We look at some incredible layouts in the county of Devon.
The Best Golf Courses In Devon
The only county to have two separate coastlines, Devon has a long and illustrious history with the game of golf largely due to the fact that some of the finest designers have left their mark there. Herbert Fowler created Saunton and East Devon, Harry Colt designed Thurlestone, John Abercromby made Bovey Castle and finally Augusta’s architect Alister McKenzie wielded his magic at Teignmouth.
Offering some incredible links and parkland golf, you would be hard pressed to find a county with better course options and as a result we have taken a look at some of the finest there.
Related: Golf Monthly’s UK&I Top 100 Courses
Saunton (East and West)
Golf has been played over this rugged links landscape just south of Croyde in Devon for nearly 120 years, with the highly regarded East course coming into existence in the 1920s via the design hand of Herbert Fowler, who also created the wonderful 36-hole layouts at Walton Heath and The Berkshire.
The course has long attracted major amateur events, and some have suggested it could even be a worthy Open Championship test but for logistics issues.
There are few tricks or gimmicks here, just a number of testing holes that demand accurate and occasionally long ball striking – in other words, a proper test of golf that has won the respect of many good players.
Even the shorter holes will test you. Tiddler, the aptly named par-3 5th, won’t roll over willingly should you err long of the green, while the seemingly innocuous par-4 10th not only presents challenges beyond its raised green, but also short of it in the form of two bunkers.
In 1935 the members at Saunton decided they required a second course, so Herbert Fowler was asked to submit a design.
The new course was built, but when the Second World War started in 1939 it was occupied by the military and used for training.
The West course was re-designed by Frank Pennink, but it didn’t re-open until 1973. In the late 1980s all of the greens were re-laid and 30 new bunkers added.
This is an undulating links with many of the holes set between the dunes. Cross-ditches, grassy mounds and hollows, clever bunkering and raised greens combine to produce an excellent challenge.
Royal North Devon
Founded in 1864, Royal North Devon (RND) is the oldest course in England. Set on a flat coastal plain at the edge of Westward Ho! it’s one of the country’s most natural layouts.
Covered in sea rushes and grazed upon by sheep and wild horses, it can take a couple of rounds to begin to understand the subtleties of this great links.
Although RND appears to be flat there are many undulations and run-offs to deceive and perplex. It’s often difficult to see where you’re trying to go from the tee and, on a number of occasions, the only option is to trust your swing and commit.
In general, there’s plenty of space off the tee, but things tighten up on the 10th and 11th holes where you really have to find a precise drive.
The greens are firm and true and they feature a number of difficult slopes and collection areas. It’s not surprising that members at RND tend to have good short games.
Bovey Castle has some pretty holes early on, on which the river dominates. The river is not wide and the water is fairly clear. You do not do not necessarily lose your ball if you dunk it in the water especially as there is a generous supply of ball retrievers on the banks.
The first hole is a par 4 which plunges down a valley, over this river. The doglegged 2nd the river runs along in front of the green making for a tricky approach shot.
Water is all over the par-3 3rd on which the green juts out into a lake, and the 6th is another attractive one-shotter with water in play – that river again.
The 7th, with the river meandering alongside the right flank of the fairway, was named by Henry Cotton in his favourite 18 holes in Britain.
The back nine at Bovey Castle lacks some of the drama and beauty of the front nine, but this is a good track.
The dramatic main course has been carved or, in the case of the 10th fairway blasted by dynamite, out of attractive hillsides.
The front nine at Dartmouth G&CC is the more varied, with three par 3s, three par 4s and three par 5s. The 3rd starts a memorable stretch and is played from a tee towering over a lake to a long thin green with foliage on the left and a steep run-off to the right which leads towards a stream.
The par-5 4th is played along a fairway little more than the width of a cricket pitch in parts, with out of bounds on the right and a stream running the length of the hole on the left and snaking round behind the green.
The 5th, another watery par 3, is the most lucrative hunting place for the divers who clear the many lakes of balls once a year.
The flatter nine-hole course has two par 5s and five par 3s and includes fun holes, including the 1st, a par 3 played up to a green cut as a ledge into steep hillside, the sweeping par-5 7th and the par-3 9th which is played from on high over a lake to the green – as is the closing hole on the Championship course.
This track is laid out above Budleigh Salterton, at the western end of the World Heritage Jurassic Coast and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Peter Alliss has described the view from the 16th tee as ‘the best in golf’.
This hole is called Otter View and the view from the tee is along the coastline, taking in Budleigh Salterton, the beach and Otter Head at the mouth of the River Otter.
But the 10th was probably my favourite hole at East Devon, a 148-yarder across a valley to a three-tiered green with bunkers front, left, and right.
East Devon is a heathland cliff-top course. Heather and gorse abound and can occasionally make for some tight drives.
You don’t get a more apt club to be included in our selection of best golf courses in South Devon than Thurlestone. It is the most southerly course in Devon, with a dramatic setting and enjoyable golf holes.
It runs along the coastline of Bigbury Bay with the some superb views across to Thurlestone Rock and Burgh Island.
This exhilarating course is a mix of links and cliff-top terrain, and the best holes tend to come early in the round. This is the stretch which hugs the plummeting coastline.
The front nine at Thurlestone is also much shorter, and par 33 to the back nine’s par 38. All three par 5s come in the final seven holes.
There is little in the way of vegetation to snare a ball or obstruct those views.
Bigbury Golf Club offers some incredible views especially if you are lucky enough to play it on a lovely sunny day which are rare things in England!
It starts with a tough, long par-4 that measures at 450-yards off the back tees however it is relatively open so you can have a good go with the driver with your first swing of the day.
The par-3 seventh is a lovely hole that can reward you with a possible birdie provided you don’t go left. The green is situated in a bowl so anything slightly right can be fed down onto the green and maybe close to the pin, whereas anything left will leave a tricky chip up to the green.
However if it is pouring with rain and golf is not appealing to you, when the tide is out why not walk over to the pub on a small island which you can see on the photo above. Be wary of the incoming tide though which will come in and force you to stay in there for a few more hours.
One of the best parkland courses in the region, Tiverton was designed by James Braid in 1932 and offers a relatively easy start with a 500-yard par-5 which offers a birdie chance. However you are brought back down to earth on the next with a par-4 that has out of bounds on the right and some dense trees on the left. Realistically, the fourth is your next real birdie opportunity with a short par-3 measuring at 118 yards.
As a whole, this is an immensely fun course to play with plenty of scoring chances but also penal enough to damage your score if you hit any errant shots.
Designed by the famous Dr Alister McKenzie, Teignmouth opened in 1924 and bears all the hallmarks of McKenzie; such as his multi-tiered, sloping greens.
Another distinguishable feature is the six par-3s that provide different challenges throughout your round. At opposite ends of the length spectrum the 16th and 18th are perfect examples of this variety.
On 16, the yardage may only be 125 yards off the back tee, but you have to be accurate here in both strike and direction. You hit over a valley into a green built into the side of a hill but if there is one spot to avoid it is definitely the bunker short of the green.
Whereas 18 offers a different sort of test measuring at 224 yards. A potential card-wrecker, just make sure you clear the heather immediately in front of the tee box, and do not go left either because that will result in a lost ball. Going right towards the two bunkers is not the end of the world considering you will then have a lot of green to work with when playing out. All in all, if you can write a three on the scorecard, head to the bar a happy golfer.
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