Online Exclusive

Discovering the great courses of the Atlantic Links group

It is usually the venues on the Open Championship roster that come to mind when considering great British links courses. But the six premier championship links courses that make up the Atlantic Links group in southwest England, also offer outstanding links golf as Glyn Pritchard reports.

Links golf is not to everyone’s taste. Scott Hoch famously turned down spots to play at The Open Championship for which he had qualified because he detested links golf. In a moment of sacrilege he even described The Old Course at St Andrews as the, “worst piece of mess I ever saw.”

But for many, including me, it remains the purest form of the game, as played originally over land linking the coast and the sea. The low running shot over undulating, sandy grassland is arguably a more authentic form of the game than the target golf played on immaculate fairways and greens in the States.

So I was delighted to take up the opportunity of playing three of the courses that make up The Atlantic Links group. The group was established in 2009 to promote the six great links courses in the southwest of England, which have been overshadowed by the more famous courses that make up the Open Championship roster.

The group comprises Burnham & Berrow in Somerset; Royal North Devon and Saunton East and West in North Devon; and Trevose and St Enodoc in Cornwall. I played the courses in Somerset and Devon with Ken, an old playing companion who retired to Devon last year and is now a member of Tiverton. As we both play to 17 handicaps, we play scratch matchplay.

First on our list was Royal North Devon, sometimes known as Westward Ho! because of its proximity to the nearby town. Founded in 1864 and designed by Old Tom Morris, it is the oldest course in England. It received its royal appellation in 1867 from the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) who was Patron of the Club in 1866.

Mike Wilson, the PGA pro at Royal North Devon, has just invested in SkyTrak launch monitor and is offering lesson packages with a lot of interest from the members. The course is an open links built on Northam Burrows common land and golfers share the environment with walkers, sheep and even ponies, which graze on the common land. This made for some interesting shots! We played the course in light winds in late spring and despite being one-up after nine, Ken won it on the last green with a par, when I lost my drive in a stream and double bogeyed.

The following day found Ken and I playing Saunton East, a stern test, built in the sand hills of Braunton Burrows in the 1920s by Herbert Fowler, who also designed Walton Heath. We followed a society so play was slow with some drizzle. The match was close, level after the 12th, but then Ken fell away and I won three and two. After the competitive play was over I was particularly pleased to hit the green from the back tee on the 208 yard par three 17th, into a head wind and while playing through. We struggled to understand why the fourball in front decided to play us through on the 17th.

The final day we played Burnham & Berrow, ranked at 31 in the Golf Monthly Top 100 Golf Courses UK and Ireland. The club was founded in 1890 with the current magnificent links completed in 1923. It is largely the creation of Harry Colt and built in the sand hills that border the Bristol Channel, with every hole well defined and a delight to play.

With no one in front or behind we played millionaires’ golf on a sunny day with sea mist occasionally rolling in off the Bristol Channel. Again it was closely fought, level after 15, but I managed to win the next two holes to take the match and our small series. We both played our best golf at Burnham & Berrow, probably because of the benign weather and relaxed playing conditions.

Further down the coast, into Cornwall, Trevose (designed by Harry Colt in 1925) and St Enodoc (founded in 1890 with the Church course designed by James Braid in 1907) lie either side of the Camel estuary. Trevose offers onsite accommodation for those playing both Trevose and St Enodoc. There are self-catering apartments and lodges for two to six people with total capacity for 130.

The Atlantic Links group offers a variety of itineraries taking in rounds at different combinations of the courses with accommodation in three and four star hotels. These range from two nights accommodation with three rounds of golf to seven nights and six rounds. A typical two night stay playing Burnham & Berrow, Saunton East and Royal North Devon is good value at £340. For more information visit, www.atlantic-links.co.uk or email, info@atlantic-links.co.uk