Burnham-&-BerrowIf like me you’re a member of a golf club, miles from the coast, happy with your lot, but every now and again feel the urge to test your skills on a different type of golf course, then there are a few options worth considering this summer.

You could stump up a wedge of your hard earned cash and fly off to exotic pastures new to sample the best golf has to offer. There are the seaside courses in the States such as Pebble Beach, Whistling Straits and Bandon Dunes; the desert courses of Dubai and Abu Dhabi and the impossibly exotic courses of the tropics such as Le Touessrok in Mauritius or Sandy Lane in Barbados. As an ardent golfer myself I couldn’t criticise anyone opting for a an extended break to any of these fantastic locations but in my opinion there is a lot to be said for a weekend of exploring the seaside delights of the UK & Ireland. After all, why jet to the other side of the world when you have the world’s best, classical links courses right on your doorstep?

With this in mind I recently organised a little jolly down to Devon where myself and three of my golfing buddies paid a visit to the oldest golf course in England, “the best course never to have hosted the Open” and one of the finest, and yet somehow little known, courses in the UK.

The Oldest Course in England…

After checking into a quaint little cottage in the charming seaside town of Westward Ho! we made our way to Royal North Devon which by all accounts is the oldest golf course in England having been inaugurated in 1864. Upon arrival you will struggle to pin point where the course goes after the 1st, such is the unusually flat yet immensely enjoyable links test that awaits. After a friendly welcome in the pro shop we were off, playing into a stiff 30mph wind which, to be completely honest, we relished! After all, what is links golf without a bit of wind!?



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Royal North Devon may not feature the enormous dunes found on the UK’s other top class links courses but the endless undulations, pot bunkers and ocean reeds will put pay to a good score in a hurry if you don’t think your way around the course.



After a fairly slow start the course really hots up from about the 4th. From here there is a stretch of holes that could rival anything the more famous Royal courses in the UK have to offer, most notably the par 3 5th followed by the testing pa4 6th. Both of these holes are link s golf at its best with mind boggling undulations, changes in elevation and pot bunkers galore, all within a stone’s throw of the lapping waves that roll in from the Atlantic Ocean.

The rest of the course is a far cry from what you will find at Royal Birkdale, Royal St Georges and Turnberry. A largely flat landscape only broken up by the odd bunker and endless seas of punishing sea reeds may not be as dramatic as courses that feature towering dunes flanking the fairways but with the wind blowing it poses just as stern as test. A great example of which came at the par 5 13th named “Lundy” which measured just 422 yards from the yellow tees. Without the wind this hole could have been reduced to a drive followed by a flick with a wedge but after two solid hits with the driver and a well struck 6 iron I had just snuck onto the front of the green!



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The 4th green with the uphill par 3 5th in the background.



Royal North Devon certainly offers a challenge unlike anything else I have ever experienced – completed by sharing the course with grazing sheep and the odd horse or two – but for golfing purists it is simply a must play and with its modest green fee it represents great value for money as well.

The Best Course never to have hosted The Open…

Well all know the R&A are very particular about which of Britain’s great links courses host the age old Open Championship. Countless courses don’t quite make the grade in terms of quality but there are a few select layouts that haven’t made the cut purely for logistical reasons. The mighty East Course at Saunton is surely among this group.

Upon pulling into the car park at Saunton, you are presented with a view out over the two courses that share a remarkable piece of land dominated by towering dunes as far as the eye can see. The clubhouse is a quaint and homely building that sits proudly overlooking the classy practice facilities and while we enjoyed a warm up pint we started to get unusually excited about the test that lay before us.   

The first tee shot is a dramatic affair and a sign of things to come. Climbing up to the elevated tee you get a great view of a good portion of the course and thankfully, the 1st fairway simply invites you to have a good lash with the driver. The rest of the course calls for precision and course management, and when the wind blows you simply must be able to hit the low ball.



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The East Course at Saunton winds its way through the massive dunes that dominate this remarkable stretch of coastline.



We played in high winds with gusts upwards of 55 mph, according to the trusty iPhone owner in the group! Hitting the fairways is paramount as the massive dunes will simply gobble up balls that will either be impossible to advance to the green with your next shot or gone forever.

This is certainly a testing track that can really punish stray shots however played from tees that reflect your ability (don’t be tempted to bite off more than you can chew) there are scoring opportunities to be taken advantage of.

The quality of the course is evident from start to finish and while it is tough to read the greens due to subtle breaks, if you pick the right line your ball will never waver.

By all accounts the West Course is every bit as good as the East, a little kinder I have heard, and if that is the case, I for one can’t wait to return to have a crack at it! Saunton is a must play for any serious golfer.

The hidden gem…

Having left Devon in our dust we had one more stop scheduled on the way back to London and considering the quality of the East Course at Saunton, we were concerned we had already experienced the best our tour of the South West had to offer.

Informed golfers out there will most likely have heard of Burnham and Berrow but I would bet there are plenty of golfers who haven’t as well. As I said we weren’t too sure of what to expect after playing two corkers in Devon but the first 5 or 6 holes at Burnham simply blew us away, with more than one out of the fourball already labelling it as superior to Saunton!



Burnham & Berrow GC

The rugged Championship Course at Burnham and Berrow may not be as well known as Suanton but it is every bit as good.



The course offers very much the same test as Saunton with imposing dunes dictating how you play the course, however the feel of the place is unique. Send your ball into the dunes here and you will almost certainly never see it again so needless to say, accuracy from the tee is the order of the day!

This stunning seaside links course is laid out in the traditional manner – nine holes out and nine back. Excellent drainage due to the sandy subsoil ensures that the course is rarely if ever closed and the greens are renowned as true and quick…in fact, I would go so far as to say they were the finest putting surfaces I have experienced to date.



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Notable landmarks are dotted around Burnham & Berrow, making it even more memorable.



The first nine skirt the sand dunes and coastline northwards, turning inland and southwards and then following the coast road through Berrow, past the famous Church and back into Burnham. There are one or two weak holes towards the middle of the course but as with Saunton, the course starts and finishes with a bang.

After a bite to eat in the clubhouse the four golfers from the big smoke started to experience that sinking feeling one gets when they realise it’s back to the grind, leaving behind the delights of world class links golf for another few months. I for one am already considering a return trip and can whole-heartedly recommend a tour of the South West coast of England.