If you’ve not had the fortune to visit Saunton, it’s hard to describe the quality of links golf you’ll find on the north Devon coast.
Are there 36 better holes in the country, found together, than the East and West courses?
The former was ranked ninth in our England’s Top 100 Courses 2018, with Sir Nick Faldo opining the East would have held an Open were it located on the coast of Lancashire or Kent.
The West also performed strongly in our list – at 53 – and that was partly down to a substantial remodelling of Frank Pennink’s design by Tom Mackenzie.
With the work completed last year and a full season of play in the books on the bolstered layout, we asked general manager Russell Mayne about the project and how it has been received…
In many people’s eyes the West was the equal of the East. So what was the thought behind the remodelling?
We wanted our visiting golfers and our members not to have a favourite course. We want it to be an even split as to which one they think is best.
We are trying to sell 36-hole packages or two-day packages and to get people to experience everything about Saunton.
With the West, it’s a fantastic course in its own right but there were quite a few things we could do to really enhance it without making it 7,500 yards.
It was about making people think a bit more about the golf course. Even though we have 36 holes of links golf here, they are two very different golf courses that need to be played in very different ways.
It was to bolster the West so people would never feel short-changed by playing the newer golf course.
Tom Mackenzie was your architect. They don’t come with bigger reputations…
I’ve known Tom for quite a few years and we get on fantastically well. Tom plays in an annual golf match – his club against Saunton – so he has a real affinity with the place.
We want to get a 10-year masterplan together for both the courses, really just to see how good we can possibly make them, and the work Mackenzie and Ebert do is basically second to none.
When we first started doing some work in the winter of 2015, the membership were perhaps a bit nervous about it.
But because they have seen the success of what we’ve done altering certain holes, where we’ve put bunkers and shaped the greens, I think any proposals we have going forward will be embraced probably a lot more positively.
How was the work received?
Absolutely brilliantly. They love it and we are very conscious it’s not just a case of creating a behemoth of a golf course.
I’ve very rarely heard many golfers say ‘how did you get on today? 22 points? I want to go back’. It has to be something enjoyable for all abilities.
We have got four sets of tees on each hole and we can really cater for the different quality of golfer, which means they can have an experience they will enjoy.
A hole-by-hole guide to the West improvements
“Nine of the holes are altered,” said Russell Mayne. “We added bunkers on the par-5 3rd. We extended and raised the tees on the 6th so you could view the fairway. We altered the fairway on the 6th. We put back tees on the 8th and two new fairway bunkers and reshaped the fairways there.
“There are fairway bunkers on the 10th and a greenside bunker. On the 11th, we moved a drainage ditch that was a little bit punitive for the higher handicap golfer and did some contouring of green surrounds there.
“The 12th hole was a very bland par 5 beforehand and we put some back tees in, altered the shape of the fairways, put fairway bunkers in and realigned a ditch in the fairway. That’s a phenomenal par 5 now. There are new back tees on the 13th. We moved the tees on the 15th to allow the tee at 12 to be created.
“We raised, extended and moved the back tees on the 17th so there was a better view of the fairway. You can actually see a bit of the green now.
“Overall, it was done not just to add yardage but to let the natural elements, the ground and course dictate the way you should play – to make it a very strategic course rather than just brawn winning.”
For more on Saunton, visit the club’s website.