Held on the Friday of this years Open Championship, the golfing gods threw the same weather at the north Devon coastline that had caused the worlds top professionals so much trouble the previous morning at Birkdale; blustery and occasionally strong winds, and squally rain. Indeed, it was a peculiar dampness, described by one competitor as sticky rain, whereby the droplets sat on top of the greens rather than sinking in, thus slowing down the putting to a slightly more sedate pace.
However, this did not prevent Open-style winning scores, with none of the field able to match the very stiff par of 71. The Herbert Fowler-designed course runs through and is surrounded by some of the most beautiful and dramatic sand dunes, and is where a young Sergio Garcia won the British Boys Championship eleven years ago.
Group C for the higher handicappers is played as a Stableford competition, and this was won by Dean Sampson from the host club who plays off 22. Only playing for a couple of years, he confessed to having been very nervous, but his tally of 30 points was enough to hold off Alastair Ross from Wrangaton with 28 points, and Tony Rowe from Downes Crediton who was two points further back in third place.
In the middle handicap group, Ian Parfitt had made the long journey from Hamptworth Golf Club on the edge of the New Forest, and he was rewarded with something of a Tiger Woods-like landslide win. His nett 73 playing off 18 gave him a resounding nine-shot victory over John Garner from Dartmouth, whilst a further stroke back in third place was Peter Dunstan, also from the host club. Surprisingly, not only had Ian not played at Saunton before, but he had actually never even played a links course! His game-plan was to target a five on each hole, believing that any improvement on this would simply be a bonus. Keeping the ball in play, and concentrating on straight-hitting rather than length, proved an excellent strategy. Ian is now very much looking forward to visiting Turnberry for the UK Final in September, having seen it on television but never visited.
In the low handicap group, a sign of the difficult conditions was that the low handicapper in the field, playing off just 2, shot a 94! However, in third place with an 84, nett 80, was Paul Marels from Dartmouth who also won the Nearest-The-Pin competition with a tee shot to just outside four feet. In second place, and unfortunately for him just losing out on countback, was another Downes Crediton member, 7-handicapper Gary Greenwood. The winner, with a nett 76 playing off a handicap of 5, was Jonathan Behannah from St. Mellion in Cornwall. Having had two years as a junior golfer, Jonathan only returned to the game four years ago and is not used to links golf. He ascribed his success to a good back nine where he played the more penetrating and punchy shots which you need for these conditions. He describes Saunton as a true links and an ideal place to visit for anyone who wants to play such a course.
Other prizes were won by Lee Davey from Tiverton for the longest drive, estimated to be just over 300 yards, and by Graham Parkyn from Perranporth who claimed the Short Game prize and saved the organisers from having to measure his approach short by holing out!! Despite the conditions, all the golfers enjoyed a splendid day out over a wonderful links course followed by excellent hospitality in the extremely friendly clubhouse.