The Top 100 website has it placed 65th in England which is high praise considering the bulk of contenders are either world famous links or the much admired Surrey-Berkshire heathlands.
Designed by Jack Nicklaus – his first foray into Europe - and opened for play in 1988 St. Mellion certainly strikes its own mark and does it very well. Having staged the Benson & Hedges International Open – a European Tour event - between 1990 and 1995 it can boast winners with the pedigree of Ballesteros, Langer and Olazabal.
The course opened to rave reviews with The Golden Bear himself being quoted, "I knew it was going to be good but not this good". The sceptics will claim marketing hype of course but even as an ardent fan of seaside golf I found a certain appeal to the Americanised-style challenge presented by St. Mellion.
That challenge is undeniably a tough one. The tournament credentials of the 7,010-yard, par 72 layout are in no doubt and will absolutely provide a stern test of your golf game. Tight fairways, several water hazards, forced carries, narrow green entrances, juicy greenside rough and strategic bunkers must all be negotiated at this exceptionally well presented and defined venue. Even from the 6,284-yard forward tees your game will be asked a lot of questions at this American-style venue.
However, even if your play is not up to scratch you can still enjoy the beautiful scenery and off-course facilities on offer. Despite the steep nature of the estate there is a real charm with babbling brooks, specimen trees and old stone walls greeting you at every turn of your journey. This is not what I wasn’t expecting and is something other modern courses of similar style are unable to match. Sometimes it’s just the little things; the bench located behind the 11th green for example is a really nice touch and would be a lovely spot to watch a couple of hours golf in the sunshine.
The putting surfaces on our visit in April were particularly impressive and the ‘winter rules’ which were still in force were not really required. The staff were very attentive and friendly with special mention to the starter/marshall who gave us some valuable advice and a cheery welcome.
Laid out in Tamar Valley, on what must have been a difficult property for Nicklaus to sculpt the course upon, it sets off at a fast pace with a dramatic opener where the fairway plunges down before rising up to an angled green. The rollercoaster continues with a particular scary tee-shot at the third and a picturesque dog-leg par-four at the fifth.
Both one-shotters on the outward half are excellent (the two on the back-nine aren’t bad either!) but with bunkers and nothing for leaking the ball right they are equally as demanding as the longer holes.
A theme of the front nine is steep rough-clad banking on one side of the narrow fairways coupled with a lateral water hazard on the opposite side. Driving the ball straight is therefore a big asset at St. Mellion.
The back nine – which contains some equally impressive holes –opens up a little bit more as the round progresses. But first, the downhill 10th, short 11th over water and the long 12th are dubbed “Amen Corner” and you can see the similarities. Meanwhile, the closing hole is a grand way to end your round on a layout that contains 18 individually excellent holes.
The walk from the ninth green to the tenth tee (around the hotel) is a little irksome and there are a few other long walks to get to the next teeing ground but that goes with the territory at a modern championship venue such as St. Mellion. Perhaps it was the record-breaking Easter temperatures but I think next time I will take a buggy.
With a second golf course, The Kernow, – which has also hosted a European Tour event in the past – it’s easy to see why St. Mellion is such a popular stay & play location. Having undergone a renovation in 2008 it promises wide fairways, big greens and in a recent survey was included in the Top 5 "2nd Courses" in the UK’s best 36-hole golf venues.
St. Mellion caters for a specific target market and it goes about its business very proficiently. Competitively set green-fees – with additional discounts for groups – along with reasonably priced on-site accommodation makes it an attractive proposition to stay here for a short break and play both courses. Likewise you could use it as a base for a longer trip and also venture to the many respected courses in Devon and Cornwall.
Copt Heath is a very fine parkland golf course that requires precision, plotting and a deft touch around the slick greens.
The Blue is a mix of American-style design and traditional English parkland. It's an unusual combination which makes the most of the terrain available. It was designed by Simon Gidman and opened in 1994.