Royal North Devon Golf Club, alternatively known as Westward Ho! is the oldest golf course in England, and one of the iconic early links that defined golf in the U.K. in years past.
Golf had been played for many a year before the club called in ‘Old’ Tom Morris to design a new course. Subsequenty in 1908 Herbert Fowler tweaked ‘Old Tom’s’ work, and the result is largely what we see today.
RND is steeped in history, and every keen golfer will want to absorb the Westward Ho! experience. The clubhouse is a living museum- medals and trophies from the 19th century, and honour boards featuring famous golfing names like Horace Hutchinson, and J.H. Taylor who learned the game here…
The course is based in the Northam Burrows Country Park, a large seaside site that has been declared a site of scientific interest, and declared a biosphere area.
Sheep, horses, and other wildlife freely wander around the park.
The golf course leases it’s area from the local authority and is subject to the rules of the park. It is quite novel to be playing a hole with sheep on the fairway with you, but it’s common here. A herd of horses also drifted on to the course while we were playing.
There are some concerns, however with the Atlantic Sea buffeting the coast that holes 7 & 8 in particular will be eventually eroded. Over the years that the course has been in play the locals have always protected the course by piling stones along this part of the coast as a rustic sea wall- and this method has successfully protected the course. Now however Natural England has declared this practice cannot continue, and erosion is becoming a factor.
Like many old links courses, RND is a book with many chapters.
The first few holes- 1 & 2, and the closing holes- 17 & 18 are routed through low marshland, effectively connecting the clubhouse, and access to the course to the wonderful linksland beyond.
Every so often with wild weather this area of the course is reclaimed by the sea for a few days. Apparently if this only lasts a day or two, the sea water eliminates the bugs from the grasses, and the fairways flourish.
The next section of the course enters fine rolling dunes land perfect for golf, and holes 3-9 are high quality links holes.
Then we move into lower marshland with rushes a major feature. The fairways are flatter, and on holes 10 & 11, good holes though they are, there is limited visibility of the fairway of the tee. Holes 12 & 13 head out of the rushes, but the terrain is still basically flat- and again they are decent holes.
Holes 14, 15 & 16 are back to rolling linksland before those final low lying holes that connect us back to the clubhouse and dry ground…
Playing golf at Royal Nth Devon is like stepping back in time- the clubhouse is full of history, but the course is the real treasure. The 4th hole with it's famous bunkers is one of the iconic golf holes of the world, but the entire round will be an experience you will cherish. Links golf as it was- with sheep and horses on the fairways, and beachgoers as well...
Don't miss a chance to play it.
We rate it a Travelling Golfer 'must play!'
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