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Stephen Hollis combines a family motorhome holiday with golf on some of England’s finest links
The Royal North Devon Golf Club
There is no doubt that Mark Twain had a way with words, but I’d argue he never flushed an 8-iron to within four feet of the hole, before tapping in for a birdie on a stunningly beautiful seaside links.
If he had, then there is no way the great American writer would have uttered the famous line that ‘golf is a good walk spoiled’. That saying sums up perfectly the Marmite appeal of the sport (although – despite popular opinion – Twain was almost certainly not the first to say it!).
A round at Royal North Devon (originally designed by four-time Open champion Old Tom Morris in 1864) is not just about the golf or even the walking. It is so much more: history lesson, nature ramble, mindfulness session.
The course in Westward Ho! is one of six dotted along the coastline in south-west England which form the Atlantic Links trail.
Tailor-made packages to play all six, including accommodation, are available, but the network snaking from North Somerset, through Devon to Cornwall is perfect for caravanners or motorhomers on a less extravagant budget. Just throw your clubs and golf shoes in the motorhome garage – or boot of the car – and you’re ready to go. And the beauty of the region for those of the Mark Twain persuasion – my wife and two teenage daughters on this occasion – is that they can enjoy numerous other attractions during a break, including fabulous beaches and coast path walks.
While you could probably squeeze in a round at each of the six layouts over the course of a week, I opted to sample three, using Club sites in North Somerset and North Devon as bases.
Our first stop was at Hurn Lane Club Campsite in Burnham-on-Sea, which is within walking distance of Burnham and Berrow Golf Club – a mere pup in comparison to Royal North Devon, having been established in 1891. A round on the stunning Championship course will set you back £130, while with the nine-hole Channel course is a more affordable £35.
Hurn Lane is also handily placed to explore Brean Down, a stunning natural promontory managed by the National Trust which extends one and a half miles from the seemingly endless golden sands of Brean beach into the Bristol Channel. We left our motorhome in the car park by the beach and climbed the 200-plus steps to the top to enjoy sensational views out to sea and north towards Weston-super-Mare.
At the tip of Brean Down is a decommissioned Victorian fort which was originally built in the 1860s and then adapted for experimental weapons testing during the Second World War. It made for a fascinating rest stop, especially when we read the story of how one trial went disastrously wrong and blew up a chicken run...
The atmospheric Saunton links
Our next stop was Willingcott Club Campsite in North Devon – an area which we have visited many times as a family and love returning to. The site is perched on top of a hill to the south of Ilfracombe and east of Woolacombe, offering wonderful views on a clear day.
After setting up we took the footpath down to Woolacombe Beach in search of ice cream but a sudden downpour made the walk back – all uphill to boot – a little less enjoyable.
Thankfully the weather improved for my round at Saunton Golf Club the following morning. Poor route planning meant a slightly tricky drive in the motorhome along narrow lanes, which I would have been able to avoid completely if I had been better prepared. It did mean I was able to drop my non-golfing family – including dog Rosie – off in Croyde so they could enjoy a leisurely walk along the South West Coast Path, with a plan to meet me on the beach at Saunton Sands for a late lunch.
The golf club was founded in 1897 and boasts two superb courses – East and West – tucked just back from the beach and sheltered by the huge dunes of Braunton Burrows. The club has a noteworthy golfing history, having hosted prestigious events such as the English Amateur and British Ladies Championship, while a certain Sergio Garcia won the British Boys Championship there in 1997.
I was booked to play the West Course which hugs the coastline, so you can hear the waves throughout (but you rarely get a glimpse of the sea due to those towering dunes). The East is considered by many to be the superior of the two but the West Course was among the best I have ever experienced. The club’s status is reflected in a green fee of £130 during peak season although cheaper ’twilight’ rates are available.
The rest of the afternoon – and the next day in fact – was spent messing around on Saunton Sands beach, which is ideal for dogs. The area near the car park can get busy but it’s not difficult to find a spot all to yourself farther along.
The 4th hole at Trevose
A wonderful week combining golf and beach life was brought to a close with a 45-minute drive from Willingcott to Royal North Devon Golf Club – granted its royal status by Queen Victoria in 1867. I dropped my family in the car park and they were able to walk right across the course to the coast as it is built on common land. Golfers must also be aware of sheep and other livestock grazing the fairways!
Royal North Devon oozes history – it has been described as the St Andrews of the south – and boasts some holes that run right along the shoreline. It is also largely flat – the 6th hole is called ‘Alp’ because you tee off from the highest point on the course, but otherwise you won’t need your climbing boots.
It can get quite breezy here, but the weather was kind to me, meaning the main concern was keeping out of the fearsome bunkers and drainage channels that criss-cross the course. I might not have matched the standards of five-time Open champion J H Taylor, who grew up playing on the course, but that mattered not a jot as I could simply shrug off a bad shot by taking in the wonder of my surroundings.
I’d had the privilege of playing three of the finest courses in Britain and combined it with a family motorhome holiday – all without breaking the bank. I would have loved to have extended my stay to enjoy St Enodoc and Trevose – which are located handily close to each other near Padstow in Cornwall – and complete the Atlantic Links trail, but I’ll have to save them for another day.