A trip to certain special courses leaves an enduring ambience that lasts long after the memory of a rare birdie or pured five iron has become no more than a haze. It is hard to pinpoint an overwhelming reason why this should be; and why another course of apparently equal merit should fail to stir the soul in the same way. In the case of St Enodoc, situated close to the remote village of Rock in Cornwall, many factors combine to create the cumulative effect.
It is a course that has charm, variety, an abundance of history, an element of quirkiness and a hint of the unknown. Founded as long ago as 1891, it was not until 1907 and James Braid’s arrival that it began to resemble the course it is today. The five-time Open champion returned almost 30 years later and since then it has barely changed.
There is the wonderful opening hole, a par five that on the card looks like an excellent chance of a solid start but whose upturned saucer of a green can reject a chip – let alone a medium iron.
And even while racking up an unlikely double bogey from what seemed a routine par, the sight of the Camel Estuary, with the port of Padstow beyond, makes it impossible not be uplifted. Impossible, that is, as long as you happen to have come on the right kind of day, when the sunlight is dappled across St Enodoc’s rolling fairways and the meadowland beyond.
A particular delight here is the way in which the course reinvents itself every couple of holes. The first two are pure links in character – and exceptionally difficult with it – but as you make your way downhill towards the 3rd green you’d never guess you were next to the coast.
The short par-four 4th is a particular delight. Within range of a decent drive for longer hitters, the sliver of a green is set across the line of the approach and bordered along its right edge by a field.
Leave the scorecard for another day and concentrate instead on the simple pleasure of pitting your wits against each individual and memorable hole.
It is an elusive target and since anything left is an automatic lost ball it’s a hole well capable of looking after itself despite measuring only 292 yards.
To conclude this parkland stretch is a gorgeous par three played over a valley with a stream running through the bottom to a green at a similar height to the tee.
Moving on, the 6th is in a category all of its own. It begins innocuously enough but the second shot calls for an iron of some elevation to clear what many believe is golf’s biggest sandhill.
Certainly it dwarves the bunker at Royal St George’s 4th with which it shares the same monicker – Himalaya. What’s hard to believe as you stand underneath it terrified of an ensuing thin is that the green could be just 80 yards or so beyond.
Technically there’s no reason, at a modest 378 yards, why it can’t be birdied. However in practice, unless you know the land like the back of your hand, you’ll be more than happy with a four.
This concludes a breathtaking opening run of holes that only a golfing heathen could fail to be seduced by. Following a blind drive at the 7th comes further transformation as the generous and flat fairway beyond the marker stretches into the distance.
After this is a classic links short hole entirely at the mercy of the wind before the front nine concludes with a downhill par four where the green is backed by tall evergreens.
Yet if that comes as a surprise then wait until you’ve faced the 10th. It’s a hole that would never be built nowadays – and all the better for it. Technically a par four, only the very best will ever experience a birdie putt here.
Despite measuring 457 yards, driver is effectively not an option from the tee for the better player as a huge hillock encroaches onto the fairway, which narrows to single-file width before opening up again beyond.
The ideal tee shot leaves a second of at least 210 yards to a green almost hidden from view and tucked away to the left. For the other 99 per cent, the sensible play is to lay up short and right in front of the tiny church where John Betjeman, the former poet laureate, is buried.
A tidy pitch can still save a par four that feels like a birdie. If all this sounds a touch unfair, bear in mind the 10th was designed in an age before par was considered so important. So just concentrate on plotting your way round it and make sure you take fewer strokes than your opponent.
St Enodoc’s very own Amen Corner, in more ways than one, then pivots around the church, and meanders back towards the clubhouse in preparation for the mighty finish.
The 13th and 14th are moorland in character and by some distance the weakest on the course, which is one reason the club have recently called on the architectural services of Peter McEvoy, the two-time Amateur champion and current Walker Cup chairman of selectors.
By changing the lines of the fairways and creating new bunkers to add definition, they should be greatly improved in the near future. As the prelude to a quite stunning closing stretch, however, there is no time to dwell on them.
Like the 5th, the short 15th straddles a valley and then comes St Enodoc’s second and final par five. Following the line of the cliffs below where the Camel Estuary sparkles – on a good day – hollows, crests and mounds must be traversed before arriving at the green.
The 17th is another par three, this time demanding a long iron to find a suitably large green protected by a mound on either side. Only then does St Enodoc’s charming clubhouse come back into view, at the other end of a closing hole that will more often than not provide the right winner in a tight game. With the green elevated and surrounded by sand, it might be best treated as a three-shotter.
Having overcome this final hurdle you’ll be amazed to remember that the course only measures a modest 6,200 yards. Factor in the ungenerous par of 69 and you’ll begin to understand why you’ve had to use every club in the bag on your way round.
But to reduce St Enodoc to numbers such as these is to lose sight of its very essence. Should you be fortunate enough to find your way to this special corner of Cornwall, leave the scorecard for another day and concentrate instead on the simple pleasure of pitting your wits against each individual and memorable hole.