The cradle of English golf

Royal North Devon

Royal North Devon Golf Club

Royal North Devon Golf Club

Date Reviewed
April 9, 2023
Reviewed by Ed Battye
Royal North Devon, or Westward Ho! as it is often fondly referred to, is a very special place. Perhaps it should be called Royal North Heaven!

That much is obvious from the moment you drive into the car park and are informed, by an unmissable sign on the side of the historic clubhouse, that you have just arrived at England's oldest course.

However, many of those who play here regularly or are planning a visit to this beautiful part of the North Devon coastline will already be aware of that fact. Royal North Devon is well known for being the cradle of English golf, and it's ranking of first in seniority, when it comes to links golf in England.

What we found so special about the club is that its history and tradition are very apparent to the visiting golfer, both on and off the course. But more importantly it is very clear that the club is extremely proud of it's roots and has done so much to uphold them over the years, yet still moving with the times and the modern game.

In terms of the golf course it is one that can hold it's own when compared to some of the best in the country. It is regularly ranked in the main 'top 100' lists and has some holes that wouldn't look out of place on many of the Open Championship venues. The layout traverses common land so walkers, sheep and other animals are commonplace on the course where golf and mother nature very much live as one. It is raw links golf in it's purest form.

The opening hole, a par five of moderate length, is often reachable in two but the lateral water hazard that runs down the right of the hole before cutting across the front of the green has to be given the utmost respect.

The second and third are strong holes, which get better with each playing of them, before a thrilling drive over the 'Cape' bunker at the fourth, a delightful short par four with a rolling fairway.

The stretch of holes from the fifth through to the 11th are an absolute treat offering plenty of variety, an array of risk and reward shots and some fabulous green complexes. In my opinion holes six and seven are the pick of the bunch but the 10th pushes them close and the tee-shot on the 11th is a joy, albeit a nerve-racking drive to a fairway that appears much narrower on the tee than once you are stood on the fairway.

The drive from the sixth offers a wonderful panoramic view of the course and Bideford Bay, very much reminiscent of standing on the 4th tee at Trevose. And whilst the fairway is a generous one you must be down the right-hand side, and close to the sea rushes, for the best approach into the green.

Choosing the correct line off the tee at the seventh is also of paramount importance if you are to give yourself the best angle of attack into a green that sits perfectly into the landscape and has a stunning backdrop although a newly constructed sea defense on my most recent visit has blighted that slightly. I can imagine that one is often tempted to dice with the reeds that angle themselves between fairway and green but the wise play is to avoid them at all costs albeit with the consequence that you will have a much longer approach shot.

The ninth is a widely acclaimed hole and over time has earned by respect and I offer higher praise for it. Meanwhile, the tenth allows the golfer to choose how much to 'bite-off' the corner in an attempt to shorten their second shot; another superb hole.

The closing stretch shouldn't be underestimated either and whilst the 13th doesn't quite know whether it is a long par four, or a short five, the up-turned saucer of a green will test your short game to the max. The 15th hole, featuring the 'bear pit', is also a highlight coming home as is the green complex on the 16th. Water must be navigated on the final two holes before you can relax and enjoy the fascinating clubhouse.

Anyone who appreciates the history of golf will find the clubhouse a joy to behold. There's very much a relaxed atmosphere to the place and the 'museum' with hundreds of golfing artefacts from bye-gone days complements the feel perfectly. One could spend hours studying the balls, clubs and historic honours boards within.

Royal North Devon is ground zero for links golf in England, a course that should be experienced several times to fully appreciate its many virtues and one that is vastly underrated.

NB: On a recent visit in the Spring of 2022 the new 7th hole, a snaking par five, was in play but the old 8th still remained (albeit the white tees have now been lost to the sea) and the 9th played as a par four but at the same angle as previously. The new par three 8th looked to be built so cannot be too far away from being opened and this will change the angle of the drive on the 9th.

NB: On my most recent visit in April 2023 the above remained the case. I assume they are trying to hang on to the old 8th for as long as possible. I wished they could have done this with the 7th.

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