 2nd where a ravine has to be carried from the tee and then hillocks and bunkers must be negotiated en route to a narrow entrance in front of the green.
Two short par fours, routed in opposite directions, arrive at #3 and #4, followed by a short par five which provides a genuine birdie opportunity, as does the short par three at #6. The going gets much tougher at the long, uphill par four 7th where a large gathering bunker on the left waits to catch a drive left and gorse threatens on the right.
The par five 8th is the longest hole on the card where you’ll encounter the Devonport Leat which was constructed in the 18th century to channel drinking water from Dartmoor to Plymouth.
Golfers cross the disused Plymouth and Dartmoor Tramway to get to the 9th tee. “You now encounter a piece of history,” wrote Alliss, “Drake’s leat. Sir Francis lived at nearby Buckland Monachorum and one of his public-spirited actions was to build a watercourse to supply Plymouth. Today it comes into play at several holes, particularly the 9th, a short four of 284 yards, where it discourages attempts to drive the green. On the 10th, a long par four of 416 yards, you could find it with either the first or second shots.”
Tin mining has created dramatic features at Yelverton Golf Club where collapsed tunnels have created some remarkable hazards which are encountered throughout the round.
Ross Salmon joined Yelverton Golf Club in 1968 and in 1984 he published an informative book titled Devon Golf Clubs. “I have heard second hand stories of an occasional sheep or pony being felled by a golf ball, but this must be once in a blue moon. During the years I was a member I cannot recall that the few animals on the course ever interfered with play or caused any great damage.
The ravines, old tin mines, gorse bushes, bracken, a bomb crater, banks and ditches – they are all very real hazards indeed and have wrecked many a promising round of golf.”
Perhaps the most daunting hazard on this delightful moorland cum heathland course silently waits to catch short approach shots to the home green. A bunker lurks at the bottom of this deep and foreboding ravine. You simply must avoid this hazard or your card may disintegrate at the final hurdle.
Yelverton co-hosted (with Tavistock Golf Club) the English Senior Men's Open Amateur Championship in 2006 (won by Dougie Arnold). Additionally, Yelverton is home to the South West of England Open Winter Foursomes and it’s said this competition goes on regardless of the weather, which is testament to the course’s year-round playability.
The review of Yelverton below reminds me of a trip we made across Devon in 2013. An unusual start to the course as the clubhouse and hole nr 1 sit one side of the main road. Once across the road you are on to a very pleasant moorland style natural golf course. The added company of horses and sheep leads me to compare with courses such as Bramshaw Forest, RND, Clyne etc. Enjoyed the course very much, especially the use of natural humps and hollows. Pick of the holes for me was the 16th which is a strong and interesting par 4. Only drawback was roadnoise (but maybe that was because of wind direction on the day). A good course and certainly worth a visit
One of the biggest golfing mistakes I’ve made was failing to play Yelverton Golf Club when I lived just around the corner on the Bere Peninsula some ten years ago. I’ve driven past this golf course on countless occasions but I failed to stop the car in my haste to do other stuff. Thankfully, I remedied the situation last Wednesday on a bright but rather chilly day.
Wow! I thoroughly enjoyed the course and wholeheartedly recommend this charming moorland/heathland track, which showcases Herbert Fowler at his minimalist best. There are echoes of Aldeburgh here at Yelverton but the Dartmoor views knock the scenery at Aldeburgh into a cocked hat. And in my book there’s more interest and variety here with an eclectic mix of long, medium and short par threes, fours and fives. Coupled with Knole Park and Cleeve Hill, Yelverton is one of the most enjoyable new (for me) courses I’ve played in recent months.
Some will scoff at Yelverton’s modest yardage (a tad more than 6,000 yards from the yellow tees) but let me tell you that what Yelverton lacks in length it makes up for in sheer entertainment. The greensites at first glance look quite subtle but they are adroitly fashioned with some wicked slopes. Often the greens appear flat but they all seem to cant down from Dartmoor and approach shots must take these slopes into account otherwise you can rack up a seriously high score.
The hazards are truly unique and I’ve never come across disused and collapsed tin mines before. Nor have I come across leats and so many ponies, which have morphed into a rather more amorphous equine style than purebred Dartmoor ponies.
This understated course was playing incredibly firm and fast after a dry April and it was an absorbing test which I largely failed to pass.
If you’re heading to Cornwall on the A38 and want to play a top quality course that oozes interest, you’d be wise to consider stopping off at Yelverton. It’s currently underrated in our Devon rankings and deserves to be higher. I’d go as far as to say that it is a potential English Top 100 candidate course. Yes, it’s that good in my humble opinion.
I believe it’s better than a few courses that are enjoying ranking positions within the lower quartile of our current England hundred. In fact, I’ll stick my neck out and suggest that it’s marginally better than Bovey Castle (my home course), which is set within the heart of the Dartmoor National Park some 20 miles to the north east of here.