© Atlantic Links
Aim for the sky
The Atlantic Links along the UK’s coasts of Cornwall and Devon should be on every golfer's list
My friend Clive Agran, a fellow golf travel writer who lives in East Sussex, England, prefers to put his own unique spin on things. When Clive first told me about the Atlantic Links (atlantic-links.co.uk), a brilliant collection of ancient courses scattered along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, I was keen to pack my clubs. However, Clive being a fitness fanatic, undertook his Atlantic adventure by bicycling from course to course on two wheels: approximately 525 kilometres.
I don’t recommend Clive’s method of transportation, but I strongly suggest that you put the Atlantic Links on your hit list. The courses are grand, the scenery sublime and there are plenty of other temptations along the way including Devon cream teas, Cornish pasties, and some remarkable villages and gardens.
All this at bargain prices with green fees almost half the cost of comparable courses in Scotland and Ireland. Stay and play packages are reasonable, too. An eight-day itinerary including six rounds and four-star hotels (with breakfast), for example, starts at £843 per person in April. Atlantic Links will book your golf and accommodations.
Burnham & Berrow
My husband and I flew to Bristol and rented a car. (Yes Clive, we’re wimps.) Half an hour later we pulled into Burnham & Berrow Golf Club, originally laid out by Charles Gibson in the 1890s. Herbert Fowler, the first “professional” course designer extended it to over 6000 yards in 1910 with more tinkerings by Harry Colt and Alistair Mackenzie beginning in 1913.
Dune-lined fairways heave and ho like the sea beyond and a few marsh holes create a memorable first impression. Number 10 requires a blind drive over a hill through a couple of striped goalposts. The 18th finale is a longish sweeping dogleg to a green surrounded by four daunting bunkers.
The welcoming clubhouse served terrific Thai fishcakes and homemade tomato/basil soup. England’s former reputation for bad food is long gone; West Country cuisine, we soon discovered, is worth the trip alone.
We could have saved time by taking the M5 to our evening destination, Saunton Sands in Devon. Instead, we took the coastal route past cute villages and patchwork fields of green and gold. Often the roads were barely wide enough for Clive’s bicycle, let alone four wheels.
We arrived at the white, art deco Saunton Sands Hotel, with commanding views of a long golden strand, in time for an alfresco dinner of lamb Provençal and strawberries topped with Devon’s decadent clotted cream.
We were booked to play the Saunton East and West courses the following day. North Americans accustomed to using carts or buggies as they’re called in the UK should take note: these courses are meant to be walked. Make sure you have comfortable shoes, and be prepared to shoulder your bag or haul a trolley up and over the dunes. You can rent battery-operated trollies at some clubs, which I highly recommend, especially if you’re tackling 36 holes a day. Mea culpa, Clive.
We played the East course, circa 1897, with members, Danny and Ann Wallace. So lofty are the dunes, it feels like each fairway is your private playground. The East is no walk in the park. Eight par fours exceed 400 yards and the par threes demand pinpoint accuracy. The West is shorter and a bit easier, but still a worthy challenge.
At Saunton, as at all the other clubs, we were impressed by the warm welcome we received and the pride these folks take in their clubs’ pedigrees. Sir Nick Faldo once remarked that Saunton East is “the finest course never to hold an Open.” I’d venture to say that most of the Atlantic Links courses are worthy of a major event, but none have the infrastructure to host upwards of 50,000 spectators per day — which is part of their appeal.
The best fish and chips in North Devon is reputedly served at Squires (1 Exeter Road; squiresfishrestaurant.co.uk) so we absolutely had to make the short, five-minute drive to the Braunton restaurant after a round. We’re glad we did. Chef Mike’s light crispy batter lived up to its reputation.
Royal North Devon
Wild and windswept, Royal North Devon at Westward Ho! is England’s oldest course dating back to 1864. It was the first club in England to have the title “Royal” conferred upon it by the Prince of Wales in 1865 and became the world’s first true ladies’ golf club in 1868.
Originally laid out by Old Tom Morris, it hasn’t changed much, except the sheep are fatter. This is common land where the livestock get lifetime memberships. Hole number one resembles a petting zoo.
You’ll have to let it rip to clear the massive Cape Bunker on number four and don’t let that pesky creek on 18 ruin your score.
Be sure to have a cuppa in the atmospheric clubhouse filled with antique golf memorabilia, mashies (or clubs) and featheries (balls).
We bade farewell to Devon and crossed into Cornwall. In the small hamlet of Rock, where the likes of Prince Andrew come to play and party, we found St. Enodoc Golf Club, designed in the early 1900s by James Braid.
You can play 36 holes here, but if time is short, make the fabled Church course your first choice. It was recently included in Golf Digest’s inaugural ranking of the “World’s 100 Greatest Courses” proving that shorter and quirkier — it’s a par 69 and 6557 from the tips — can be sweeter.
The quality of the links and the views of the nearby town of Padstow and the Camel Estuary make for an enchanting round. The first three holes are blind with plenty of oddities and obstacles — plus lots of walkers with their dogs. I think every third person I met in Cornwall had a dog. Number six boasts the Himalaya Bunker, reputedly the highest in Europe.
Don’t miss a small detour to the 13th-century chapel tucked behind the 10th green. At this point, you might feel the need for a bit of divine intervention. The gravestone of poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, who penned beguiling verses about his beloved game of golf, is buried beside his favourite course.
We took a quick ferry over to Padstow, a harbour town nicknamed “Padstein” because British restaurateur, Rick Stein, has several eateries here. For a splurge, book a table at Seafood Restaurant (Riverside, Padstow, Cornwall; rickstein.com/the-seafood-restaurant.html).
Or, go local with an award-winning Cornish pasty from Chough Bakery (3 The Strand, Padstow, Cornwall; cornishpasty.com). Pasties began as a meal-in-one for Cornish tin miners. One end housed the savoury part, usually steak, turnip and potatoes; the other, dessert. The crescent-shaped meal had a crimped pastry handle so the miners could hold it with their dirty hands and then toss the crusty edge away.
Our last round on the Atlantic Links was at Trevose, located high on a promontory overlooking Constantine Bay. We stayed comfortably in a self-catering cottage just a pitching wedge from the first elevated tees of the Championship course.
We won’t forget the par-five fourth where the sea froths and crashes against the headland. This masterpiece, another by Harry Colt circa 1925, requires every club in your bag and the ever-present wind is a mega factor.
Trevose’s Constantine restaurant, with its sunset views and scrumptious local scallops, made the ideal grand finale. It was also a fitting place to toast “cyclopath Clive” for introducing us to this splendid collection of links, and some of the best scenery and hospitality in England.
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