Played by NCG: South West Tour, Day 7 – East Devon and Isle of Purbeck

Courses and Travel

NCG played 16 courses in eight days across the south west as part of research for the upcoming England's Top 100 Courses 2018. On day seven the tour stays in Devon before heading into Dorset...

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 7

Wake up in: Exmouth, Devon
Miles travelled: 192
Round 1: 8.02am – East Devon, Devon
Round 2: 3pm – Isle of Purbeck, Dorset
Sleep: Stroud, Gloucestershire

We knew this bit was coming. It was where our delicate grip on logistics well and truly snapped. There are probably some other golfing maniacs out there who might have followed us to this point but I know we’ve shrugged you off now.

The problem was that we should have ticked off Isle of Purbeck while on a trip to the Bournemouth area a month or so ago. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time so we needed to make an almighty detour this time around.

Let’s start at the start though. East Devon GC finds itself between Exmouth and Budleigh Salterton. It really doesn’t get much airtime outside the local area but it’s my job to tell you that this place is the real deal.

It was my first visit, and the weather was the worst of the trip to date – a dreary, grey morning with outbreaks of rain. For a course perched high above the sea, that is a real blow but East Devon certainly doesn’t rely on its views.

East Devon 10th

It’s a heathland for the most part, with a touch of moorland and one hole, the seventh, which seemed to be on a completely different piece of land and is parkland in nature.

Colt, with notable contributions from Fowler and Braid, is largely responsible for the design of this classy layout. At times, you could be in Surrey or Berkshire. Not just for the look of the holes but also the impeccable conditioning. The fairways and greens were wonderfully firm, and all the rain was doing was making them skiddier.

A tip of the hat to the greens staff here – this was the best conditioned course we played all week.

Julian, the managing secretary, explains that the course manager, Paul, is also the course-record holder. That figures.

The friendly members who excuse our fractionally late arrival and let us sneak out ahead of them are rightly proud of their club. It’s a cracker and it should enter the wider conversation more frequently when discussing great heathland golf.

A teeth-gritting two-hour bunt to Swanage awaits. It’s not that bad really and by the time we’ve lumbered out of the car on arrival at Isle of Purbeck we’re glad we took the trouble.

This is one of the country’s most scenic courses – set in moorland high above the Dorset coast and looking towards Poole Harbour and Bournemouth.

The start is a little underwhelming but all is quickly forgiven. The fifth is one of English golf’s great treasures – a mouth-gapingly spectacular tee shot over a marker post to a fairway that eventually appears in the distance winding its way towards a green that just has a look of Colt about it.

Into a headwind on what is a bright but very breezy afternoon, it’s equally thrilling and terrifying. At a third attempt, I think I’ve got one in play. I am mistaken.

I actually prefer the back nine at Purbeck, which is moorland in style and periodically reminds me of Gleneagles in terms of its great vistas and scale.

The club is recently under new ownership and specifically the enthusiastic stewardship of David, a Californian.

The potential here is evident from almost every hole, but it must be said that he and his team are are playing catch-up because the course has not been treated kindly in recent years.

On what is a huge piece of land, it is evident even to my inexpert eye that there is work to do on almost every aspect of the course.

Quite apart from greens, fairways, bunkers and tees, there is the ever-encroaching gorse that could do with being stripped back in several places.

The last thing I want to do is put anyone off from visiting here because I remain very fond of the course, which is a treasure.

Equally, I can only report honestly on what I see. I look forward to returning in the future and seeing the course looking a million dollars.

If the drive across Devon and Dorset was vaguely manageable, the stint up to Stroud is not. Especially as we know it means we are leaving the south coast and marks the beginning of the end of the trip.

Tom’s two-penneth

1. Golf clubs still have a lot to learn about customer service. If you arrive one minute late for a tee time it is not acceptable to be told you can’t play. In my experience, there is a mythical ‘they’ at golf clubs. ‘They’ don’t like change, ‘they’ don’t like people playing near the members’ times. Well, maybe professional managers should educate ‘they’ on what is best for the club – there is still too much tail wagging dog and in too many cases staff are institutionalised by these attitudes. Collectively we need to do better.

2. The sat nav in our Passat is truly terrible. It’s seemingly intent on lying optimistically about our arrival time and then sending us up obscure rat runs to ensure we are later than forecast. Routing also matters on the course. I like out and back, and two loops of nine, or even six, but returning to the clubhouse too early in a round is not satisfactory. I want to feel like I have got away, got into the round and left the fuss of the first tee. Don’t send me back there after two holes please. (But make sure I come back at some point, in case I run of out of balls, eh Dan?)

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 5:Bude & North Cornwall and Royal North Devon
Day 6:Bovey Castle and Thurlestone
Day 8:Minchinhampton (Cherington) and Minchinhampton (Avening)

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