This club is famous for… its role in the D-Day landings
But the American visitors who came to use that stretch of sand during the Second World War weren’t interested in the dunes for their perfect golfing terrain.
The topography was eerily similar to what would become Omaha beach in Normandy and it would play an important role in preparations for D-Day.
The Assault Training Centre was established in 1943, principally because the Americans had wrongly assumed that troops sent to Britain for the upcoming invasion of France would be battle-ready.
In fact, many of them had never fired a rifle in a combat situation and needed to get some training quickly ahead of the landings.
With the British having already bagged the best coastal locations, only the area around Woolacombe remained.
So the Assault Training Centre was divided into lettered areas along the beach from A until M. Saunton was D.
In a stroke of luck, the sand type, dunescape and difficult terrain was almost exactly like Omaha – where many of the Americans were soon to be heading.
Saunton was taken over as obstacles, fortifications and tanks moved into the dunes. When the engineers arrived in September 1943, they built full-scale replicas of everything they would face on the French seafront.
There were tank sides, a flame rower range and radio towers. On the 14th hole of the West course, you can still see the remnants of a rifle range.
It proved a valuable training ground and vital to the success of the operation. But the ATC’s involvement didn’t finish there. It would house and feed replacement troops on their way to France and parts of the course would be ‘occupied’ until 1951.
They left a mark. The forces destroyed a significant proportion of the East and West courses.
The dedicated greens staff, along with some German prisoners of war, had the East course up and running again by 1952 and the West was re-designed by Frank Pennink and opened in 1974.
Even so, the legacy remains. A few pill boxes, mine traps and booby areas remain and, when Saunton renovated their West course in 2016, bomb disposal units had to be called in to diffuse a weapon that was still live.
But as the two courses now thrive, and hold strong positions in ranking lists of the country’s top layouts, the club can be proud of their history and look forward to the future with promise.