I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Cornwall as I played many holiday rounds there in my youth. Visitors to England’s westernmost county know that from the end of the M5 there are two main roads to the Cornish border – the A30 and A38 which skirt north and south of Dartmoor respectively. We always plump for the A38 – the longest A road entirely within England at 292 miles – with Brunel’s 19th century Royal Albert railway bridge over the Tamar heralding our arrival in the county of pirates, pasties and piskies.
A few miles over the border lies the Nicklaus-designed St Mellion where the European Tour’s finest often battled the elements in the Benson and Hedges in the early 1990s. Elevated tees, mounds, water, trees and copious bunkers meant they had more than just the weather to contemplate, with Jack describing his first UK handiwork as “everything I had hoped for and more”. It has undergone much recent work under Crown Golf, which has invested heavily in its flagship resort. Everything should be ready in the next few months, apart from two new holes on the sister Kernow course (formerly the Old) which will be phased in next year. Perhaps now’s the time for me to finally get down and do battle with Jack’s design.
On those holidays of old, our final destination was always a little place much further west called Leedstown, midway between Hayle and Helston. My friend’s aunt lived there in a caravan along with an inordinate number of cats, and she was always happy to put us up and prepare hearty meals for carnivores, though a vegan herself. It was an ideal base from which to explore delightful courses like Mullion to the south, and West Cornwall at Lelant just a short drive north-west. These two became firm favourites.
Both provided archetypal holiday golf – and that’s not meant in a patronising way. With their wonderful coastal locations they made us glad to be alive on a sunny summer’s day. Both offered scope for triumph and disaster in appropriate measure, with the hole along the bottom at Mullion (now the 7th, but the 5th back then), and the long par-3 1st at West Cornwall lingering in the memory. The latter demanded a 5-wood for your first swing of the day with out-of-bounds awaiting a slice. Walking off with par gave us a real sense of achievement. On our first round we somehow played up the wrong side of the dunes on the 2nd towards the 3rd tee rather than the 2nd green. We then sprinted all the way back and played the hole properly on realising our error.
Mullion’s pro and his shop also trigger great memories. I can’t quite remember his name – my mind is saying Mike Singleton – but vividly recall his persistence in trying to sell us clubs from a packed shop with just a slender corridor leading to the till. Mullion had back-to-back par 3s close to the sea which we loved, mainly because we were rubbish with woods. Changes to the layout – possibly a health and safety issue with the beach – mean the second of these is no longer played. But I have been back to sample the new layout and enjoyed it very much.