Matthew Moore headed to England’s westernmost tip for surf, turf and unmatched scenery
- Cape Cornwall Club: England’s first and last links
- World-class gastronomy from Padstow to Mousehole
- Award-winning Atlantic Links
- The biggest bunker in Europe at St Enodoc
- Surfing and reading breaks
- Short and steep at perfect Perranporth
There is something beautiful and rare about teeing off amid rough hewn dunes and rustling fescue grasses with the noise of breaking surf as a distant distraction.
Even better, when the tee is usually free and you can confidently leave your waterproofs behind. What place is this?
It’s not Highlands and Islands of Scotland or Ireland’s West Coast links, no, this is Cornwall and Devon, home to an English cape, clotted cream, spicy meat filled pasties and VW camper vans.
England’s West Coast Swing
Cornwall is England’s surf capital and there is no shortage of board shorts, matted blonde hair and washboard abs on show at the county’s beaches, but England’s South Western Coast is also an idyllic and unspoilt retreat for golfers.
Back at the all-excited and planning a trip phase, it seemed a sound idea to play the best golf courses in Cornwall and Devon and learn to surf at the same time.
Foolish enthusiasm helped me through two “choppy” days at The Reef Surf school on Newquay’s Great Western beach. “Popping up,” and “hanging ten,” may look and sound good but it does terrible things for a golfer’s muscles, especially the forearms and hamstrings.
Aching and bruised, it was only when I teed up at nearby Perranporth Golf Club that I could forget my tussle with 12-foot of foam board and enjoy the sensation of hitting a drive against clear blue skies with the Atlantic ocean in the backdrop rather than in my nostrils.
Perranporth is well known for its expansive beach, stretching out and curling below the surrounding hillsides on the route into town, but high above the valley and surf-spots is a championship links course that should be on any golfer’s must-play list when visiting Cornwall.
Weighing in at just 6,272-yards, Perranporth might seem lightweight on the card but its defences are subtler than sheer length and reveal themselves as early as the par-five second. Walking up the sheer cliff – sorry fairway – I began to resemble a Nepalese sherper approaching the final 100-feet of K2, even when carrying a lightweight pencil bag.
The hill was incredibly steep and after a solid drive I was left with a blind long-iron shot over sand dunes – with the green nowhere in sight – and only a metal pole as a guide. If you are used to rolling parkland courses then this style of golf is a great way to challenge yourself and your skills at shaping different shots.
The course has several long holes, including the 561-yard par-five 11th – ‘Uthek’ (meaning formidable) – but also a good number of reachable par-fours under 300-yards like the eighth and 18th. The 8th hole winds by Perranporth Golf Club’s own deluxe mobile homes available to golfers who wish to play and stay.
From Perranporth, it’s not a bad idea to head south past St Agnes to the southern shore of St Ives Bay at Lelant and West Cornwall golf club.
This club boasts a short and delightful course with an enviable reputation for breathtaking views.
Holy ground for golfers?
The feeling of teeing off at West Cornwall could be described as spiritual, and perhaps it is holy ground – laid out as it was by The Reverend R.F. Tyacke in 1889.
It’s no easy start, 229-yards of par-three with an old Kirk as backdrop, it sets the tone for a challenging round.
The course plays in similar fashion to Perranporth with fast-running fairways and raised greens making it difficult to score well. The tight firm links turf and whispy rough make for an easy walking course and one that is gentle on the eye.
Cape Cornwall Club is a slightly different proposition.
An unusual feature at The Cape is the many stone-walls intersecting the course, and if you, like my playing partner, try to hit a 7-iron over them from just three-feet behind one, you risk injuring yourself or your playing partners.
Cape Cornwall has great views, sweeping panoramas and very testing holes often sloping with the camber of the land. You’ll need stamina, creativity and the ability to miss stone walling to score well here, but it’s certainly worth the visit.
The headland was considered to be England’s most westerly point until accurate surveying identified that Land’s End was situated marginally further west. It’s England’s only cape and one of just two in the United Kingdom, the second being Cape Wrath in North West Scotland.
Devon is better known than Cornwall in golf circles, for it is a county that boasts a number of romantic venues like Westward Ho (or Royal North Devon in officialdom) the oldest club in England – founded 1864 – and Saunton, often whispered in clubhouse bars to be the best links never to have held The British Open.
Bideford: Tobacco Town
Bideford, once a hub for the tobacco trade between Britain and Colonial America in the 1700’s, is as good a town as any in which to begin a Devon golf break.
Westward Ho, or Royal North Devon golf club is the town’s unique golfing prize. From the opening tee, the fairway at best appears a flat coastal plain populated with sea-rushes, sheep and horses.
The uniqueness of this course is the heart of its boundless appeal, often it’s difficult to tell what you need to do from the tee, so having a yardage chart is really a must.
There are many subtle greenside run-offs that turn a good iron shot into an annoying bogey.
Across the Taw Estuary from Bideford you will find the East and West Courses at Saunton, a historic golf club set within the largest expanses of sand dunes within the British Isles.
The East course is the unofficial contender for Open Championship honours, and many say it merits holding the Championship more readily than other courses currently on rota. The first hole is a superb indication of the test to come.
At 478-yards, this par-four signals the start of a round through thick rough, hollows, hummocks, swales, depressions (physical and mental) and knee-trembling sand traps.
This is a strategist’s hunting ground and the usual south westerly wind figures heavily in forcing you off target and into the dunes.
Ilfracombe also boasts a fine course with views over the Bristol Channel, some of the finest from its clubhouse.
England’s Atlantic Links
Six of the best courses in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset have joined together to form the Atlantic Links Golf Coast, a trail of premier links courses made up of Trevose, St Enodoc, Royal North Devon, Burnham and Berrow and Saunton East and West Courses.
Golfers can book packages for either the North Atlantic Courses Saunton East and West and Royal North Devon Golf Club and the South Atlantic Course, Trevose, St Enodoc and Burnham and Berrow.
Visit the website for the most up to date prices. Trevose in North Cornwall was designed by Harry Colt in 1925 and enjoys a stunning location sheltered by Trevose Head and six sandy bays. The course can play entirely differently from one day to the next and a lot depends on how strongly the wind blows. St Enodoc is in Wadebridge, on the other side of the Camel Estuary from Trevose and sits atop coastal cliffs with views out over the Atlantic Ocean.
The Church course was designed by James Braid, the legendary Scottish architect, and boasts the famous Himalaya Bunker – said to be the biggest bunker in Europe – on the 6th hole.
The course takes its name from the Norman Church at St Enodoc which is an iconic landmark on the 10th hole and a great point at which to stop and ponder the experience of playing links golf along England’s South Coast Swing.
Whether you choose to play in Devon, Cornwall or a combination of the two, you will find that England’s South Coast is rich in natural beauty and outstanding golf courses. If you are anything like me you will stay longer on the golf courses than you ever would on a surfboard.
FACT FILE: CORNWALL & DEVON
Where to Play
Perranporth Golf Club
The awe-inspiring views over Perranporth’s white sand beach make this a tranquil place to play a round. The course is also splendidly maintained.
Cape Cornwall Club
Royal North Devon Golf Club
A wonderfully unique test of golf, where wild horses and sea rushes are as much a feature as the slippery run-offs and fearsome bunkers.
Two courses set in the UK’s largest expanse of sand dunes, this is a links-lovers paradise. The East is for the purists amongst you.
England’s Atlantic Links Golf Trail
Climate/ Best Time to Visit: Cornwall and Devon are Britain’s sun-trap. Winters are milder than the rest of the UK, while it can get hot in the months of June, July and August, cooling into September.
Good for: Golf parties – Cornwall and Devon is ideal for groups of golfers wanting to play several rounds at a good pace. Holiday golfers are also welcomed throughout.
Families: Mum and the kids are able to go to the beach, bodyboard, surf and sunbathe while Dad plays a round.
Off Course Attractions: Newquay in Cornwall is surf capital of the UK and Fistral Beach is a must-visit. In Devon, “Bideford Long Bridge” is an impressive structure over an ancient causeway, while the Cornish town of Truro is a stunning stone market town with excellent shopping.