Dave Garlant discovers two wonderful golf clubs deep in the south west of England, St Enodoc and Royal North Devon
Some golf clubs boast royal prefixes. Some name their courses in honor of our rich monarchical heritage. Others charge a king’s ransom for a round. No matter the spurious link in some cases, the undeniable truth is that royalty has been irrevocably linked with the game of golf since Mary Queen of Scots reportedly made her way round the fair links of bonny St Andrews circa 1567.
Of course, much water and many Titleist’s have flowed under the famed Swilcan Bridge on the Old Course since those heady days, ushering in a steady change not least in equipment, fashion and attitudes which has helped the game evolve, but the ages old royal link remains.
Yet in some cases it is far more subtle than a reigning monarch heading out for a quick nine holes, and nowhere more so than at charming St Enodoc in Cornwall.
Its two fine courses set high atop a cliff overlooking the Camel Estuary are based in the quaint coastal village of Rock, an up market setting which has become a magnet for millionaires and fun-seeking young members of our esteemed royal family.
Most golfers embarking upon a round on the magnificent, if unassuming Church Course, or its gentler sister course the Holywell, would largely be oblivious to the fact that Prince Harry could shopping in the village’s popular boutique shops a mere well-struck five wood away. Like I say, a subtle link.
St. Enodoc, which lies across the water from the popular fishing town of Padstow which celebrity chef Rick Steyn calls home, is one of five impressive golf clubs in the Atlantic Links stable. It is joined by near neighbor Trevose, stunning Saunton and historic Westward Ho! further north in Devon, and majestic Burnham & Berrow over the border in Somerset.
But despite sharing a postcode with the haunts of the rich and famous, St. Enodoc boasts an altogether more classic and cerebral royal link as it once named among its membership a certain Sir John Betjeman, the poet laureate.
Betjeman famously penned the poem Seaside Golf, which is believed to have dedicated to a birdie on the 13th hole at his beloved St. Enodoc. But his love of the wonderful Cornish course clearly ran much deeper and he is now buried in the churchyard of the quaint little church, which lies alongside the demanding 10th hole on the Church Course.
And it’s not difficult to see why the poet laureate held St. Enodoc in such high regard. From start to finish the Church Course is an absolute pleasure to play, a good challenge for sure but aesthetically pleasing on the eye in all directions, nestling as it does by the sea in large parts yet taking on something of an air of an inland course in others.
Set amid towering sand dunes beset by clumps of wild sea grasses and oozing natural charm, the Church Course with its undulating fairways and quick greens only measures 6,557 off the back tees, yet golfers will be ready for a rest and a pint of something cold from the St Austell Brewery in the newly-refurbished and sleek clubhouse by the time they’ve done.
That said, the experience will have flown by in a jiffy as the scenic splendor of the Camel Estuary, the mighty and unruly dunes, the rolling hillside and the sun glistening off the distant harbor and rooftops of Padstow take their toll on the senses and render that horrible triple bogey at the eighth a mere blip on an otherwise spectacular horizon.
Golfers, of course, will always have their favorite holes and their pet hates being fickle in their nature as they are with their viewpoint invariably driven by the state of their scorecard, but there is certainly no shortage of fine holes on the Church course.
And that is exactly what you would expect from a golf course ranked inside the top 100 in the world this year by the revered Golf Digest magazine. Praise indeed, and well-earned praise at that.
Much is naturally made of the prized 10th hole with its Sir John Betjeman connection, and it proudly sits as the toughest hole on the course being long and tight, but surely the cracking sixth hole would give it a run for its money in many people’s eyes. Only measuring 364 yards off the yellow tees, it nevertheless features one of the biggest bunkers in Europe – the aptly named Himalayas bunker, which may well have to be negotiated en route to a hidden green.
The opening hole is a tight, testy par five which certainly looks daunting as you prepare to hit the narrow target off the tee while the 18th is a lovely finishing hole and is a typical links affair with its undulating fairway, troublesome long grasses left and right and tight lies, with the added headache of shot selection with the whitewashed clubhouse lying just beyond.
And special mention must go to the five clever and well thought out short holes which range in length from 150 to 200 yards off the yellow tees and dispel the myth that all par threes in this day and age need to be 230-yard monsters where only a driver or a three wood off the tee will do.
In short, on and off the course St. Enodoc is a right royal pleasure! Sixty miles north up the A39 – or the Atlantic Highway, which for all intents and purposes runs from Truro in Cornwall up to Barnstaple in north Devon – is historic Royal North Devon Golf Club.
Nestling in the tiny village of Westward Ho!, just the other side of the coastal town of Bideford, Royal North Devon is poles apart from St Enodoc and makes the contrast of playing the pair all the more appealing.
Royal North Devon is laid bare and as natural as they come. And there’s a good reason for that, as it’s the oldest golf course in England having been laid out in 1864 by the legendary Old Tom Morris, with just a handful of minor adjustments here or there ever since it would seem.
Often compared with the likes of Pennard in Wales and Brora in Scotland, Royal North Devon’s history is it’s major attraction, both on and off the golf course. Not only is the course relatively flat and left pretty much as nature intended, with wide open spaces that allow even the most errant of drivers to find their balls off the tee on most holes and stunning vistas across the Bristol Channel out toward the Atlantic Ocean, the clubhouse is an historic sanctuary too.
A traditional affair with few frills but offering a warm welcome and a friendly atmosphere, the clubhouse is a rare beast indeed as it features its own museum, complete with old clubs, photographs and the chance to take a nostalgic peek into a bygone era which to this day makes golf the special game that it is.
And the nostalgia trip doesn’t end there, for as you make your way across the cattle grid to the first tee and stare out across the seemingly barren landscape, you realise you are slap bang in the middle of a little piece of England’s living history, alongside sheep and horses which frequent the links land.
If you’re after the life of country club-style luxury with plush fairways and target greens with plenty of lush fringe, then this really isn’t the place for you. If you’re after a real golfing challenge complete with uncertain lies, changeable wind direction, little bumps and hollows and perilous hidden pot bunkers, then it most certainly is. It’s proper golf and it’s an absolute treat. Frankly, it’s a right royal treat!
St Enodoc Golf Club, Rock, Wadebridge, Cornwall. Tel: 01208 863216. E-mail: email@example.com Website: st-enodoc.co.uk Green fees: Church Course – Winter: £45 (Sun-Fri). Summer: £75 (Sun-Fri) & £80 (Saturday). Holywell Course – Winter & Summer: £25.
Royal North Devon Golf Club, Golf Links Road, Westward Ho!, Bideford, Devon EX39 1HD. Tel: 01237 473817. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: royalnorthdevongolfclub.co.uk Green fees: Winter: £35 (Sun-Fri) & £55 (Saturday). Summer: £55 (Sun-Fri) & £60 (Saturday).