Inland on the A31 and north of Bournemouth is the delightful heathland course, Ferndown. Featuring plenty of pine trees and heather, this is a very pretty course and very much worth playing. From here it is quite a drive further west to East Devon near the town of Budleigh Salterton. However, if you have plenty of time on your hands then there is first the option of the ferry at Weymouth to the Channel Islands. There are three standout links here that are all well worth playing, namely Royal Jersey, Royal Guernsey and La Moye. Royal Guernsey features a number of non golfing attractions including Martello Towers and World War 11 pill boxes. La Moye is probably the most challenging of the courses and has been home to several professional tournaments.
East Devon is more of a clifftop heathland course which probably suffers from being a bit off the golfing tourist's trail. Enjoyable for all levels of handicap it is not long but has plenty of gorse and heather if you are wayward. The 10th is a great par 3 and the 16th affords wonderful views.
The most southerly course in Britain is Mullion on the Lizard Peninsula in south west Cornwall. Like many of the coastal courses here there are spectacular clifftop views. There are a few good holes but this is pretty much holiday golf. Before you reach Mullion, near the town of Plymouth is the interesting inland course China Fleet beside the pretty Tamar River. Part of the old farm stone boundary walls have been left on many of the fairways so as to create an unusual lateral hazard. A little further west is the clifftop Carlyon Bay which features some good views but unfortunately the soil is pretty heavy here. On the way to Mullion you can consider a game at Falmouth which is seaside but not a links. This is also in my holiday golf only category. A little inland is Tehidy Park but there was nothing really memorable here.
Not far inland from Saltash is the little village of St Mellion and the resort complex which features the Old Course and the Nicklaus Course. I didn't mind the Old course but the Nicklaus course, once the home of the Benson & Hedges professional tournament, was just a tiring long slog. I believe they have spent a fair bit of money upgrading it since I was there some time ago so perhaps it is worth a revisit. On one summer holiday there the Nicklaus course was almost completely under water.
Undoubtedly the three stand out courses in Cornwall are on the north side of the peninsula. West Cornwall overlooks the sands of St Ives. This is a short course but with some fun holes and small rock hard greens. The railway lines runs along side and there is even a local rule about removing dog droppings from your ball. Whilst it is not one of the top three, you should also look at playing Perranporth overlooking Perran Bay midway between West Cornwall and Trevose. This James Braid design is a little hilly and has wonderful views and greens near cliff edges.
Trevose overlooks the spectacular Booby's Bay with its unmistakable shark fin rock formation. It has been privately owned by the Gammon family for several generations. Classic springy turf, good greens and a constant sea breeze makes for ideal links conditions. The 4th is a great par 5 that dog legs down to a green close by the shoreline which, at times, can feature ferocious seas. The outward nine is the more interesting but there aren't many weak holes anywhere at Trevose.
St Enodoc is hidden away at the village of Rock and features two courses.
The Church course at St Enodoc is in a class all its own. You hit over farm walls that are OOB, negotiate the largest bunker (on the par 4, 6th hole) in the northern hemisphere, play alongside the 11th century church (the burial place of Poet Laureate, John Betjeman) in the middle of the course, and then enjoy the holes overlooking the Camel Estuary near Padstow harbour. I loved the 9th with its crumpled fairway and green backed by a stand of pines.
A word of caution -St Enodoc has strict handicap limits for both men and women so check that you comply before making your booking.
Continuing north on the A39 along the coast you will pass by Bude & North Cornwall. From what I saw it is definitely worth playing but I wonder if they just don't want visitors. Prior to two of my visits to Cornwall I sent numerous emails requesting a tee time and they failed to answer any of my communications.
There are several first class links on the road ahead before you reach Wales. At the town of Westward Ho! every serious golfer must play the historic links of Royal North Devon. With a start date of 1864 it is the oldest links in England, although that has recently been challenged by Fleetwood on the northern coast uptowards the Lake District. It is worth spending some time in the old clubhouse just to read the famous names from the past such as Horace Hutchinson, Herbert Fowler and Harold Hilton on the honour boards. J H Taylor lived and died here. Don't be fooled by the flat, seemingly featureless, opening and closing holes which often have horses and sheep casually grazing on the fairways. After driving over the huge expanse of wooden sleepers of the Cape bunker at the 4th there is the tricky par 3, 5th into the prevailing sea breeze and then the 6th with its lunar landscape. At the beginning of the homeward nine you will encounter the sea rushes which can quickly devour any stray ball. Manicured it is not but great fun it certainly is.
(photo Royal North Devon)
You need to initially detour to the A361 past Braunton to the village of Saunton and the two brilliant courses here. However it is Saunton East that is the championship course even though the more spectacular dunes are probably on the West course closer to the sea. I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that this links would be eminently suitable for staging The Open if only it was closer to London and there was better nearby infrastructure. Despite the fact that there are only two par 5's, Saunton East is a testing 6779 yards from the blue tees. Every hole is good and none are better than the 18th with the clubhouse and dunes framing the background. This is one course you definitely should put into your 'must play' category.
Back in 1998 I first discovered Burnham & Berrow quite by accident. At that stage I had not been on my holy grail quest to play every links -I just wanted to explore the delights of the coastline here before heading to Wales, initially, to play Aberdovey. The M5 suddenly became gridlocked even though it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere so we took the first seaside detour road we could find. We ended up staying near Berrow and there was this wonderful and testing links. I revisited in 2006 and, despite the hot weather, enjoyed it just as much as the first time. Here you have dunes, blind shots, elevated tees, dell greens and even some flat marshland. The 17th is one of the best par 3's in Britain and 18 is a great finishing hole with a line of dunes all along the right.
(photo Burnham & Berrow)
If you turn off the M5 onto the A370 you will come to the seaside town of Western- Super- Mare. This is not a great links even though there is a strong Alister Mackenzie connection. But it is worth playing partly for that reason and the unusual nature of the course. There is the strange sight of the Uphill Church which overlooks the fairways and there is the clever use of the limited space here. The first 4 holes run by the sea but the buckthorn blocks out any sea views.
There are still many more courses in England to review but from a geographic perspective if you are heading north, more or less long the coastline, then Wales is your next adventure.
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