“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.
Speed of play is a big issue of golf and I’d like to apply this concept to writing the following. I’ve decided to share this course summary in the time it takes me to get through a bottle of Fropical Ferret IPA that I picked up when I was in Devon last week. Here goes:
Yelverton GC must be around 15 mins from the infamous Dartmoor prison. This felt entirely appropriate as I myself was out on parole from nearby Netherlands - serving a lengthy sentence for a crime I - sip - didn’t commit. This all left me looking forward to what amounted to a conjugal visitation with a hot little English golf course. A bit old perhaps but undoubtedly attractive. My anticipation was further heightened by the odd fact that Yelverton is (almost) an anagram of the greatest football team in the world. Surely I’d be a fan?
The course turned out to be like a country cousin of RND, because it is a rustic & soulful lay of the land design replete with various animals & their droppings regularly soiling your clubs & shoes. Also similar to RND, the greens were surprisingly good to putt on. The subtle genius of Herbert Fowler was also responsible here. And to make one final auspicious comparison: you turn into Golf Links Road on your way to the clubhouse. Duh-Duh-Duuh!
As with Fowler’s Walton Heath Old, Yelverton opens with a Par 3 before then crossing a busy road to the main property. Perhaps this should be known as one of his design traits - creator of The English Road Hole Template? For me, this iteration is superior to that at Walton Heath Old - more picturesque, a gentler hand shake, an easier transition to the next hole. This road is even busier - arguably due to Grockle season - adding a new dimension to the terms “ heroic carry” & “risk & reward” as you sprint across carrying your golf sticks. That beer is almost gone.
Once on the main property, you’re faced with a long Par 4 that requires a tee shot over what were once excavations of some sort. I aimed at the second horse on the left and let fly. Many of the subsequent tee shots have this kind of attractive view. Fairways are by no means narrow but keep one lazy eye open for the ball swallowing gorse. Every now and again you’ll have a blind tee shot. When this is because the land dictates, as with holes #4 & #5, Proper Job. Occasionally an unsighted tee shot is due to the vegetation (e.g. #8 & #12 -yellow tee), Improper Job. These should be sorted ideally out because it’s unnecessarily spoiling a good look at an attractive hole.
My favourites came at #12 & #13. The former is a picturesque downhill par 3 where you ideally need to bring the ball in front the left. But any slight misjudgment and your ball is caught up in an array of bunkers & rough ground guarding that side. The latter is a longish uphill Par 4 where you’re faced with a big decision on the second shot. Do you take on the ravine guarding the green or do you lay up? I laid up and finished about a yard short of doing a Thelma & Louise. I curse the gods when I make a sensible choice yet fail to execute and end up in the animal droppings anyway, so this was no small victory. Now still facing a harrowing pitch over the Grand Canyon from a tight lie, I clipped it to around 2.5 feet- before confidently missing the par putt. A bogey still felt satisfying though. Probably because it’s a great hole.
Yelverton continues to rise & fall over a lovely landscape, using minimal fairway bunkering, with either those robust excavations or stream-like channels often guarding the greens. I have read that the routing is a too little up & down with scant use of cross slopes. I don’t agree with this and felt in many cases I was trying to land a shot on a specific side of the fairway to take account of a slant or two. The only occasion the routing grated was at #8 & #9 which played right next to each other in opposite directions. Those were admittedly up & down like a manic depressive yo-yo.
After a bit of a climb to the 16th tee I enjoyed a rest on a commemorative bench to deceased member BJ Grant (gives me an idea) which had the inscription “Golf & Family were his life”. As I sat there for a moment taking in the lovely views, I had to agree that he had his priorities in the right order. A nice moment. The aforementioned ravine made another appearance later in the round at #18 and this time I went for the green in 2. This turned out to be the worst decision since Hugh Grant stopped off for a coffee on Sunset Strip, because my drive had been mediocre. A solid blow followed but didn’t quite escape the grip of the tabloid-esque slippery slope. A moment of insanity. While the hole might be divine, it had me caught with my trousers around my ankles. I hoped to take relief… on the premise that giant bunnies were responsible for these enormous scrapings, but I was informed that they were unfortunately the work of man. But no common or garden artificial hazards - instead Fowler had cleverly worked old tin mining digs into his routing. I somehow hacked up & out onto the green and once again savored the bogey like a hungry 3 year old.
My round took 3 hours and had I rushed it would perhaps have been 2.5 hours. I can’t go any quicker than this because I take too many shots & usually have to look for balls. But I also took some photos, chipped some extra balls from cool positions, generally inhaled the golf course, and even had a little rest on Mr Grant’s bench. Why do I say this? Some people seem to take great pride in going to a great golf course and simply rushing through the experience in 2 hours like it’s a race. Some perverse badge of honour. I used to work with a world speed golf champion and I do wonder if you can really get the most out of a golf course this way. Life is short - may contain the odd low - so why rush through the really good bits? I’ll only understand this if you’re dashing off to make another tee time. And your partner will likely thank you for taking a less hasty approach to life’s pleasures.
But I digress. That first beer is long gone. I digress again. If you’re ever on your way to the golfing delights of the north Cornish coastline, it would be a wise decision to take the easy detour to mine the rich vein of holes at Yelverton. It’s even worth making a special trip for. You’d be a right foul Herbert not to.
There’s a real feel-good factor about playing golf at Yelverton. It’s great for your soul and can also be a confidence booster for your golf; that is if you catch it on as benign a day as I did.
With a big blue sky overhead, record April temperatures, a mere zephyr in the air, all the colours of the rainbow on display across the textured property and with views across Devon and Cornwall, which are just about as good as any from a golf course, it’s no wonder I’m about to write nice things about this ye-olde-worlde golf club.
Tight moorland-cum-heathland turf greets us at every turn with gorse patches lining many of the generous fairways. You can swing away quite freely from the tee, not having to worry too much about any trouble ahead and also enjoy decent run-out on your golf ball.
Approaches into the greens are testing without being overly taxing with angled ridges, humps and gullies used to provide natural hazards. At times - most notably at the excellent 13th and 18th - a deeper ravine must be crossed but generally you have options when playing into the greens because the entrances are wide and accepting of a running shot.
The actual contours of the putting surfaces are very impressive too with enough movement to keep you interested but without being at odds with the rest of the course. Bunkering is light but appropriately placed whilst several heather topped mounds add an extra layer of defence to a course that has a SSS of 72 for its par of 71 - I imagine the wind is a major factor in play here since the course is located several hundred feet above sea level. It should also be noted it is a par 70 from the yellow tees.
The condition of the greens was immaculate in mid-April and as corny as it sounds; a real joy to putt on.
To be over critical there is a bit of sameness to some of the drives throughout the round although there are a few holes around the 300-yard mark which do give you options from the tee and towards the end of the round we find more variety. In the case of the 14th we are faced with an unusually narrow drive where a draw is favoured whilst at the 16th – the best hole on the property - we are asked to work the ball the other way before playing a wonderful approach to a slightly depressed green.
Yelverton is rightly proud of its inclusion in the list of the Top 20 golf courses in the South West of England. It currently ranks 16th and considering the stiff competition (I’ve played all 15 above it) this is a very good achievement. I’d even suggest that it could be a place or two higher and I don’t think anybody would bat an eyelid.
Yelverton may have been off the radar for too long but it is gradually getting more noticed and that is a very good thing.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
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.