Atlantic Coast Links Golf Trip
By Richard Smith, Knoxville, Tennessee
I have been traveling to the United Kingdom and Ireland for the past thirty years to play many of the tremendous links courses as well as a number of the excellent inland courses. The Atlantic links courses along England’s Southwest coast from Somerset to Devon and Cornwall had intrigued me for many years. I was looking for an opportunity to play here, especially after my wife Ruth and I became enamored with Cornwall through the wonderful BBC TV show “Doc Martin”. As luck would have it, I was able to convince her to join me for a golfing adventure along the Atlantic Coast.
I began researching the courses in the area and planning the trip. Editor-in-Chief Keith Baxter helped hugely by providing recommendations concerning courses, accommodation and dining. Eventually we decided on an itinerary and planned the trip for late May 2015.
We flew into Heathrow from the USA landing in London early on Saturday morning. After passing through customs and collecting our rental car we drove directly to our first stop for the trip, the excellent links at Burnham & Berrow. Burnham sits on the Bristol Channel and is an excellent starting point for either a trip to Devon and Cornwall or to South Wales. The course is about a 2 and ½-hour drive from Heathrow (almost all the way on the M4 and M5), although traffic was bad that day and it took us quite a bit longer to get to Burnham & Berrow. Thankfully we easily made the tee time after an enjoyable lunch in the clubhouse.
This was a tough start and a tough course right after flying all night and the lengthy car journey. The first tee shot must be threaded between dunes on both sides of the fairway and bunkers on the left and a sharp drop off to the right guard the green. The wind was against and off the right off the first tee and was generally against the entire front nine. However this is an excellent links that only got better as the round went on. Burnham & Berrow has an excellent balance of strong par fours, well-designed par threes, and two very different and interesting par fives. There is some flat land out around 7 and 8 but I still found these holes interesting and challenging. The front nine plays between the dunes but there is more elevation change on the back nine. Although the layout is basically a classic out and back design, each hole has a subtle change of direction so the wind never seems to come at you from quite the same direction. Burnham provides a great challenge and is a classic links course. The feel of the layout reminds me of another links course I hold in very high regard, Royal Cinque Ports in Deal. This was a tough outing considering the circumstances and I would love to play here again in a more rested state. You could take Burnham in at the end of a trip to Devon and Cornwall and it might not be a bad idea to get a few rounds in before taking on this difficult but fair track.
After our round at Burnham we had an hour and a half drive down to Devon. I chose the small village of Instow as our base for Devon since it was just about halfway between the courses I planned to play at Saunton and Westward Ho! We stayed at The Springfield House a lovely B&B. The house was built in 1879 as a gentleman’s residence and has been updated with all modern conveniences. The main house has two B&B rooms as well as an upstairs apartment with a kitchen, living room area and two bedrooms. There is also a cottage in the back of the property as well. The house can accommodate a reasonable number of people if you’re planning a golf outing in Devon and it would be hard to find two more warm and charming hosts than Edward and Lucinda. There are quite a few animals in residence, including the hens which lay the fresh eggs provided for breakfast every morning.
On Sunday my wife had her introduction to links golf at the famous links of the Royal North Devon Golf Club at Westward Ho! Royal North Devon has a strong history of supporting women’s golf and provides two sets of ladies tees which allowed my wife to enjoy the nuances of links golf while avoiding any forced carries or overly intimidating shots. I was anxious that morning since heavy rains hit the area, although the bad weather was predicted to clear by our 1:30 tee time. The heavy rain did stop but a thick mist soaked us which was worse than when the rain came in for two or three holes. The weather eventually cleared and allowed to enjoy the course. Royal North Devon sits on the common land of the Northam Burrows which means that your round is shared in the companionship of sheep and horses as well as numerous walkers. In fact the first thing you notice upon walking up to the first tee are the sheep grazing to the right of the tee behind the 18th green.
Westward Ho! itself is a wonderful fun challenge. The opening holes are somewhat flat, but by the time you reach the 4th you realize you are in for a special experience. The blind drive over the Cape bunker is reminiscent of the drive on #3 at Prestwick and sets the tone for the fun and high quality golf which follows. Holes 6 and 7 are excellent par fours that play up into some nice dunes. At 9 you are introduced into the rushes that dominate the remaining holes. At times it seems as if you are hitting into a sea of rushes but the holes are well marked and you are well advised to keep to the line of the marker.
Royal North Devon provides a great experience of classic old style links golf. The fairways are all rumpled and uneven yet the course is incredibly fair and fun to play. My wife never felt intimidated and enjoyed her round tremendously.
On Monday I joined Editor-in-Chief Keith Baxter for 36 holes at Saunton. There is certainly no better 36 holes of links golf in the UK and Ireland. The East course is a championship layout, and the West course is an underrated and excellent course in its own right. Keith was rusty after a fairly long layoff, but he managed his game well and our matches at both courses went down to the final hole.
We played the West course in the morning and I really enjoyed the subtle doglegs and interesting greens. The course plays up towards some excellent dunes. The patient and accurate golfer is well rewarded here. The West is an excellent course that would be well regarded if it sat alone.
After lunch on the patio Keith and I took on the demanding East course. Edward from Springfield House had generously given Ruth a lift up to the course and she walked with us though the afternoon round. The East course is a championship layout. One excellent par four after another is the theme. The holes are classic examples of strategic golf and they are balanced by three excellent par threes at 5, 13 and 17. The short 5th (122 yards from the blue tee) matches the famous postage stamp 8th at Troon as a great short hole. Steep slopes front and back guard the hole and absolute control of your distance is mandatory. Playing both courses at Saunton is a memorable experience.
Tuesday was our travel day to Cornwall. We took in Tintagel Castle and visited Port Isaac. They were filming a scene for the next season of “Doc Martin” and we blundered upon the shoot. The coast of Cornwall is stunning and it’s easy to see why this area is favored as a UK holiday destination. We wound up that afternoon at our base in Cornwall, Treverbyn House B&B in Padstow. Padstow is quite a place. It hosts several world-class restaurants yet the village still has a charm all of its own. Treverbyn House is a first class B&B managed by Gary. It has three rooms and sits with a beautiful view across the river Camel over to the village of Rock and St. Enodoc Golf Club. Gary was a wonderful host and the rooms were beautiful, large and comfortable.
Playing golf in Cornwall means that you are entering into James Braid heaven. He designed the links at St. Enodoc and Perranporth – both are first class examples of great design, great golf and great fun. I took on St. Enodoc on Wednesday morning. Even in a benign light wind this course was a tremendous challenge. It may be one of the most difficult driving courses I’ve ever played. The course runs up and down some severe hills even more dramatic than those at Gullane. The drive at the 10th must be played to be believed, yet there are many other demanding yet fair holes. The views from the course back across the Camel to Padstow are beautiful. The course ends with a wonderful par five, demanding par three and excellent par four 18th that runs down and then back up a steep hill.
Ruth played Perranporth with me on Thursday and I’m not sure if I’ve had that much fun on a golf course in a long time. Perranporth runs up and down steep hills as well as around and through dramatic dunes. Blind shots abound but each hole has a unique and distinctive personality. The hills and dunes were probably a bit much for my wife but she enjoyed the day. There are dramatic views of the ocean and coast as well as the town of Perranporth that make the course a special experience.
I was edging to try out West Cornwall on Friday, but the weather was bad and my wife was worn out from Perranporth, so we took an easy day off and went sight seeing.
Saturday was our last full day and I played Trevose in the morning. Trevose is a nice links. The course is fairly open but still demands good golf to play well. This course allows you to use your imagination including the opportunity to play bump and run shots. I think my wife would have enjoyed playing Trevose since there are few forced carries over hazards and the greens allow for shots to run up to the hole.
After Trevose we drove up to Heathrow (about 250 miles) returned our rental car and spent the night at one of the airport hotels. Our flight left the next morning and we returned tired yet exhilarated following our trip.
Most Americans are aware of the Open venues and some of the better-known courses such as Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. The Atlantic Coast courses are “off the radar” for most Americans, and this is truly a shame. Each course is unique and offers a distinct challenge. Within the space of a week you can sample all of the nuances that make links golf such a special experience. This is a beautiful corner of the world with excellent golf courses to boot. A lover of golf, and links golf in particular would be well rewarded to consider this area in their future golf plans.
To read my reviews for each course and view a few more pictures, click on any of the links below:
16 June 2015 Respond to this article