Saunton Golf Club

There are some cracking holes, some quite short that you can open the shoulders but some that you have to plot your way around to give you a good second shot into the green, all in all a great test for any golfer and definitely worth a visit when down in Devon.

This was a pleasant surprise for me not having played in Devon before, even though it was raining again and we had to dry off the days play in our rooms the night before, making it feel like I had been in a Turkish bath all night.No, it was the fact that I did not know that the course I was about to play would fall into my top 3 all-time favourites. There was no disappointments at all from walking into the very modern club house and well stocked Pro shop, to eyeing up the first tee shot on the 1st hole on the West Course, everything was as I hoped it would be from what Lefty had told me.

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As I looked out over the raised tee on the first the view was unbelievable, the sand dunes in Devon that the East & West courses of Saunton Sands merge between are amazing.The first two holes are the best that I have played and that includes the Old Course at St Andrews, Allwoodley in Leeds and St Georges Hill. I won’t explain how my tee shot went, all I can say is, you must play with decent accuracy because if you are off the first cut of rough you need to reload. This didn’t put me off as the 2nd hole brought even more delight. In fact even though I had got some very soggy socks and my golf wasn’t up to much the first 9 holes, nothing could spoil the excitement of getting on to the next tee to see what this golf course could throw at us. I managed to pull my golf together for the second nine which is a good job as Lefty had held it together for us on the front 9 so there wasn’t much in it on the scores. Just one mention about the 9th hole, this was a 141 yard par 3 and was absolutely spectacular. The green was surrounded by bushes and there was water at the front of the green, I’ve never seen such a par 3 on a links course. I hit a wedge and went through the back due to the wind, which you don’t feel because of the shelter the bushes give you, so take care when playing this hole.

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We followed the course layout between the sand dunes and was amazed how it opens up and then closes in on you, plus how deceptive the designers have been as everything seems very far away but actually you have to trust the yardage otherwise the hazards soon swallow you up and the bunkers are definitely hazards.

Another special mention about the 15th and 16th holes, the 15th was a short blind par 4 with again great use of the dunes, when you get around the corner you think it should have been a driver over the hill side as it is reachable for the bigger hitters but with plenty of risk. I think I may have been the only one to make a par here so it made the match very interesting. We then took a walk up another dune playing down to a very nice par 3 which again is unusual for a links course. This again is one of the reasons why I very much enjoyed this course. The final 2 holes are a good challenge; with a good drive needed and a second shot.

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I cannot praise this course highly enough and I have heard people say that the East Course is the better of the two so I definitely need to take another trip to Devon to find out for myself.

ROYAL NORTH DEVON

After a 4am start, is there a better way to wake up than by being hit by a stiff Atlantic wind and driving rain!

The Royal North Devon Golf Club(or RND as it’s known) holds the title of England’s oldest golf club, dating back to 1864. It quite astonishingly still has a virtually unchanged layout, still playing as it would have been played 150 years ago in Victorian England.

Situated on the West Coast of Devon on common land, this links course runs in and out between the dunes along the coast which gives it, its natural, gentle undulations. In an area I’ve visited many times for holidays, it’s a course that has always intrigued me, having only seen the opening couple of holes from the road.

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All UK links courses suffer the same problem, on a hot blue-skied summers day they are an absolute joy to play. Sadly the English weather doesn’t always deliver these conditions, and when the wind blows, and the rain drives down, a round on even the best course can become a battle. On our arrival we were sadly greeted with the latter!

After a 4am start and a 5 hour journey down though, it would have taken 3 feet of snow and lightening to stop us playing and enjoying our round. The history hits you as soon as you enter the club house where you get a feel for its rich history from the golf museum, honors boards and the clubs top competition trophies. Nowhere else can you see an honors board that starts at 1864 and runs through to today. It’s a Who’s Who of English Golf.

I’d considered bringing a wetsuit down with me on the off chance I could sneak in a quick surf whilst down there (Saunton/Croyd/Putsbrough all within 10 minutes drive!), I wouldn’t have been any dryer if I had worn it to be fair, as the rain really hit us hard at the start of the round. Quite incredibly though, even whilst the rain was coming down, the course played like it was bone dry, not a puddle, not a splash.

The first 2 holes are quite open and flat as you play your way out towards the coastline, but when you get to the 3rd the course suddenly seems to really wake up, as you start to play through the undulations. At this point you start to get the feel of a truly classic links course. Anything off line requires some serious recovery, but stick to the fairways and you get a great roll, adding yards to your drive even on a wet day.

The 7th hole is a real standout hole, the green isn’t visible even from the elevated tee, you play down avoiding well placed bunkers to the right, before playing a shot back up the hill onto the green. A quite brilliant hole to play, as are the following few holes as you walk in the footsteps of some of golfs greatest, John Henry Taylor, Harry Vardon, James Braid and JH Taylor to name just a few. All have played at RND.

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After the 16th you come back out of the dunes, and the course opens up again as you play your way back towards the clubhouse, being careful not to hit any of the free roaming livestock on the way.

Myself and The Terrier had challenged Lefty and Spencer to Stableford four-balls for the two days. A little bit of competition always adds to the game, and ensures you keep your focus, despite the stunning views of North Devon’s coastlines around us. With never more than 2 points in it, the sledging hit new height (or lows as case maybe). But Lefty held his nerve and sank a 10ft putt on the 18th green, they claimed a 1point victory, and with that the banter began!

Since RND last held the Open Championships the game has changed so much, as have the courses they’re played on. Manicured perfection RND is not! But if you love golf you really need to visit RND, it’s where it all started in England, just to see the history and walk the fairways, is an incredible experience. It’s a truly historic place and a fantastic challenge as well.

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We would like to thank Atlantic links for arranging the trip for us, Royal North Devon Golf Club for their hospitality the long range binoculars are well worth a look through in the club house. And Saunton Sands Golf Club for letting us play their excellent West Course, and a special thank you to the Royal and Fortescue Hotel in Barnstaple for putting us up for the night. This is the hotel to book for your stay for when you come down to play. If you want to book the same trip then go to www.atlantic-links.co.uk where they will book your stress free golf trip on some of the best links courses in Devon and Cornwall.

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