BBC golf correspondent Iain Carter reveals his affection for the courses of south-west England and his favourite Open venues
I often holiday with my family in a place called Croyde, in Devon. We rent a place for a week there now; we love it, and one of the reasons is the golf nearby.
Croyde is just a few minutes’ drive from Saunton, which has two superb links courses. Saunton East is quite simply one of finest links in the whole country – and the West is not far behind. In fact, if you are playing family golf, the West is a little more generous and as a result more enjoyable.
Like the East, it is in immaculate condition. It has a very tight opening couple of holes and then it opens up a little more. It has a fabulous location, with lovely views inland and you can hear the sea even if you don’t see it.
The par-5 17th is a hole where so much can happen and the 18th is a spectacular long par 3 and a brilliant finishing hole.
We are also regular visitors to Royal North Devon, a course and a club I really enjoy for two reasons.
“The course itself is such a throwback; the first seven or eight holes are as spectacular links golf as you could wish to see.”
One is the welcoming nature of the golf club. To me, this is how golf should be and it is one of the oldest clubs in Britain so if it can have that enlightened attitude – especially to junior players – then I really think every club should manage to follow its example.
It’s not pretentious, there is a wonderful museum to browse around, and there is just a great sense of history about it. Marrying all these things together makes it appealing before you even set foot on the course.
The course itself is such a throwback. The first seven or eight holes are as spectacular links golf as you could wish to see – they remind me of the stretch along the shore at Hoylake. Then you play among reeds and marshes and it is all very straightforward, simple yet challenging golf.
It doesn’t beat you up – although if I could just find a way of not messing up the par-5 17th I’d be very pleased – and a pleasing feel of golf as it should be. There are even roped-off greens to keep the sheep from wandering on them. Golf is a nothing more than a ball and stick game in a field, and Royal North Devon achieves the joy of golf better than most.
We’ve also played St Enodoc and if views are your thing, it is very hard to beat. There are so many spectacular and memorable holes and I’d like to play it again now I know it a bit better because there is some quirkiness to cope with.
In fact, it is probably a shame people may well go there and only play it once on holiday not really knowing what they should be doing on some holes. It is a fantastic experience – just look at the giant bunker on the 6th – and there’s a lovely hole down towards the coast to start with and then a tough finish.
There are also elevation changes which are subtle but very apparent. I just wish more people could play it because these courses are treasures. Having said that, once you are there it couldn’t be friendlier. There’s so much great golf in that area; the likes of Dunbar, all three at Gullane, Luffness and Kilspindie…
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Needless to say I love St Andrews – I’m saying nothing original there.
I played an awful lot in St Andrews as a junior on the Eden as we used to holiday there so much.
It is so perfect for 24-handicap 12-year-old and you used to come off feeling you’d played so well. You had to play well to score well, but if you did you felt it was an achievement as it was St Andrews.
The Old Course is pure magic and it’s amazing the number of times you go there and beat your handicap and walk off thinking, ‘I’ve done that but not sure how.’ It is such an architectural delight.
It is also still special driving into the town. I always approach it from the Leuchars end and that is deliberate because the town just grows bigger and bigger and then suddenly you are next to the Eden and the driving range.
It is all so amazingly familiar yet magically enticing, and just puts a smile on your face. It never feels old and I’ve been visiting for 40 years.
It’s not my favourite Open venue though because the unique nature of the course means the fans feel more separate down one side – unlike say Birkdale or Muirfield.
I’d probably prefer it if they went there once every 10 years to make it feel even more special rather than once every five. But it is still the most special place in the game.
Iain Carter is the BBC’s golf correspondent and produces a weekly podcast with commentator Andrew Cotter called The Cut.