Just as astronauts have to take precautions when recalibrating back to life on earth after a space mission, I’m pretty sure that golfers shouldn’t be allowed to move between Bovey Castle and Royal North Devon without at least several intermediate steps. Royal North Devon is flat, firm and windy and requires a game built for links. Down the road at Bovey Castle, the test is of a completey different ilk. There is lush, green grass, water hazards, shallow bunkers, lots of trees, soft landings, elevated tees and a need for precision from the tee. It’s altogether a softer environment.
Bovey’s 6,300 yards (par 70) represent one of the most exacting tests in the Devonshire area. The start here is really tough – especially once you’ve been tricked by the opener.
It’s barely long enough to be a par 4 and it’s played severely downhill. But with the River Bovey in front of the green you’re happy to hit a couple of wedges and be able to use the same ball on the second.
Unfortunately, this par 4 also goes over water, and so does the third, an incredibly demanding long par 3 off the white tees where the green is virtually an island.
What happened to the perceived light relief of a modest-length parkland? Well, this JF Abercromby design was updated by Donald Steel 15 years ago and is far from straightforward, especially off the back tees.
The best holes are on the front nine but the hardest is left until last – a 430-yard par 4 round a hillside where it’s an achievement just to get to end of the hole.
It’s an exceptionally attractive course with flashes of design brilliance but I do wonder if the set-up isn’t a little severe – especially for what is a hotel course.