| Som­er­set: In the Foot­steps of Gi­ants (Part 3)

Con­tin­u­ing his search for the hid­den gems cre­ated by the de­sign­ers of the Golden Age, Charles McLaugh­lin vis­its Devon and Som­er­set.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Charles McLaugh­lin

Let’s visit Devon and Som­er­set to con­tinue to search for the hid­den gems cre­ated by the de­sign­ers of the Golden Age.

With a fond farewell to West­ward Ho! we headed north-east­ward in search of the next in the chain of At­lantic Links. Sev­eral years ago, some of the top tracks on the coast from Corn­wall to Som­er­set via north Devon got to­gether and formed the aptly named “Eng­land’s At­lantic Links”. Their ef­forts have been in­stru­men­tal in rais­ing aware­ness of the her­itage and sheer qual­ity of the cour­ses in this crim­i­nally over­looked part of the global golf­ing map.

As is of­ten the case, a fair amount of driv­ing is re­quired to get from track to track, but given the beauty of the scenery it’s no great hard­ship.

SAUNTON

Just as Taun­ton tip­plers de­bate the rel­a­tive mer­its of Trevose and St En­odoc, so Barn­sta­ple booz­ers are di­vided on which of Saun­tons two cham­pi­onship tracks is best. Play­ing both, it’s easy to see why opin­ions are so di­vided. The East Course re­mains a fan­tas­tic track, per­haps the best in the South West, but the huge and on­go­ing up­grades to the West driven by Head Pro Al­bert Macken­zie (no re­la­tion!) nar­row the gap daily. This may be the best two course setup in the UK, with a great club­house and a huge pro shop where John Mor­gan should be asked for ad­vice be­fore set­ting out…

If the pow­ers that be broke new ground by de­cid­ing it was time for the West Coun­try to hold an Open Cham­pi­onship, the East Course at Saunton would al­most cer­tainly be the cho­sen venue. Laid out over won­der­fully un­du­lat­ing links land on Devon’s un­spoilt north coast a few miles west of the pleas­ant mar­ket town of Barn­sta­ple, Saunton is a full-strength cham­pi­onship track that winds its way through dra­matic dunes and de­mands ac­cu­racy from the tee. It would be a poor de­ci­sion to make a round on the East your first on a trip to these parts, as it has the po­ten­tial to se­ri­ously bite. For­tu­nately, how­ever, the club has a sec­ond course - the West - which is a very fine lay­out in its own right and pro­vides an ex­cel­lent work out be­fore tack­ling its

longer and tougher brother. Long, wispy rough, hard and fast greens and clas­sic pot bunkers, com­bined with an ex­cep­tional rout­ing make the East one of the most ma­jes­tic - and most un­her­alded - cour­ses in the land.

Bernard Dar­win didn’t hold back af­ter wit­ness­ing Her­bert Fowler work his magic in cre­at­ing the East course, call­ing it: “one of the cour­ses of the world, fit to hold up its head with St An­drews or Prest­wick, Hoy­lake or Prince’s, the Na­tional or Pine Val­ley”. No ar­gu­ment here.

The club­house it­self may lack some of the his­tor­i­cal at­mos­phere of ri­val tracks, but is far more com­fort­able as a re­sult. As ever, the food and bev­er­ages avail­able should be sam­pled, with the “Pheas­ant Plucker Am­ber Bit­ter” a per­sonal fav…

Head­ing re­luc­tantly out of Devon and back to­wards Lon­don via Som­er­set, the re­sort town of We­ston-su­per-Mare is a great fi­nal stopping point. Just south of the town over­look­ing the Bris­tol Chan­nel lies a charm­ing club steeped in tra­di­tion and with “gi­ant foot­steps” every­where one looks.

BURN­HAM & BER­ROW

When the orig­i­nal nine at Burn­ham, de­signed by West­ward Ho! Pro Charles Gib­son, opened in 1891 it was noth­ing ex­cep­tional. Gib­son used the tried and tested links lay­out phi­los­o­phy of the time. How­ever, when the course was ex­tended to­wards Ber­row Church and be­yond over the next cou­ple of decades, things be­gan to get in­ter­est­ing.

In 1910, the ubiq­ui­tous Her­bert Fowler brought his ge­nius to bear, de­sign­ing the sig­na­ture “Church” hole and the great clos­ing 18th. Soon af­ter, Harry Colt trans­formed the course in a breath­tak­ing sweep, re­mov­ing many blind shots, weak holes and de­sign­ing al­most half of the holes anew. Colt’s part­ner in his de­sign team, Hugh Alison, was a mem­ber of the club at that time. Alison would go on to be­come leg­endary for his over­seas work for Colt, es­pe­cially in Ja­pan.

To gild the lily, Alis­tair Macken­zie was en­listed to ad­vise on the rerout­ing of the 9th and 10th, and even Harold Hil­ton got in­volved at one stage. The last changes (plus the new nine-hole Chan­nel course) were wrought by Fred Hawtree in 1977. Fred is less well known, but Hawtree & Sons is the old­est golf de­sign com­pany in the world and are the R&A’s go-to guys to tweak Open Cham­pi­onship cour­ses. It’s a stag­ger­ing col­lec­tion of de­sign tal­ent, a “su­per group” if you will, and it shows.

With five-time Open win­ner J.H. Tay­lor as the first pro­fes­sional at the club, the club­house is sec­ond only to RND for it’s fan­tas­tic dis­plays of mem­o­ra­bilia and time should be al­lowed to soak it all in while the de­li­ciously named Bev be­hind the bar dis­penses ales, sur­pris­ingly good food and wis­dom in equal measure. Tay­lor in turn in­spired the lo­cal Whit­combe lads, who made his­tory in 1935 when all three broth­ers played in the Ry­der Cup - a feat that will surely never be re­peated.

On to the course, where starter Ray Hig­gins gets us off with a wel­come, a smile and very use­ful course tips. This is a su­perbly con­di­tioned track, and a de­light to play. It seems ev­ery hole of­fers strate­gic op­tions as the nar­row fair­ways wind among the enor­mous sand dunes. Find­ing the fair­way is key, as for ev­ery for­tu­itous kick back off the dunes, there will be two or three shots that stay up there and the re­sult­ing side­hill - uphill - or down­hill-lie is a po­ten­tial card wrecker. Nice views from up top, but not where you want to be!

This is a clas­sic “out and back” links lay­out where wind di­rec­tion is a ma­jor fac­tor. In par­tic­u­lar, the back nine in the pre­vail­ing stiff west­erly wind is a true chal­lenge.

High­lights in­clude the stun­ning views from the 4th tee across the Bris­tol Chan­nel, then the 5th, the first par-3 where wind is a huge fac­tor and the bunkers are bru­tal. The Macken­zie 9th is a beau­ti­ful hole to look at, but don’t let the six bunkers and se­vere slopes in­tim­i­date you too much. Take a half club more and a con­fi­dent

strike to the mid­dle/back of the green will pay div­i­dends. The 12th is the “Church Hole”, with shades of St En­odoc, and is a tough par-4 into a plateau two-tier green with any­thing short be­ing tossed aside dis­dain­fully. Af­ter­wards, make time to take a peek over St Mary’s church wall.

Be­fore you know it, you are on the el­e­vated 17th tee, with the best view of the iconic light­house on the left. This is a beast into the wind, and has un­doubt­edly nipped more than a few great rounds in the bud. And fi­nally, we have the 18th, a fan­tas­tic clos­ing hole. Call­ing for a draw off the tee and then a fade into a dif­fi­cult to hold, well-guarded green, this has surely seen plenty of drama over the years.

Our last course on a mem­ory filled trip, but cer­tainly not the least. This is a club that has ev­ery­thing: a fan­tas­tic course, great fa­cil­i­ties, and even a dormy house so you can stroll to the first tee. Can’t wait to go back.

Hole 9 at Saunton East Course

The 4th green at Saunton East Course

Saunton Club­house

Hole 9 at Saunton

West Course

Hole 1 at Burn­ham & Ber­row

Burn­ham & Ber­row starter

Ray Hig­gins

Hole 17 of Burn­ham & Ber­row

Burn­ham & Ber­row St Marys Church

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