Royal North Devon Golf Club Review
Course Name: Royal North Devon Golf Club
Location: Golf links Road, Westward Ho!, Bideford, Devon, EX39 1HD, UK
Date Played: Autumn 2021
Course Type: Links
If you’re looking for a taste of how golf used to be played 150 years ago then Royal North Devon Golf Club should be at the top of your list.
Proudly proclaims itself as the oldest golf course in England and was founded in 1864. It is the oldest course still at its original site but Royal Blackheath Golf Club was formed in 1608!
Unlike some clubs these days, RND doesn’t allow you to play from the back tees so my observations are based on someone playing from the yellows.
It is more or less an out-and-back links with the 9th tee being the furthest point from the clubhouse. The holes go this way and that which means you will face whatever breeze you’re presented with on the day from every possible direction.
The layout suits a fader more than a drawer of the ball. Many of the holes have another fairway running parallel which you can escape from if you veer to the right.
Your round opens with a gentle par-5 which is probably in range for bigger hitters even with the ditch that runs across the fairway short of the green.
The 2nd and 3rd holes are of a similar length with the 2nd taking you out towards the beach and the 3rd then running along parallel to it. In the summer it may take a while for you to be able to play your tee shot on the 3rd due to the traffic on the road from the town down to the beach.
The 4th features a rather large intimidating bunker with railway sleepers in the face which you need to carry from the tee. The fairway is one of the more undulating at RND but you should only be left with a fairly short iron to the green. As with any links course you need to try to avoid the bunkers if you’re going to make a decent score. It is easy to rack up a large number if you get stuck near the face or in an awkward lie in the pot bunkers.
The first par-3, the 5th hole, goes towards the beach once again and most likely into the wind. Only a short hole but the raised green along with the wind will make it play further than the card would suggest. Plenty of bunkers to be avoided and should you miss the green and the sand then you’ll probably be left with a tricky chip from an uneven lie. You may also find some local walkers offering words of encouragement or commiseration from the benches on the path behind the green.
The 6th is one of my favorite holes on the course. From the raised tee you get a wonderful view of the bay over towards Saunton. You can also see the rumpled fairway laid out before you with several bunkers designed to catch you out both off the tee and nearer the green.
Seven is another short par-5 with the main problem posed by the rushes short and left of the green.
Because of coastal erosion, the current 8th hole will soon be moved to a point further inland. This should protect it from any further damage and will also mean changes to the 9th.
On the 10th you would be advised to follow the marker post rather than the number 10 sign. I pushed my tee shot a little right and ended up in the fairway bunkers on the right side of this fairway. Anything going left is going to have to be very long to clear the rushes that border the left side of this hole.
11 and 12 are protected by rushes, which if you have ever tangled with them you will know that they can be sharp! They are much more numerous than at nearby Saunton G.C.
Back into the prevailing wind 13th called “Lundy” is actually down as a par-5 although it’s only 441 yards on the card. Providing you avoid the bunkers then the main difficulty lies in a green that is set up several feet above the surrounding fairway. This makes it tricky to hit with a long second shot.
The penultimate par-3 has plenty of rushes that will probably attract the attention of higher handicappers. The bigger problem lies around the green where a lot of sand awaits to trap your tee shot. It’s also going to play as the longest par-3 given the direction of the prevailing wind.
Heading into the home stretch the 15th is a tricky par-4. You need to try to favor the left side of the hole to avoid the “bear pit” and rushes on the right. Your approach will then have to negotiate some bunkers just short of the green. If you hit your tee shot down the right-hand side then you’re going to have to carry an area of rushes if you’re going to make the putting surface.
The final par-3 should be a medium to short iron unless there’s a strong wind in your face. You have to clear an area of rushes but only the highest handicappers should really have an issue with that.
The final par-5 is the longest hole on the course and for all but the biggest hitters will require playing over the road with your 3rd shot. Beware there’s also a ditch that can catch you out if you don’t fly your approach far enough.
The home hole is a good testing par-4 with a ditch running down the right and rushes protecting the left side of the fairway. You’ll need to carry a wide ditch just short of the green to reach safety. Unusually there are no bunkers on this hole.
I have to admit I’m never a fan of playing courses where you share the playing surface with farm animals. Unfortunately, Royal North Devon plays host to sheep and a few horses. It became increasingly difficult to pick my way through the droppings as the round progressed.
There are “fences” around the greens to prevent encroachment onto the putting surfaces and these seemed to do the job fairly well.
On my most recent visit, the greens had been tined although they didn’t putt too badly in spite of that. Like most links greens they are never going to be super quick. You always have to allow for the fact you may get strong winds which would cause balls to oscillate or even move.
For the most part, the fairways weren’t too bad considering the time of year.
The tees were in decent nick on the whole.
I have now played the course on a couple of occasions and to be honest, I’m still struggling to see the attraction. Even if you weren’t having to deal with animal droppings everywhere a large number of holes are fairly flat and featureless. Indeed even the two members I played with said that a number of holes on the back nine were a little boring.
No doubt on a windy day the course will present a very stern test despite the fact there is little or no thick rough. On a calm day if you’re able to avoid the bunkers then the only other significant problem is the sea rushes.
Off The Course
The clubhouse is home to a variety of historical golfing artifacts. You can also recharge after your round in the bar or restaurant. The locker room looks as if it might have remained unchanged since the days of JH Taylor!
There is a seven-hole short course named in honor of their greatest son.
Royal North Devon Golf Club Review: Summary
Students of the game will find it a must-play because it is the “oldest course in England”. On both of the occasions I’ve played, I found it a little disappointing. While some of the holes offer wonderful views of the bay and estuary I just don’t find the course especially interesting.
By current standards, the peak summer green fee of £80 is not that bad compared with many other “top” courses. To be brutally honest I’m not sure I would want to pay that much to play the course. It’s just a sign of how much green fee inflation has outstripped my salary over the past 20 years!
If you are in the area then you might be interested in some of my other reviews of local courses.