Some of our most precious golfing treasures are fading away with every passing tide and storm. This special NCG investigation looks at how coastal erosion is changing the links landscape
Golf courses and coastal erosion: Royal North Devon
The sign remains as a monument to what has been lost – a reminder of the awesome power of nature.
Royal North Devon is England’s oldest course, opened for play in 1864, and was an Old Tom Morris design that had been largely untouched since the 1920s.
That was until the coast started to erode rapidly in the last decade. In 2013, they lost 15 to 20 metres of dunes in the space of three tides.
Last year, the 8th championship tee was claimed completely – the marker that lies on the beach is all that remains.
The 7th green is now just 35 feet from the edge of the erosion and the 6th green could also be at risk.
“There’s a sea defence called the Pebble Ridge, which is a natural phenomenon,” says Royal North Devon’s long-serving manager Mark Evans.
“Pebbles fell off the cliff and were washed around and became a sea defence. For whatever reasons, the material is not coming around as quickly as it used to and so the ridge is getting less effective.
“Behind that ridge are the sand dunes and, against the Atlantic Ocean and when you get big swales and 10-foot tides, there is no defence there. It is all being washed away very quickly, unfortunately, and it is very concerning.
“You can see the sea a lot more clearly from the 7th fairway (than previously). There were massive sand dunes on the left hand side and you could never see it.
“It’s probably about 25 metres of sand dunes that have gone. You were talking big, high, sand dunes and millions of tonnes of sand that have just washed away.”
RND have engaged Tom Mackenzie to rebuild the threatened areas and try to hold off the receding sand for the time being.
The 7th, a right to left dogleg that plays towards the sea, is set to become a straight par 5 while the par 3 8th would move inland and be played from higher ground. The 9th will shift from a par 5 to 4 and the 7th and 9th greens are also being altered.
“We don’t think we would have any more problems for at least 50 years,” says Evans.
But when the redesign went before planning chiefs at the end of August, the Environment Agency were less optimistic saying: “There are significant erosion issues in this section at the moment.
“It is also worth noting that the proposed plan will only offer a temporary solution, and further movement will be required in perhaps five to 10 years.”
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