Played by NCG: South West Tour, Day 4 – Saunton

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 four the tour moves to Devon...

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 4

Wake up in: Braunton, Devon
Miles travelled: 18
Round 1: 9.30am – Saunton (West), Devon
Round 2: 3.00pm – Saunton (East), Devon
Sleep: Barnstaple, Devon

They say that West is best but we all know that’s only because it rhymes. Nor is East least. Not at Saunton, anyway.

Still, it’s a nice problem to have when you are arguing the toss about which of your two world-class links courses is slightly better than the other.

Actually, and with respect to general manager Russell, who explains to us about all the recent improvement work that has been carried out on the West by Tom Mackenzie in a bid for parity with its sibling, there is still a clear distinction between the two courses.

I don’t think that’s a bad thing, but I applaud the attempts to make the West as good as it can be, rather than just concentrating on what remains (sorry Russell) the main attraction.

It’s certainly true that the West is more demanding than it is used to be. Driver is very often taken out of your hands – there’s a case for leaving it in the bag on all but the par-5 holes.

As a result, lots of your approaches are from the thick end of 200 yards. While par 4s like the sixth, seventh, and eighth are technically excellent, it’s the run for home, starting with the 12th, which shows the West in its best light.

The elevated green site at the 13th is a beauty, even if the day’s pin position, cut on the back-right shelf behind a hillock, was not.

Then there is the 15th, a short par 4 where you can see the green from the tee, if not quite work out a way of getting your ball on to it.

Personally, I’d like to cast the West in the role of fun, holiday golf and I like it best on holes like these, and the first three, where it is sporty.

I suppose part of that comes from the knowledge that after lunch I am going to be well and truly tested on the East.

Considering it is Monday, the clubhouse is incredibly busy. Best of all, it doesn’t really feel like a golf clubhouse – save a bizarre rule about not being able to wear your (clean) spikeless shoes inside, which is a problem as they are the only kind of shoes we have brought on the trip – just a nice bar and restaurant where you can sit outside on the terrace.

Eventually, there is a gap on the East and we drink in the expanse of the first hole.

Collectively, the first four holes present as impressive an opening to a links course as I can currently think of. It’s thrilling golf, with a definite championship feel to it. There are dunes, pot bunkers and elevation changes. As is a feature of the whole course, you must work out from the tee how you want to play the hole.

Periodically, you return to holes with a similar feel, most notably at the 14th and 16th. Several other holes are played on flatter land with a little less definition and, accordingly, a little less drama.

We are playing in an easterly wind, which makes several of the tee shots particularly awkward. A prime example is the 18th, which turns quite abruptly to the right at driving distance. Now, this is not an easy tee shot when the wind is coming off that side. Having got into position, though, what an inspiring view. The walk up the 18th fairway lives long in the memory.

What a joy it was to spend the whole of one day in the same place. I could happily spend many more here doing exactly the same thing. Thanks, Saunton. You are great.

For us, though, this marks only the halfway point of our odyssey. Tomorrow, it’s back in the car and time for a sojourn to North Cornwall.

Tom’s two-penneth

1. We spend a lot of time bemoaning life’s challenges. Our day at Saunton presented none. Two beautifully presented courses, not a breath of a wind, a cloudless sky, plenty of energy left in the tank. All set for a perfect day’s golf. With nothing to rally against, nothing to blame and expectations high, our collective golf was truly terrible for the first six holes. Why? Nothing to overcome, fight with or blame. Embrace challenges – you will miss them when they are gone.

2. Doglegs are dangerous things at a links course. People often talk about the ‘wrong wind’ but really we have two winds in this country – the north-easterly of winter and spring and the warmer and altogether more pleasant south-westerly of summer. Most courses set up for the latter and the great ones are playable in both. Acute doglegs make that difficult.

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 5:Bude & North Cornwall and Royal North Devon
Day 6:Bovey Castle and Thurlestone
Day 7:East Devon and Isle of Purbeck
Day 8:Minchinhampton (Cherington) and Minchinhampton (Avening)

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