Played by NCG: South West Tour, Day 6 – Bovey Castle and Thurlestone

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 six the tour stays in 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 6

Wake up in: Bovey Castle, Devon
Miles travelled: 96
Round 1: 9am – Bovey Castle, Devon
Round 2: 3.30pm – Thurlestone, Devon
Sleep: Exmouth, Devon

Just as astronauts have to take precautions when recalibrating back to life on earth after a space mission, I’m pretty sure that golfers shouldn’t be allowed to move between Bovey Castle and Royal North Devon without at least several intermediate steps.

A mere 12 hours ago, we were immersed in a brand of golf where the wind is blowing at 20mph, the land is off-yellow, there are no changes in elevation, the bunkers are deep, the turf is firm underfoot, approach shots need to be landed short, you can putt from almost anywhere and picking lines for tee shots generally involves a house on a distant hill.

Now there is lush, green grass, water hazards, shallow bunkers, lots of trees, soft landings, elevated tees and a need for precision from the tee. It’s altogether a softer environment.

But no easier a game. In fact, Bovey’s 6,300 yards (par 70) represent one of the most exacting tests of the trip. The start here is really tough – especially once you’ve been tricked by the opener.

It’s barely long enough to be a par 4 and it’s played severely downhill. But with the River Bovey in front of the green you’re happy to hit a couple of wedges and be able to use the same ball on the second.

Unfortunately, this par 4 also goes over water, and so does the third, an incredibly demanding long par 3 off the white tees where the green is virtually an island.

What happened to the perceived light relief of a modest-length parkland? Well, this JF Abercromby design was updated by Donald Steel 15 years ago and is far from straightforward, especially off the back tees.

The best holes are on the front nine but the hardest is left until last – a 430-yard par 4 round a hillside where it’s an achievement just to get to end of the hole.

It’s an exceptionally attractive course with flashes of design brilliance but I do wonder if the set-up isn’t a little severe – especially for what is a hotel course.

Fortunately, after an evening of luxurious recuperation in the stylish castle, we were at least energized for the task at hand.

Bovey Castle is on the north-eastern edge of Dartmoor, and the journey down to Thurlestone, on the south Devon coast is a dramatic one.

One the way, the scenery changes several times as we move from moorland towards the coast. Thurlestone is something of an outpost, finding itself halfway between Plymouth and Torquay.

Getting here involves the kind of journey I associate with Ireland. It’s all windy little roads and hedgerows. Just when you think you can’t go any further, it opens up into a village. And then off you go again.

The golf course, designed by Harry Colt, is a clifftop affair. It quickly establishes itself as being entirely open, and defended by an alliance of wind and contours. You can see the sea on every last hole.

I feel almost cheated that I wasn’t brought here on childhood holidays and didn’t spend my summers learning how to play in an ever-present breeze.

With most of the holes on the same broad stretch of land, an absence of trees, lots of natural green sites and, to its great credit, little in the way of long grass, there are any number of ways Thurlestone could have been configured. So it is that we spend a good half hour afterwards with Keith, the general manager, poring over an aerial plan of the course and looking at how the club can best take advantage of a new plot of land they have recently acquired.

Curiously, the opening hole is in a paddock all of its own while the 18th finishes, unsatisfactorily, well away from and out of sight of the clubhouse. What’s more, the last runs parallel to the seventh on what is the narrowest part of the course and which is lined by expensive property.

It feels like there must be a solution that tackles all of the above but it’s too much for Tom and me to work out after 36 holes so we bid a reluctant farewell to this little corner of Devon and head north (then south) to Exmouth.

Tom’s two-penneth

1. Hotel rooms are too hot. All of them. The only thing to avoid getting a nightly dab on is to open all windows, turn all radiators down to zero, remove the duvet and sleep just in a sheet. You will still be too hot but it will be bearable. Global warming could be solved by colder hotels.

2. You can play golf in a sensible time and score well. You really can. Today, we played two rounds of golf, both taking no longer than three hours. Both courses were moderate in length but we played properly and no bad scoring was down to rushing. There is no excuse for two-ball and three-ball rounds taking more than three-and-a-half hours at most ‘normal’ length courses. Play quicker.

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 7:East Devon and Isle of Purbeck
Day 8:Minchinhampton (Cherington) and Minchinhampton (Avening)

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