As an avid lover of links golf, I thought it was time to pay a visit to the south west region and tee up at Saunton (East) Golf Club, located on the beauitful unspoilt North Devon coast.
Saunton (East), alongside its brother Saunton (West), are two courses that make up England’s Atlantic Links which comprise six premier championship links
Like most of the courses in the British Isles, Saunton East has taken on many shapes from its inception in 1897 through the next several decades. The course was even shortened to 12 holes during WW1.
Its present design, however, is attributed mostly to Herbert Fowler's redesign following the war. The 1920s brought several high-profile events to Saunton, matching the likes of Harry Vardon and JH Taylor, and later in 1929 at the new clubhouse opening ceremony when James Braid squared off against Taylor and Henry Cotton.
The East Course is set on mostly flatter dunesland, though it tumbles its way around dunes and between formidable bunkers. It's a par-71 that plays up to 6,800 yards from the blue tees, though daily play is set closer to 6,400.
More than 30 bunkers have been added in recent years to coral tee shots from the modern drive and uphold Saunton as a stern test worthy of England's top tournaments.
What I love about this course is that Fowler has taken full advantage of the natural terrain by routing holes the dunes with skill and mastery. It was an absolute pleasure to tee up on.
The course presents a stern test throughout with eight par-4s measuring over 400 yards and just the two tricky par-5s, so scoring opportunities are few and far between. There are also three excellent par-3s that place a premium on accuracy. One of them requires a wedge, while one requires all you've got with the fairway wood!
Nick Faldo says...
In the eyes of Sir Nick, it's been unfortunate not to host the Open, despite holding the British Boys Championship in 1997, won by a fresh-faced Sergio Garcia.
"I've no doubt that if the East Course were located on the coast of Lancashire or Kent it would have hosted an Open Championship by now," remarked Faldo of the heralded East.
Tough opening start
The first hole measuring 470 yards demands a driver from an elevated tee favouring the left half and long iron to a flat green protected by a bunker on each side.
The par-5 second is a genuine three-shotter. Having managed to avoid the bunkers off the tee it was a 6-iron layup and pitching wedge approach to a slightly raised green. Having found trouble down the left of the next it took an up and down of Bobby Warters proportions to save my par!
The index one par-4 fourth hole not surprisingly required a driver favouring the left half of the fairway and another long iron to one of the larger greens on the course.
It's not all about length
At 122 yards the aptly named ‘Tiddler’ fifth hole commands you hit the green or fight for your bogey. One of the toughest short holes I've played for some time.
The overly flat middle six holes switched from short par-4 birdie opportunities to stifling long par fours before coming to the best par-three on the property!
The 13th at 145 yards I guess could play anything from a driver to a wedge given the wind direction but today it played the number on the stone and an 8iron. Having found the green the fun had only just begun… two-tiered from right to left with the pin cut on the smaller lower half, I misjudged my first putt more than I care to mention.
The 14th at 455yards is worthy of its index 2 hole by well placed fairway bunkers off the tee and a dune front left that must be avoided to have a chance of par.
The second of the two par fives gives up an opportunity for birdie if you find the fairway off the tee and avoid the hunger bunker front right of the heavily slopped from back to front green.
Local myth has it that the 16th ‘Fowlers’ is one of Peter Alliss' favourite holes in world golf. Driver is required to the dog leg inside the well placed fairway bunkers on the right before an approach to another slopping green, this time from left to right.
The demanding tail to the East continued at 17 with another classic par 3 from an elevated tee which required a hybrid to one of the courses flatter greens and it should give up a par.
Another shift in direction to the closing hole that requires you take on the bunkers protecting the left side before a slightly uphill approach to the green under the nose of the clubhouse.
My first impression of Saunton is that it has holes fit for the any championship course mixed in with some quirky ones that will test both the ability and patience of all levels of golfer. The warm welcome in the clubhouse was only surpassed by some of countries best fish in chips later in near by Braunton. A special plaice by all accounts!
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