South West England - Top 20 Golf Courses 2017
This release for England’s South West is the fifth of seven regional updates that will feed into our high level rankings later this year. The South West region is where you’ll find England’s Atlantic Links, a dramatic stretch of linksland that runs from Somerset in the north to Cornwall in the far southwest. There may be no Open Championship venues in this region, but three highly respected links courses head the table. This trio is ably underpinned by a strong collection of Dorset courses and the granddaddy of all English golf courses at Westward Ho! falls firmly into the must-play category.
Two years ago, we surveyed every club in England and we issued individual news releases for each of the thirty-six English counties we’ve defined on the Top 100 website. This time we’re issuing just seven English regional news releases for: East Midlands, West Midlands, North East, North West, South West, East and South East. For the first time we’re producing a ranking list on a regional basis and these tables are underpinned by a complete re-evaluation of each English county.
England’s South West region incorporates the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire. It’s the largest of England’s nine “official” regions in terms of land area, extending to more than 9,000 square miles. More than five million people live in the South West and their golfing needs are served by more than 220 golf clubs in this region. Selecting the best 10% for our inaugural Top 20 was surprisingly challenging.
Our new South West regional Top 20 features five courses that are currently ranked in our GB&I Top 100, and fourteen that are listed in our current English Top 100. The South West is the second strongest golfing region in England (based on the number of nationally ranked courses) behind the South East.
Three golf courses, each laid out in the 19th century, head our South West table. The stirring Church course at St Enodoc (#1) is widely considered to be James Braid’s finest design. St Enodoc’s thrilling golfing ride is akin to the big dipper and here at Rock in Cornwall you will find some of the best and most dramatic holes in English links golf. Fergal O’Leary recently commented: “The Church course really is streets ahead of most other links courses in England and I can’t believe it took me so long to play here!”
Devon’s well-loved East course at Saunton (#2) is shielded from the Atlantic by the Braunton Burrows biosphere reserve, England’s largest sand dunes system. It’s perhaps the most demanding course in the South West region, with fourteen par fours (from the yellow tees), some of which stretch out beyond 400 yards. The East can’t compete with St Enodoc in terms of variation and sheer drama, but it’s undoubtedly an exacting and high quality golfing test.
The Championship course at Burnham & Berrow (#3) is Somerset’s undisputed jewel which doesn’t receive anywhere near the love it deserves. A veritable who’s who of Golden Age architects have left their mark on this out-and-back links, which Darwin poetically described as “ringed round with sandhills”. The holes around the turn are perhaps not as solid as the opening and closing holes, but there’s no denying whatsoever that Burnham & Berrow is peerless in the county of Somerset.
Originally laid out by Tom Dunn and then redesigned by Harry Colt when a glorious tract of heathland later became available, Broadstone (#4) is laid out on a grand scale. Ed Battye, founder of Golf Empire and a regular Top 100 Golf Courses reviewer, eloquently describes the 7th, which is one of a number of outstanding holes at Broadstone: “As you walk onto the tee at the seventh you are stopped dead in your tracks with the beauty and breadth of the hole. Before you even strike a ball you wonder in amazement at just how you are to reach the green some 422 yards away that glimmers in the distance on the other side of a huge ravine. It’s a true jaw-dropping moment.”
Remedy Oak (#5) opened in 2005 and it’s one of the finest new courses to open in England recently. I played here for the first time just ahead of Open Championship Regional Qualifying being staged at the club in June 2017. It’s a wonderful expansive site where there’s an ideal mix of short, mid and long par fours, a couple of reachable (in two for the low handicap golfer) par fives and one-shot holes that vary in length from more than 200 yards to less than 150 yards. This configuration offers engagement and variation throughout the round.
Still in Dorset, Parkstone (#6) is full of surprises. It’s one of England’s unheralded heathland courses which consistently receives very positive reviews, Ed Battye commented as follows: “The main reason I rate the course so highly is because of the exciting terrain and the plethora of wonderful green sites. The undulating, twisting nature of this mature coastal property is a dream and encourages all sorts of daring shots; descending drives and approaches to elevated greens are two things that feature time and time again.”
I’m an ardent admirer of England’s oldest golf course. Royal North Devon (#7) condition-wise is far from polished, but its golfing spirit is palpable. My playing partner recently described the links at Westward Ho! “Bohemian” and there’s no denying its unconventionality, which is not to everyone’s taste. “To go to Westward Ho! is not to make a mere visit of pleasure as to an ordinary course;” wrote Darwin in The Golf Courses of the British Isles. “It is, as is the case of a few other great links, a reverent pilgrimage. Was it not here that Mr Horace Hutchinson and J.H. Taylor, besides a host of other fine players, learned the game?”
The Old course at Ferndown (#8) is the antithesis of Westward Ho! Polished to perfection and set in an oasis of pine and heather. It’s an inherently pretty golf course that was laid out by Harold Hilton (one of the finest amateur golfers of all time) just before the First World War. The club is coming to the end of a five-year programme to return the course to its heathland roots. Many deciduous trees have been cleared leaving stately pines flanking immaculately groomed fairways and bunkers have been attractively fringed with heather. Ed Battye reckons: “Ferndown is one of those golf courses that simply looks the business, the bees knees, the mutts nuts… I could go on.”
Its older sibling often overshadows the West course at Saunton Golf Club (#9). The West may not have the tournament credentials of the East but it has more variety and it’s now much improved following a recent makeover under the watchful eye of Tom Mackenzie. It’s no longer a short course, measuring around 6,700 yards from the new back tees and the addition of extra bunkers combined with fairway alterations have improved the West’s visuals. Saunton Golf Club is undeniably the custodian of the best 36 links holes in England. But then again, I can’t think of another English club that can boast two 18-hole links courses.
Mackenzie and Ebert are also engaged at Trevose Golf Club where the Championship course (#10) continues to improve year on year. The much-photographed par five 4th hole is renowned for its glorious greensite location, set hard against Boobys Bay, but many felt the hole failed to live up to its spectacular backdrop, so the hole was recently overhauled with new tees, bunkers and a massive new undulating green. Changes to the 2nd, 9th and 13th holes have also been completed as part of the club’s five-year master plan.
Just outside the South West Top 10, two Cornish courses are like chalk and cheese. St Mellion’s Nicklaus course (#11) is set between Dartmoor and Bodmin and it’s a bold, memorable and challenging tournament layout at a popular stay and play hotel venue. On the other hand, Perranporth (#12) is an exciting and rather lunar James Braid lie-of-the-land links course that tumbles up and down the dunes high above Perran Bay. Perranporth’s coastal lodges and caravans cater for golfers who prefer more modest accommodation. Ed Battye reckons Perranporth is; “crazy, radical, wild, raw, eccentric, indulgent, fun, frenzied, frantic, quirky and exhilarating. Above all else… it’s a truly amazing golfing experience.”
The Purbeck course at Isle of Purbeck Golf Club (#13) is positioned on a high heathland plateau from where the 360-degree panorama across the Solent and Poole Bay is magical. It’s a hard course to classify but it’s more in the heathland mould than links and it’s certainly not parkland. Synonymous with Enid Blyton and touched by Harry Colt, the view from the elevated 5th tee is spellbinding and alone is worthy of the green fee.
A trio of unheralded Golden Age delights from Devon occupy the next three positions in our new South West rankings. East Devon (#14) is laid out on high ground, 400 feet above the sea, close to the clifftops, where the sweeping panorama of Lyme Bay is in view. Both Herbert Fowler and Harry Colt left their marks on this unsung heathland course which is still largely unknown outside the region because it suffers from being set off the beaten golfing track at Budleigh Salterton.
Bovey Castle (#15) is set in the Dartmoor National Park and was originally designed by John F. ‘Aber’ Abercromby. The strong outward nine features the meandering trout-filled River Bovey, while the back nine takes on a more open moorland aspect. A firm favourite of Bernard Darwin in the days when it was called the Manor House: "We stand on a high place, and there, far below us, something over two hundred yards away, is that blessed Bovey guarding the first green. How the Bovey contrives to be so ubiquitous I cannot pretend to say; I merely state bald facts.”
Yelverton (#16) has flown under the radar for too long and according to Peter Alliss: “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.”
Ross-on-Wye (#17) is the most northerly course to be listed in our South West Top 20. “There is immense variety at Ross,” wrote Frank Pennink, “and although it has more short par fours than most courses of its quality, they have exceptional features. The 2nd, 10th, 14th and 17th are really severe two-shotters, Peter Townsend once describing the 10th drive as more suited to a firing range. To make up for four short par fours, there are only three par threes, varying in length from 128, 143 and 212 yards. The 6th and 8th are genuine three-shotters. Altogether this is probably the finest new inland course constructed in these islands since the 1939–45 war and is a must for the connoisseur.”
The prolific course designer Tom Dunn did a fine job squeezing 18 holes into a tight tract of land between the town and the coastline at Bude & North Cornwall (#18). The first five holes at Bude are nothing to write home about. The fun starts at the 6th. Those that admire greens hidden in punchbowls, greens raised onto plateaux, blind drives, blind approaches, stirring topography and hard and fast surfaces need look no further than this quirky and fun pure links course.
There is a lovely feeling of peace and spaciousness in Wiltshire at Bowood Golf Resort (#19). The course opened play in 1992, to much acclaim. Despite its agrarian beginning, it’s a solid course where the late Dave Thomas made good use of the estate’s mature woodland. There’s a fair amount of water at Bowood too, but rarely does it come into play.
And finally, back in Devon, the Championship course at the Dartmouth Hotel & Spa (#20) concludes our inaugural South West Top 20. Jeremy Pern designed Dartmouth, opening for play in 1992 and set in 225 acres of rolling, sometimes hilly countryside. The English architect used the undulating terrain creatively, designing some genuinely memorable and thrilling holes.
South West England - Top 20 Golf Courses 2017
|1||St Enodoc (Church)|
|3||Burnham & Berrow (Championship)|
|7||Royal North Devon|
|11||St Mellion (Nicklaus)|
|13||Isle of Purbeck (Purbeck)|
|18||Bude & North Cornwall|
Click the following links to see in detail our latest Best In County rankings for the three North West counties:
|1||St Enodoc (Church)||No change|
|2||Trevose (Championship)||No change|
|3||St Mellion (Nicklaus)||No change|
|5||Bude & North Cornwall||Up 3|
|6||West Cornwall||Down 1|
|9||Bowood Park||No change|
|10||The Point||New entry|
|1||Saunton (East)||No change|
|2||Royal North Devon||No change|
|3||Saunton (West)||No change|
|4||East Devon||No change|
|5||Bovey Castle||No change|
|7||Dartmouth (Championship)||Down 1|
|11||Woodbury Park (Oaks)||No change|
|14||Dainton Park||Up 1|
|18||Staddon Heights||Up 1|
|2||Remedy Oak||No change|
|4||Ferndown (Old)||No change|
|5||Isle of Purbeck (Purbeck)||No change|
|8||Dorset (Lakeland & Parkland)||Up 1|
|9||Yeovil (Old)||Down 1|
|10||Knighton Heath||No change|
|2||Kendleshire (Hollows & Ruffet)||No change|
|3||Players Club (Codrington)||Up 1|
|4||Minchinhampton (Cherington)||Down 1|
|5||Long Ashton||No change|
|6||Bristol & Clifton||No change|
|7||Cleeve Hill||Up 2|
|9||Cotswold Hills||Down 1|
|10||Chipping Sodbury||No change|
|1||Burnham & Berrow (Championship)||No change|
|4||Enmore Park||No change|
|9||Oake Manor||Down 2|
|10||Minehead & West Somerset||No change|
|1||Bowood G&CC||No change|
|2||Manor House||No change|
|4||Cumberwell Park (Red & Yellow)||No change|
|5||Tidworth Garrison||Up 2|
|6||Salisbury & South Wilts (Cathedral)||Down 1|
|7||High Post||Down 1|
|8||North Wilts||Up 1|
|9||Wrag Barn||Down 1|
Top 100 Golf Courses