Top: The raised green at the par 3, 5th hole. Above: Looking back down the stunning 18th
1st can be a tough startThe green at the par 3, 6thThe 7th is stroke index 1 hole
Sergio Garcia won the British Boys Championship on this course in 1997 and the great Harry Vardon once stated: ďI would like to retire to Saunton and do nothing but play golf for pleasure.Ē Those two events are probably separated by nearly a hundred years, but what has stood the test of time is Sauntonís East course. The venue has held many of the countryís prestige amateur competitions and will again be hosting the English Amateur Championship in 2014.
As I climb up onto the first tee and look down on the starting hut and out to the 478 yards of what is one tough opening hole that lies some 30ft below, I am thanking the golfing gods that itís just a breeze and not a 20mph wind blowing across the dunes. A solid drive down the middle and I am off, and as the proís tip states in the course planner: Ďa 5 will win the opening hole more times than not Ė keep this in mindí. I do as I duly hole out for a five, but what I do notice is how hard and fast the greens are. Like St Enodoc yesterday the greens here are in great condition.
Like the West course there are some great views to behold, but the one niggling factor is the lack of a sea view. You know itís there, you can feel that nice cooling breeze, that waft of fresh sea air and the tinge of salt on your lips, but the dunes here are high and you never quite get used to its lurking unseen presence. I have a theory about human beings and the sea and I duly get my fix on the drive back to the hotel.
Herbert Fowler was commissioned to undertake the redesign of the original course that had been on Braunton Burrows since the early 1890s and quickly gained a reputation for being one of the best links courses in the country, and this is one of the reasons behind this trip. As hopefully you have gathered while reading these reviews, not only does links golf exist outside of Scotland but there are some courses that could give the great links courses north of the border a real run for their money.
There is not a weak hole on this course and it will test every part of your game. The fairways are generous but itís not a smash-and-grab course. If you really want to take advantage you have to be in the right position to gain a good look at the greens. And believe me you need to see the greens, because if you come in from the wrong angle your ball wont be staying on them long and will find one of the many pot bunkers that protect them. If I had to name one hole it would be the 14th, a great driving hole through the dunes. The hole narrows as it makes its way towards the green, itís like playing your second shot through a funnel. But there are plenty of great holes here all worthy of a mention.
I am never one to really compare courses. All the great tracks have their own identity and uniqueness, even when designed by the same architect, and that is what makes this great game of ours such a special sport as we get to play it in some truly wonderful settings. Not only does Saunton sit in a truly beautiful place but I now fully appreciate what Harry Vardon meant by that comment. It certainly is a tremendous pleasure and one I hope I will sample again soon.
Raised green at the 10thLooking back down the 14thThe par 3, 17th from the tee
All golf photography taken on the day of play © James Mason