The Played by NCG South West Tour saw editor Dan Murphy and publisher Tom Irwin take in 16 courses in eight days, covering Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Dorset. All the courses are on the shortlist for our Played by NCG England’s Top 100 Courses 2018 ranking feature.
It involved a degree of travelling. Quite a large degree actually.
There is often a good reason why a certain course had not been incorporated on to a previous, more sensible, trip. Namely that it is an outlier. Not so much geographically as much as not having a natural partner to pair it with.
On this Played by NCG tour, Kington, in Herefordshire, and Isle Of Purbeck, in Dorset, were both good examples.
It took them weeks to come up with the itinerary and even now, after they’ve escaped the vortex of the golf trip, they still scratch their heads looking at it. But it’s over now. They did it. Here’s their diary from the mammoth trip…
Played by NCG: South West Tour, Day 5
Wake up in: Barnstaple, Devon
Miles travelled: 129
Round 1: 9.30am – Bude & North Cornwall, Cornwall
Round 2: 3.30pm – Royal North Devon, Devon
Sleep: Bovey Castle, Devon
Just when we thought our golfing palates might be in danger of becoming a little jaded, along came Bude & North Cornwall. This Tom Dunn links occupies a tiny piece of land – actually two tiny pieces of land.
The first five holes are on one side of the road – actually the short fourth is in a section of its own and is encircled by three roads.
If it begins unassumingly, you quickly get the idea. The third, pictured above, is a clever short par 4 where the angles and contours work against you, while the fifth masquerades as a birdie chance when it is actually a lot easier to run up a six.
But it’s not until you drive over the hill on the sixth that you really start to understand what Bude is all about.
Apart from a curious paddock at the far end, the remaining holes are fun, fun, fun. You can never see where you are going but there are delights on the far side of every dune and mound.
It’s basically impossible to score well on your first visit short of dispatching advance parties on fact-finding expeditions upon arrival on each tee.
So don’t worry about that, just revel in the endearing quirk and rest assured that there will be a stunning green complex at the end of the hole.
Nick, the pro, told us that they were just about getting the greens back to where they wanted them after a disease had struck.
You always wonder when someone says that if it is code for “the greens are unputtable” but in fact he was merely being as modest as the club is as a whole. Some of the surfaces were perfect and a couple were only slightly behind.
All of the par 4s here are under 400 yards but only the first two are less than well-protected.
So it comes as a mercy that there is a trio of par-5 holes, none of which measure more than 450 yards or so.
Frankly, we need all the help we can get to salvage a degree of respectability for our scores.
We would happily have done another lap of Bude but, naturally, we were required to hare off to our next destination, in this case Royal North Devon.
In fact, Tom was a little too eager. Note to Bude visitors: you can’t turn right out of the car park, it’s a one-way street.
The thing about this trip is that there is always another treat in front of you. We could tell us much just by wandering around Royal North Devon’s clubhouse and museum.
This is the oldest course in England and remains one of the best. It is also the spiritual home of JH Taylor, the five-time Open champion who lived in neighbouring Northam all his life.
Its minimalist design and wide-open expanses (the grazing sheep keep the rough down to manageable levels) meant it fell out of fashion in the latter part of the 20th century.
But when you look at the work that the likes of Doak, Coore-Crenshaw, Phillips, Parsinen et al are producing around the world you realise how much it owes to the principles of Royal North Devon.
Golfers of all abilities can get the ball in play here yet only the most skilled will be able to score well. Sounds perfect to me
Hazards come in the form of spiky plants. When I say spiky, I’m talking about gorse-level prickliness. They are a highly effective hazard because, once engaged with, you won’t want to go within 30 yards of another one.
I realise that to some this course will just be a vast, mysterious, barren featureless expanse of land – much like the Old Course is until you get to know it well – but if that’s your initial reaction please bear with it.
The holes are in fact subtle and clever. The turf is wonderfully firm and the greens evenly paced and true.
In fact, I’m going so far as to say that our sunny afternoon here was the highlight of the trip to date.
1. Fun. Tour pros chest-bumping mascots, that is fun for a bit, but a thriving sport needs a growing, sustainable population of participants. Creating environments where people are welcome, the sport is possible for anyone to play, and the game is made easier not harder is absolutely essential. Bude & Royal North Devon do that in different ways: Like no rough, ground assistance and total yardages from forward tees well under 6,000 yards.
This is at odds with the rhetoric and, worse still, courses built in the last 40 years. Golf insists on making a virtue of how difficult it is. Read any golf course website and you’re welcomed with descriptions like ‘this brute of a par 4’, ‘the fiendishly difficult hole’, and ‘not for the faint-hearted’. What a perverse way to make something appealing.
2. On the other hand if you don’t want golf to be fun, and brutal and fiendish is your thing, Royal North Devon can do that too.
I think it could host an Open.
Already well over 7,000 yards from the back tees there is space to create a course twice that length so that is future-proofing dealt with.
Critics say the course allows you to ‘hit it anywhere’ (see above). It does, but one angle is still better than another, and simply removing the sheep would allow the rough to grow.
There is enough space for a tented village the size of Glastonbury. I can see it now: the downwind par-5 13th was only a drive and an iron for DJ today. No problem, we have moved the tee back and it is now playing at 950 yards.
More from the Played by NCG South West Tour
Day 1: Cleeve Hill and Painswick
Day 2: Ross-on-Wye and Kington
Day 3: Bowood and Burnham & Berrow
Day 4: Saunton (West) and Saunton (East)
Day 6: Bovey Castle and Thurlestone
Day 7: East Devon and Isle of Purbeck
Day 8: Minchinhampton (Cherington) and Minchinhampton (Avening)