For others the opportunity to use London as their center point will mean golf opportunities featuring the more noted heathland layouts in and around the UK's largest city -- or a quick side tour visit to the Dover coastal area.
What many may not realize is that quality golf in England is often vastly under appreciated by a great many Americans -- far too often people simply create a bucket list of courses that have hosted The Open Championship. The simple reality is that the overall depth of top quality golf options is much more extensive and well worth scheduling.
The "West Country" area of England is a favorite summer holiday getaway for many throughout the country -- and for good reason. The area is basically rural in character and is considerably less frantic than the never ending drumbeat found in and around London. It encompasses a strip of land in the southwest corner of England that juts out -- with the Atlantic Ocean majestically serving as the western edge. The area extends for approximately 200 miles from Bristol and Bath to the north all the way to the southernmost area of Penzance.
It's been said to truly appreciate England one must take the time to get beyond London and see firsthand the many fascinating elements that await. I completely concur.
The inherent charm of the "West Country" is supplemented by a number of fine golf facilities any dedicated golfer must play. Golfers can tap into a consortium of five different clubs -- under the umbrella "Atlantic Links" -- all the courses are true links -- scattered along the coast which makes for a leisurely journey to different locales with a range of activities to explore and enjoy.
The churning waves of Constantine Bay can easily distract golfers when playing the challenging par-5 4th at Trevose G&CC.
Trevose Golf & Country Club
Championship 18-Hole, 7,079-Yards / Par-72 / Course rating: 74
Headland 9-Hole, 3,031-Yards / Par-35
Short Course 9-Hole, 1,360-Yards / Par-29
The handiwork of renowned architect Harry S. Colt, the Championship 18 opened roughly in 1925 and presents an immediate challenge as soon as you arrive at the 1st tee. The view dramatizes the scene -- waves crashing in the distant background with Constantine Bay regularly providing churning surf. The 1st is long par-4 that narrows appreciably the further you hit the tee shot -- two bunkers positioned for just the slightest of faulty executions. The opener here sets the stage for a rousing start with the first five holes -- they are all rigorous and demand your complete attention. Unfortunately, the rest of the course tails off in terms of architectural diversity -- in many ways similar to the routing of the famed Spyglass Hill GC in the Pebble Beach area. Still a fine layout -- not overly penal, however, the varying velocities of the daily wind determines a good deal from one day to the next.
There's a companion 9-hole layout from Peter Aliss for those wishing a good bit less in terms of challenge along with a par-3 course. Top tier accommodations are present and the food selections is equally suited to match -- be sure to grab a close enough seat to the bay window which provides a glorious view of the course and the sea in the nearby distance. www.trevose-gc.co.uk
The par-5 16th on the Church Course at St. Enodoc is both a scenic wonder and a consummate challenge for any level of player.
ST. ENODOC GOLF CLUB
Church Course, 6,557-Yards / Par-69 / Course rating: 72
Holywell Course, 4,082-Yards / Par-63 / Course rating: 63
Roughly 30 minutes away from Trevose is one of the most fascinating courses one will play wherever you are in the United Kingdom -- St. Enodoc Golf Club. I have always believed quality golf starts squarely with quality land. The Church Course is the prime 18 when coming here and it demonstrates how to mix and match a wide variety of hole types. Not only is the land compelling but the routing moves you around constantly -- never a dull moment or the feeling of having to play the same shot over and over again. Designed by James Braid in the early 1900's -- The Church provides one of the largest and well-positioned of bunkers -- with the par-4 6th. Aptly called the Himalaya Bunker and you'll need to pay careful heed in avoiding it because landing in it can mean a "day at the beach" -- just not the fun type for sure!
Golf is also a visual element and The Church Course will light up the eyes in delight with the Camel Estuary providing a quality scene as the waterway feeds into the nearby Atlantic -- be sure to stand on the championship tee at #18 and inhale the commanding view provided. The par-4 10th is one of the more noted holes -- a fairway as wide as Marilyn Monroe's waist when in her prime and replete with danger on all sides. You'll need two vintage shots to get near the green which is hugged tightly to the left with a water hazard that awaits the slightest of pulls. Be sure to stop in the adjoining church when exiting the green -- the course's namesake. Say a prayer while there -- the finishing stretch of holes is rather stout in its demands -- and all but the most gifted of players will need divine intervention to bring them home in fine fashion. www.st-enodoc.co.uk
The topography of Royal North Devon is inundated with humps and hollows capable in producing a wide variety of bounces -- good and bad.
ROYAL NORTH DEVON / WESTWARD HO!
Championship Course, 6,984 Yards / Par-72 / Course Rating: 74
9-Hole Pimpley Short Course
Roughly 90 minutes further north up the coast is Royal North Devon Golf Club -- or as the locals know it -- Westward Ho! This is the oldest course in England dating back to 1864 and the oldest links outside of Scotland.
The layout is near to the coastline but only touches it briefly early in the round. Daily winds can be harsh and weather can turn quickly -- sun followed by rain falling sideways and back again. The first half of the course sits immediately near Barnstaple and Bidford Bay. While the land itself can be rather featureless for the first time visitor -- the key is skillfully landing shots to the preferred areas of the fairways so your approach play can be better served. The first two holes merely get the golf muscles stretched -- once you get to the 3rd tee you run parallel to the water and it here the course shows its character. Holes #6 thru #9 bring the outward half to a rousing close -- the back-to-back par-4's at #6 and #7 are top tier in terms of design challenge and quite finicky -- requiring deft play from start to finish.
The inner half of holes is further away from the coast and still a tidy test. The long par-4 12th and 13th holes are well done -- both demanding solid tee shots and featuring greens big enough to accept only the most talented of approaches. Like most links the key is the cards Mother Nature deals. In benign conditions low scores can be had -- when matters turn feisty the challenge increases dramatically.
Keep in mind, you'll likely find an array of different animals having free rein of the property. Dogs, horses and sheep see golfers as intruders to their domain but all seem to coexist nicely. When finished with the golf inspect the collection of antique golf balls, clubs and other artifacts in the clubhouse. True links -- no pun intended - to the game's past and present. www.royalnorthdevongolfclub.co.uk
The par-3 5th hole at Saunton / East is a short hole but pity the player who misses the tiny target on their approach.
SAUNTON GOLF CLUB
East - 6,779-Yards, Par-71, Course rating 72
West - 6,403-Yards, Par-71, Course rating 72
Established as a golf club in 1897 -- Herb Fowler provided the present East Course layout in 1919 - with the companion West opening in 1935 -- and later redesigned and reopened in 1974. Saunton is immediately adjacent to the Braunton Burrows -- on the edge of Bidford Bay and the estuary of the River Taw. Braunton Burrows is England's largest sand dunes area and is sight to behold. Saunton doesn't have the incredible shapes and blowouts that the adjoining land provides but there's enough of a challenge in keeping one's balls on the short grass with many of the fairways having bottleneck points that need to be respected at all times. Saunton East has 13 par-4 holes -- and the demand for superior driving of the ball and keen approach play is a necessity. The key is getting off to a good start -- three par-4's in excess of 400 yards are among the opening quartet of holes -- with the opener measuring 478 yards. The par-5 2nd is equally well done with a creek well-positioned in the drive zone. In 1997, Saunton hosted the British Boys Championship won by the renowned Spaniard Sergio Garcia.
The West is on the shortish side and while still challenging in spots --especially the par-4 7th with its serpentine creek winding through the drive zone -- the West is less intense and has a number of holes that provide more width than the East. On the inward half of holes make note of the long par-4 14th and the devilish short par-4 15th -- both are well done and a perfect counterpoint to what each provides. www.sauntongolf.co.uk
The uphill par-4 12th at Burnham and Berrow requires a top tier approach to a green that will only accept the best of executions.
BURNHAM & BERROW
Championship Course 6,925-Yards, Par-71, Course rating - 74
Channel Course (9-holes) 5,852-Yards, Par-70, Course rating - 70
About an hour north of Saunton in Burnham-on-Sea is Burnham and Berrow Golf Club. Established in 1891 the present 18-hole Championship Course came into form through the handiwork of Herbert Fowler in 1910 -- later updated to the present formulation of holes through the involvement of the gifted architect Harry S. Colt starting in 1913 and completed ten years later. Burnham and Berrow abuts the Bristol Channel and while the club boasts 36-holes -- it is the Championship Course that deserves one's attention. The routing is a classic links style -- out for half of the course -- then return for the final side. The course starts strongly -- the opener is sheltered on both sides by high dunes -- simple but quite a deterrent to any wayward shot making. Once you get to the middle of the front nine the course and topography flattens up somewhat -- there's a pesky stream that enters into the scene for a few holes too.
The return nine is the stronger of the two sides -- starting with the long par-4 11th and extending through the long par-4 15th you'll need to play an error- free stretch because there's little room for error. The land gently rises as you leave the 11th green and you once again return to the delightful dunes areas that form the borders of the holes. The final hole -- a stout closing long par-4 of nearly 450 yards -- turns left slightly in the drive zone and the green is ably protected by a trio of small but well-placed bunkers -- if the pin is cut on the right side pay heed to avoid them or be certain to pay a price before your day concludes. www.burnhanandberrowgolfclub.co.uk
Any visit to historic Bath must include the Roman "baths" that have been in operation for centuries.
What to See and Where to Stay ...
Bath: Located just a short drive from Bristol, Bath gets its name from the extensive Roman remains that still flow with hot water. Head to Thermae Bath Spa to soak in the natural thermal waters. While in the city check out Bath Abbey -- one of the last medieval churches in the country and notice Bath's extensive eclectic architecture. When you get hungry with all the walking -- quench your thirst and fill your gullet in heading to Sally Lunn's Restaurant House which dates back to the 1400's. www.visitbath.co.uk
Penzance: Known for more than its famed "Pirates," a bustling hub of the province of Cornwall. Walk historic Chapel Street and take in the sights and sounds, which includes the Turk's Head Pub -- dating back to the 13th century. Venture to the Morrab Gardens and the Exchange Gallery for contemporary art. www.purelypenzance.co.uk
Near Royal North Devon: Follow the coastal road to Tintagel. Explore the sheer majesty of ancient castle ruins - overlooking the Celtic Sea -- legend holds the site was the location of King Arthur's Court. As you proceed north on the A39 you'll see signs for the charming community of Clovelly. Famous for its history and beauty along with steep, car-free cobbled streets, the village looks out over the Bristol Channel -- on a clear day the sunsets can be an eyeful indeed. Just be sure to watch for the wandering donkeys!
The lodges at Trevose provide superb comfort and ideal location -- just a short walk from the golf course options available.
Lodging: There's no one place to stay that will provide easy access to all five golf facilities. Expect to stay at least one or even two nights at a variety of quality choices.
*When playing Trevose and Sy. Enodoc either stay at the fully-equipped Trevose or pick a spot in the immediate Padstow area as your base location. The St. Moritz is ideally located along the coast in Trebetherick -- just minutes from St. Enodoc -- and provides the consummate getaway location and a encompasses a litany of services more than able to satisfy the most discriminating of travelers (www.stmoritzhotel.co.uk). One can also stay in Rock, also just minutes from St. Enodoc, I stayed at the Dormy House (www.dormyhouserock.co.uk) which provides quality comfort and ideal hosts.
The St. Moritz is the ideal venue -- combining top tier customer pampering and location near to golf at St. Enodoc, the nearby community of Padstow along with beach access. Photo by Paul Kirkby
*Near Royal North Devon and Saunton -- try the Saunton Sands Hotel (www.sauntonsands.co.uk) is the premier place to stay. Saunton GC is less than five minutes away and Royal North Devon no more than 35-45 minutes depending upon traffic and time of day.
*When playing at Burnham and Berrow it might be wise to consider lodging in the Bath area -- no more than 30 minutes away. There are a range of quality hotels and bed and breakfast spots. During my visit I stayed at Cranleigh Bath (www.cranleighbath.com). Just minutes from the center core of Bath and the elegant Victorian home provides elegant old world sensibilities with a seamless intersection of modern comforts. Just be mindful of the narrow drive that plunges downhill to one of the most narrow car parks one can imagine.
Clovelly is a charming walk back in time - cobble streets, narrow passage ways, medieval style architecture and breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean.
TRAVEL TIPS ...
Getting there: For easiest access to southwest England, use Bristol International Airport to save considerable time via a lengthy car ride from central London. Connections to Bristol can be made through other European and UK hub airports -- most notably Dublin.
Local Navigation: Driving along the narrow country roads of the West Country can be a harrowing experience if you're not accustomed to it. For a group of four or more -- consider various car hires / minivans. Makes the journey less stressful and more enjoyable even if it costs a bit more.
If you stay in the immediate area of St. Enodoc and happen to stay at the St. Moritz or Dormy House be sure to take the water taxi that capably provides regular transport to/from Padstow. Service varies during the year -- more trips made during the better weather months. The water taxi drops you off in the heart of Padstow and there's a full range of great shops and restaurants for all to enjoy.
Best Time to Go: Avoid the peak summer months of June thru August unless it must be done. May works very well -- or visit from the start of September through the Fall months. Fewer people are playing, the kids are back in school and getting a reservation for dinner at the better spots is not akin to having lottery luck.
More Information: Visit www.atlantic-links.co.uk and www.cornwall.co.uk for maps, photos, levels of lodging available, and a complete list of top tier tourist attractions.