Whilst the links lovers’ default is to swarm to Scotland or Ireland, those in the know are quietly slinking off to experience the tantalizing trail of ancient links on offer in south west England.
The Atlantic Links, a collection of the six premier championship links courses along the north Atlantic Ocean, starts in Somerset at Burnham & Berrow at Burnham-on-Sea and on to north Devon, where Saunton offers two courses, East and West, and Royal North Devon, England’s oldest links course. Further down the coast in north Cornwall lie St Enodoc, located in the picturesque seaside town of Rock, and Trevose, which sits in the shadow of the majestic Trevose Head alongside Constantine Bay.
Together these legendary and revered courses have made their mark on the global golfing map as a must-play set of links set against the wild and dramatic backdrop of the north Atlantic coastline and are now recognized as a genuine alternative to the other great links tours in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Moreover the moderately-priced green fees ensure great value for money for the quality of the layouts whilst the temperate climate of the south west ensures excellent course conditioning throughout the year.
Founded in 1890, Burnham & Berrow is the first stop on the tour. Its distinct sand hills and hazardous buckthorn that form stubborn, natural obstacles all over the course and its narrow fairways and undulating greens give this links its unique character. A treacherous marsh and a prevailing south westerly wind that whips in from the Atlantic ensure a testy links challenge and a course that plays differently almost every day. Though the course has evolved over the decades, today’s layout is largely the work of Harry Colt. The club boasts the legendary JH Taylor, five times an Open champion, as its first professional, who described the course as “one of the most sporting courses conceivable”.
Further down the Atlantic coast in Devon is Saunton, set in the shadows of the giant sand dunes of Braunton Burrows. Inaugurated in 1893, the club is home to two championship links, East and West, which are regarded among the greatest links in the world. Indeed England’s Sir Nick Faldo, once said, “I’ve no doubt if the East Course were located on the coast of Lancashire or Kent it would have hosted an Open Championship by now”. The West course is an exceptional challenge in its own right too and is a close second to the East Course, making it one of England’s finest 36-hole golf clubs.
Dating back to 1864, Royal North Devon, or Westward Ho! as it is fondly referred to, is England’s oldest links. This layout has hardly changed over nearly 150 years and playing it is like taking a step back in time and experiencing how golf was played in Victorian times. Set out on terrain that undulates more gently than Burnham & Berrow, RND is set on common land on which livestock still graze, giving it a quirkiness you’ll rarely find. It’s here where JH Taylor started his career as a caddie and later finished it as club president and with such heritage, the clubhouse boasts a treasure trove of golf memorabilia second only to that of The R&A in St Andrews.
Founded in 1890 and designed by James Braid, St Enodoc enjoys a spectacular setting among the dunes overlooking the River Camel estuary and the dramatic backdrop of the Atlantic; from almost every hole there is a stunning sea or estuary panorama. The Church course, so called because of the Norman Church that was uncovered in the middle of the course, is renowned for its towering Himalaya bunker on the 6th green, reputedly the tallest bunker in Europe, whilst a number of blind shots, tight fairways and undulating greens make it a truly tough, but scintillating test of golf.
Neighboring Trevose is a classic Harry Colt championship links that with its variety of accommodation and country club facilities including a par 3 course, swimming pool and tennis courts, exudes a relaxed, holiday atmosphere. With only a gentle breeze the 6,973-yard Championship Course offers good scoring opportunities, particularly with 3 par 5’s, but the character of the course is transformed when the wind blows in from the sea and tightens up the course.
The combined appeal of history, tradition and variety of these Atlantic Links course is complemented by numerous off-course attractions in the south west region of England.
It is simply bursting with things to do and see including pretty coastal towns like Clovelly and Ilfracombe in north Devon whilst bustling market towns such as Wadebridge and Barnstaple and charming fishing villages like Port Isaac, Rock and Padstow can be found along the north Cornish coast. Further up the coast, historic towns like Weston-super-Mare and the spa town of Bath, near Burnham & Berrow, are ideal destinations to round off a golfing adventure.
The region’s rich culture features the inimitable Barbara Hepworth Museum and Tate St Ives, displaying the very best in modern and local art, the popular Eden Project and fascinating Lost Gardens of Heligan whilst outdoor activities such as surfing around Newquay and walking and horse riding in Exmoor National Park are as good as anywhere in the British Isles.
The gastronomic delights of the south west are not to be missed either, from the exceptional Padstow seafood restaurants of famous local TV chef Rick Stein and a variety of other Michelin-starred restaurants, to real English ale and local craft gins and authentic pub grub in an abundance of traditional country pubs.
The temperate micro climate allows year-round golf with the gentler winter conditions enabling the greenkeepers to maintain their courses in immaculate condition throughout the changing seasons.
In terms of travel, the nearby M5 motorway and A39 “Atlantic Highway”, and international airports at Bristol, Exeter, Newquay, London Heathrow and London Gatwick ensure easy accessibility for all visitors.