The revered architect, who spent a year in Britain and Ireland playing our elite courses, explains why he commends England to fellow Americans.
The revered US architect talks exclusively to Golf World and explains why English courses hold a very special place in his affections.
There are a bunch of little pockets of great golf all over Britain and Ireland but pretty consistently I advise friends who are travelling over the Atlantic from America to come to England. It’s there, in my opinion, that you’ll find the most underrated courses.
I think that is the case mainly because they are not exposed like the Scottish and Irish ones are and have been.
For two generations people have been marketing golf tours to Ireland and Scotland, but not England for some reason. Maybe it is because it is a little bigger and more spread out. I also suppose that at least some of the clubs are less interested in visitor fees because the members are wealthier and they don’t want as many non-members playing their courses. But there is so much good golf. My client for the Tara’Iti course I built in New Zealand came over to play in the Dunhill tournament and was bringing his wife and another couple. He’s the kind a guy who has played pretty much all of the Top 100 courses in the world… the kind of guy that’s even been to Woodhall Spa (pictured right) in Lincolnshire, where I’m working right now.
So he asks me where should they go for a few days, where they could see some cool stuff that he didn’t really know anything about. I thought about it for a while and then had them go down to the south west of England.
They played St Enodoc and Westward Ho! – which is a pretty different experience for Americans! – and they really loved that. The wives thought it was really neat, because they hadn’t seen anything like this anywhere. But there is, because he would have thought the same thing of Brora had I sent them up there – although he’s been up and done Dornoch.
He also played Saunton and then Burnham & Berrow. They had a great time in a different part of the world that has a different character to Scotland and Ireland. Those courses, especially Westward Ho! and St Enodoc, are just so different.
It’s much tougher now to be surprised by a course as I was when I came over to study here in 1982 because you can go online and find a million pictures of it. When we were doing Barnbougle Dunes in Australia I said to the client, “I know you’ve got to put some pictures up to get people interested in coming, but don’t put all the best holes up. Leave something for people to come for the first time to go ‘wow, I didn’t expect to see that’, that’s really good”. It’s so hard to do that now.
‘They played St Enodoc and Westward Ho! – a very different experience for Americans! – and they really loved it’
I knew a little about St Enodoc, as well as Pennard in Wales, before I came over in 1982 because they were mentioned in the same, very old article I’d read when I was in the States. There was a guy called Sir Ernest Holderness, who was an amateur champion in the 1890s and they asked him to pick his favourite 18 holes in Britain. I guess he was from the west of the country because while he picked some of the obvious ones he also picked holes from St Enodoc, Pennard, Saunton and Westward Ho! He also chose one at Dornoch, so he travelled!
It was the first I’d heard of those courses because they didn’t make Bernard Darwin’s book [Golf Courses of the British Isles]. So I made a note that I should see them but didn’t know what to expect. It turned out they were two of my favourite experiences over here.