| In the Foot­steps of Gi­ants

Off the beaten track, but eas­ily reached from Lon­don, Charles McLaugh­lin dis­cov­ers a for­got­ten quar­tet of su­perb cour­ses cre­ated by the finest ar­chi­tects of the Golden Age of course de­sign.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Charles McLaugh­lin

Off the beaten track, but eas­ily reached from Lon­don, South Devon has a for­got­ten quar­tet of su­perb cour­ses cre­ated by the finest ar­chi­tects of the Golden Age of course de­sign.

We are sur­rounded by some of the most beau­ti­ful scenery on earth where, back in the day, le­gendary de­sign­ers like Alis­ter Macken­zie, J.H. Taylor, Harry Colt, J.F. Aber­cromby, and Herbert Fowler were lay­ing out and re­mod­el­ing fan­tas­tic cour­ses and had the likes of Bernard Dar­win wax­ing lyri­cal about them... Where are we? Cal­i­for­nia? Scot­land? Au­gusta? The an­swer is South Devon and a se­ries of su­perb tracks that make this a must see on any golf trip to the United King­dom.

Only a cou­ple of hours from Heathrow, leav­ing the bus­tle of Lon­don be­hind, and one could be in a dif­fer­ent cen­tury, never mind coun­try, as you visit a seem­ingly end­less se­ries of su­perbly con­di­tioned cour­ses de­signed by gi­ants of the course de­sign world. While it’s pos­si­ble to take in all of these out­stand­ing cour­ses in a 3-4 days visit, a week or more would be al­low am­ple time to take in more of the lo­cal sights and sounds.


This is a part of the world where peo­ple want to re­lax, breath in the un­pol­luted air, take in the beauty of their sur­round­ings and en­joy the lo­cal food and fine ales. In keep­ing with this, the lo­cal cour­ses aren’t 7,500-yard mon­sters to be en­dured rather than en­joyed, they are tac­ti­cal gems call­ing for strate­gic course man­age­ment

over brute strength. Rarely over 6,500 yards, all are best en­joyed walk­ing, and a cam­era is es­sen­tial in ev­ery case.

Life moves slowly here, not least be­cause of Google Maps’ in­fu­ri­at­ing ten­dency to treat ev­ery farm ac­cess road as a 50mph road, when 5mph is a chal­lenge! Jok­ing aside, our ini­tial joy at find­ing our rental car was a brand-new Jaguar was tem­pered when crawl­ing along roads barely a car-width across, with un­tended hedges brush­ing the body­work on both sides. There goes the de­ductible de­posit!


It’s usu­ally pos­si­ble to work out a far faster route us­ing the old-fash­ioned prac­tice of ac­tu­ally look­ing at a map and/or ask­ing lo­cals for di­rec­tions (re­mem­ber that?!). The one ex­cep­tion is Thurle­stone Golf Club who de­light in the soli­tude and pri­vacy their in­cred­i­bly nar­row ap­proach roads of­fer. “No Tesco trucks here!” af­fa­ble GM Steve Gled­hill hap­pily in­formed us. Thurle­stone may be the most pic­turesque course in the area, a Peb­ble Beach looka­like with the spec­tac­u­lar clifftop front 9 a high­light. The orig­i­nal nine-hole course laid out in 1897 by J.H. Taylor was re­mod­eled and ex­tended by Harry Colt in the 1920’s and is only 6,600 yards from the tips. The ocean is vis­i­ble from ev­ery hole, and in play on sev­eral. Af­ter a great risk re­ward open­ing hole - where the “sen­si­ble” shot can be over the club­house(!) be­fore a tricky ap­proach to a sharply raised green - the shore­line of Big­bury Bay

is im­me­di­ately in play on the 2nd, and re­mains so un­til the 9th turns in­land. The view from the 11th green (the fur­thest point on the course) is stun­ning, over­look­ing Burgh Is­land, in­fa­mous as the hide­away for the fu­ture King Ed­ward VIII whilst woo­ing di­vorcee Wal­lis Simp­son in the 1930’s. The re­turn to the club­house is marginally less mem­o­rable, but a warm wel­come awaits. A wee bit tricky to get to but well worth the ef­fort, this is truly a hid­den gem.


If one course sum­marises the at­trac­tion of south Devon, this is it. De­signed in 1902 by the le­gendary Herbert Fowler and with both Harry Colt and James Braid re­mod­el­ing the orig­i­nal, this pic­turesque gem gen­tly climbs to the clifftops and back. Walk­ing only, but not too stren­u­ous and at around 6,200yds from the tips, not too long ei­ther. Onus is on ac­cu­racy over dis­tance, with the heather tak­ing a toll on er­rant drives and tricky un­du­lat­ing greens re­quir­ing thought­ful ap­proaches. The el­e­vated par three 10th is a cracker over heather and gorse to a 3-tiered green. The vista from the 16th was called the “best view in golf” by Peter Al­lis and it’s hard to ar­gue with that. In fact, the clos­ing stretch from 15th on­wards may be one of the most pic­turesque in the world. Clifftop ero­sion has al­ready led to some rerout­ing so get in quick! Trevor Underwood runs a well-stocked and friendly pro shop and the club­house has a de­light­ful ter­race run­ning along­side the 18th. Just the spot for a Devon Cream tea, watch­ing all too many play­ers catch the front right bunker!

This is a very ac­tive, so­cial, strong lo­cally sup­ported club and it shows. Very wel­com­ing, and with a great choice of food and drink at keen prices, you won’t want to leave!


Teignmouth Golf Club (pro­nounced “Tin”mouth) is a moor­land track sit­u­ated on a hill­top over­look­ing the English Chan­nel, and of course, the mouth of the River Teign. The views from the club­house are some of the best in golf, and, cou­pled with the easy-go­ing charm of the staff, great fish and chips and Doom­bar ale on tap, the ter­race is a glo­ri­ous spot to re­lax. Keep the chips away from Philip the Pheas­ant, who had de­cided to take up res­i­dency dur­ing our visit! Rob and Gina run a great shop, and with strong train­ing fa­cil­i­ties and a thriv­ing ju­nior pro­gramme, the fu­ture looks se­cure.

Which “gi­ant” are we in the foot­steps of this time? Mr Au­gusta him­self, Alas­tair Macken­zie. He laid out the orig­i­nal course in 1924, and it has all the hall­marks of a Macken­zie clas­sic. As one might expect, the greens are fan­tas­tic, with a re­mark­able eleven two-tier dance floors.

A moor­land track, the heather bor­der­ing many fair­ways pun­ishes er­rant drives. The greens com­mand re­spect and care must be taken to not just find the putting sur­face, but it’s es­sen­tial to find the right area or a likely three-putt awaits.

With six par-3s and a to­tal yardage of just

over 6,000 yards, this is a course that can eas­ily be played twice in a day, and you should! The con­di­tion­ing is su­perb, and the fin­ish­ing four holes are un­for­get­table. Com­ing off the long 15th, at 443yds into the pre­vail­ing winds, and the stroke in­dex 1, one might expect to able to re­lax… How­ever, the 16th (“Hell’s Mouth”) may be only 125 yards, but is fiendishly tricky. A true card wrecker, with its own “swear box” bunker - hence the name! The 17th isn’t long, but expect a tricky side­hill, down­hill lie for your ap­proach. Fi­nally, the aptly named “Last Quarry” is a long par-three with OB left to per­haps the most un­du­lat­ing green on the course. A stun­ning fin­ish!


Leav­ing the coast be­hind, we headed for the no less breath­tak­ing vis­tas of Dart­moor, and the stately oa­sis that is Bovey Cas­tle coun­try house ho­tel. This fan­tas­tic re­treat is sit­u­ated in the heart of the mas­sive na­tional park and in ad­di­tion to its 5-star ac­com­mo­da­tion, spa and fa­cil­i­ties, of­fers count­less ac­tiv­i­ties to get as much ex­po­sure to the unique sur­round­ings as pos­si­ble. From huntin’, fishin’ and shootin’ to rid­ing to fal­conry, it’s hard to fo­cus on the golf, but es­sen­tial and worth­while.


The de­signer of the course at Bovey Cas­tle, John F. Aber­cromby, was al­ready renowned for his cre­ations at Wor­ple­ston (1908) and Ad­ding­ton

(1912) when he won the com­mis­sion. He was also fa­mous for hav­ing used a hot-air bal­loon to con­duct an aerial rout­ing sur­vey of a for­est for his de­sign at Coombe Hill in 1909, surely the first course ar­chi­tect to do so.

Aber­cromby sought out men­tors through­out his ca­reer, even part­ner­ing with the great Herbert Fowler and Tom Simp­son for a short time. How­ever, his prin­ci­pal in­flu­ence was a master of the craft. As a mem­ber at Hun­ter­combe Golf Club, he was men­tored by the le­gendary Wil­lie Park Jr. Fresh from de­sign­ing the Old Course at Sun­ning­dale, mul­ti­ple Open win­ner Park pur­chased Hun­ter­combe Manor and al­most 1000 acres of land in 1900. Within seven months he had built a course which Wal­ter Travis de­clared was the “finest in­land course” he had ever seen. “Aber” clearly took this to heart when asked to cre­ate a sim­i­lar track in the grounds of an­other manor house on Dart­moor. Bovey Cas­tle was opened in 1926, and amaz­ingly is the only Aber­cromby course built out­side of the M25 mo­tor­way which en­cir­cles Lon­don.

It quickly be­came a pop­u­lar track, be­ing added to the le­gendary stable of Bri­tish Trans­port Ho­tels, which in­cluded Gle­nea­gles and Turn­berry. With two dis­tinctly dif­fer­ent loops form­ing the club, it’s easy to nip out for a quick nine be­tween ac­tiv­i­ties. Be sure to get some tips from pro Richard Lewis, who has been at the club for decades.

To the course: nav­i­gat­ing the bot­tom nine is all about avoid­ing not one, but two rivers: Bovey and Bow­den which are in play on ev­ery hole. The par three 3rd has per­haps the best view of the manor house and gar­dens, whilst the 7th was re­puted to be Sir Henry Cot­ton’s favourite hole - a chal­leng­ing nar­row two-shot­ter with wa­ter down the en­tire right side, and a clas­sic Aber­cromby green to fin­ish.

A chat with green­keeper Scott re­vealed a pref­er­ence for the “top nine”, and it’s soon clear a dif­fer­ent chal­lenge awaits with el­e­va­tion changes, blind shots and even stand­ing stones adding to the chal­lenge. The 208 yards 12th is a corker, re­quir­ing a nee­dle-like shot through a tun­nel of trees off the tee. Over­all, it’s a de­mand­ing but ex­hil­a­rat­ing track, with a wel­come va­ri­ety be­tween the nines.

As with all of these Devon tracks, try to get in more than one round if you pos­si­bly can. You won’t re­gret it!

Thurle­stone Golf Club

Thurle­stone 2nd hole

East Devon 9th

& 10th hole

East Devon 17th hole

ap­proach an­gle

East Devon 6th

Teignmouth 18th hole

Teignmouth View

Bovey Cas­tle’s 3rd Green with ho­tel view

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