Played by NCG: Royal North Devon
Reason for a Royal North Devon Golf Club review
More research for England’s Top 100 Courses 2018 is the predictable answer. My only previous visit was way back in 2004 so it was long overdue. You can read about our epic sweep of the south-west here.
Where is Royal North Devon?
Royal North Devon is found in Westward Ho! Which, I believe, is the only town in England with an exclamation mark in its name. It’s found on the North Devon coast, not too far from the border with Cornwall.
What to expect
Venerability. Royal North Devon is the oldest in England, dating back to 1864. History seeps from its pores and the club quite rightly wallows in its long and glorious past.
It’s an Old Tom Morris design over common land that has changed very little in the last 150 years. It’s minimalist, it’s simple and it’s utterly comfortable in its own skin. I love it dearly.
It’s worth going for the clubhouse alone, which has more exhibits than your average museum.
This portrait of JH Taylor, the club’s favourite son, takes pride of place. He was born in neighbouring Northam and was caddying here – for the two-time Amateur champion Horace Hutchinson no less – by the age of 11. He would go on to win the Open five times.
The 11th, above, is a perfect illustration of what Royal North Devon is all about. It’s only 370 yards but when you stand on the tee it is intimidating and deceptive, with those trademark spiky reeds and a number of bunkers in view. Disorientation is something this course does very well – generally the fairways are more generous than they look but there’s always an advantage to be gained by accurate driving. That, to me, is the essence of links golf.
It’s the approach that really makes this hole though – as you can see, the ripples of the links land are quite stunning, with the green just partially hidden beyond them – it’s enough to add that element of slight doubt into your judgement of the approach.
My best bit
As you can see, we got the perfect afternoon to play here: bright and breezy. The short 16th was playing into a pretty stiff headwind, meaning it took a little bunt with my 5-iron to cover the 150 yards to the back pin. For once, I managed to control the flight and it safely found the heart of the raised green. Modesty permits me from detailing what happened next. But I will say that I regained the honour for the 17th.
What to look for
You need a little bit of soul to get the most out of the whole experience at Royal North Devon. I know from personal experience that you can spend a day here and just not grasp what is in my opinion the genius of the golf course. Like the Old Course it can appear to be a bit of a field, but it’s anything but.
Gloriously, there is more room off the tee than at your average course but then this is a windswept links entirely at the mercy of the elements. However, it really does reward good driving because you can make your second shot that much easier – or otherwise.
When I go back…
I’ll dare to risk a glass of the house port. Encased in a wooden box, all you can see is the optic. It’s free – as long as there is enough left in the bottle to re-fill said optic. If not, you must stand the cost of a fresh bottle.
For more information, visit the Royal North Devon website.