Crashing Atlantic breakers, cliffs that rise vertically out of the ocean, superb golf courses and and a genuinely warm welcome that?s extended to all visitors. You could be on a golfing trip to the celebrated West coast of Ireland, and probably paying a shed load of money for the privilege. But read on and discover that all this and more is available much closer to home, and for much less money, in North Devon.
Begin at the beginning as the saying goes so where better to kick off our tour than at the oldest course in England and Wales, Royal North Devon. Founded in 1864, RND (as it?s known down there) is obviously steeped in history, but unlike many of the UK?s other illustrious courses there is no stuffiness or pretension here. It?s a course where visitors are made very welcome and where they appreciate they fact that you?ve made the effort to come and play.
Sat back in the old iron clubhouse (make sure you have a look at the fascinating mini museum they have here) enjoying a post round beer you know you?ve played a quite unique course that you?ll play over and over in your mind, and all for a very modest price of £36 (£46 at the weekend) for a whole day?s golf. A true bargain.
Indeed, the price factor is one of the great things about golf in North Devon. Nowhere is overpriced and in Portmore Golf Park just outside Barnstaple the area must have one of the best value courses in the country. The course was originally opened in 1997 as a 9 hole par-3 layout but has since been expanded and lengthened and now features some nerve-wracking water hazards including the one at the spectacular 8th hole which features a 180 yard carry to a peninsula green.
Despite all that work it?s still pay and play here but don?t let that put you off including it in any potential itinerary because it?s always in immaculate condition. The greens, all built to full USGA specification, are particularly excellent. A nice parkland style alternative to the mainly links courses of the area.
Heading through Barnstaple and turning left at Braunton you come to Devon?s most highly regarded club, Saunton, which is home to two courses, the East and the West. The East is the older of the two and is very much the premier layout. Indeed, if you listen to the gossip on the grapevine it?s so good that the powers that be are considering it as a potential future venue for the Open Championship. And, walking off the 18th green it easy to see why it?s rated so highly. First and foremost it is a hard course. A succession of long par fours and a trio of scary par threes combine to test every facet o your game and give the course its unforgiving edge. Indeed, which when the wind blows hard it can seem a bit of a brutal slog to all but fairly decent golfers.
The West course is shorter and less severe but many visitors actually find it more interesting. There is certainly more variety on this 18 and collectively the holes are more memorable than those on the East. Our advice is if possible to make a day of it and play the West in the morning and be in the swing of things for the East in the afternoon. Those two rounds and a very tasty two course lunch will set you back a very reasonable £75. Quality and value. You can?t ask for more than that.
Heading due North up the coast from Saunton and past Woolacombe you?ll eventually come to Ilfracombe where the course perches on an exposed hill high above the town and beaches. Somewhat unsurprisingly the wind that whips across this exposed Ilfracombe layout is a major factor, as are the incredibly small greens. There?s none of your huge multi level American-style putting surfaces with room for 20 odd pin positions – you?ll do well to get a fourball on a couple of them!
The best holes here are undoubtedly the 4th, a treacherous 80-yard par-3 played over over a quarry and the 13th, a testing 395 yard dog-leg.
A game at Ilfracombe is a thoroughly enjoyable day out made all the better by the stunning views that assault you on you way round. Few courses in the UK can boast the sort of vistas on offer at Ilfracombe and on a clear day you can see all the across the English channel to the Gower Peninsula in Wales.
Although not technically in North Devon, Bude and North Cornwall golf club is close enough at a mere 25 miles from RND to merit inclusion as a potential venue for any jaunt down to this neck of the woods.
The course itself is sandwiched between the sea and the bustling town of Bude, and it?s holiday golf at its best. On paper a 6057 yard, par 71 layout that only features two par fours of 400 yards plus might seem there for the taking, but at Bude the reality is something altogether different. Blind drives (and even the odd blind green), tight links fairways and slick greens full of sneaky borrows all combine to make it a good, fun test of your game.
From country pubs to town centre night clubs this bit of Devon has it all. At the weekends Barnstaple is very lively but be warned things can get a bit rowdy at chucking out time.
A better choice is to head into Bideford where the atmosphere is less edgy and there are loads of good pubs – a few of which stay open late – and a good selection of late night food stops. The Sagar Tandoori Restaurant on Chingswell Street is particularly good, and let?s face it there are few better ways to round off a day?s golf with curry and a pint or three of ice cold Kingfisher!
For something a bit more sophisticated (and pricey) try the Boathouse in Instow. Its about a fiver each way in a cab from Bideford but well worth the effort. This waterside venue has a great bar on one side and stylish eaterie on the other. If you like seafood this place is just the ticket. It does get very busy, especially on summer weekends, so booking is essential.
Royal North Devon Golf Club
Location:Golf links Road, Westward Ho! Bideford, North Devon EX39 1HD
Tel: 01237 477598
Green Fees: £34 – £40 per round £40 – £46 per day
Saunton Golf Club
Location:Nr Braunton North Devon EX33 1LG
Green Fees: £55 per round £75 per day
Portmore Golf Park
Location:Landkey Road , Barnstaple, North Devon
Tel: 01271 378 378
Green Fees: £12 – £19 per round
Bude and North Cornwall Golf Club
Location:Burn View, Bude, Cornwall, EX39 8DA
Green Fees: £27-£32 per round/day
Ilfracombe golf club
Location: Hele Bay, Ilfracombe, North Devon, EX34 9RT
Tel: 01271 862176
Green Fees: £22 – £27 per round £27 – £32 per day