Saunton East Course Review
Course Name: Saunton Golf Club – East Course
Location: Saunton Golf Club Ltd, Near Braunton, North Devon, EX33 1LG, UK
Date Played: Various
Course Type: Links
Saunton East Course Review: Introduction
I have been fortunate enough to play the course on many occasions over the past 20 years. Even on a calm day, it can provide a stern challenge.
The club also has a fan in a six-time major champion.
I’ve no doubt if the East Course (at Saunton) were located on the coast of Lancashire or Kent it would have hosted an Open Championship by now.
I am a huge fan of Saunton. Framed by magnificent sand hills, it is a classic links course and a wonderfully absorbing challenge.Sir Nick Faldo
Saunton Golf Club was officially formed in May 1897. It is believed that golf had been played on the land in the early 1890s prior to the formation of the club.
In 1919, following World War I, the famous architect JH Fowler was employed to redesign the course. During the 20s and 30s, the club’s reputation continued to grow. By 1935 it was obvious that a second course was required so Mr. Fowler was asked to design it. This became known as the West.
The Second World War then brought an abrupt halt to proceedings.
Both courses suffered tremendous damage when they were used as a training ground for the D-Day landings. The Americans based a large number of tanks on the dunes.
It wasn’t until 1951 that the military finally moved out and the golfers quickly moved back in.
By 1952 the East course was back up and running.
Saunton is rightly proud of the fact that both its courses feature in many lists of the best courses in the UK. In fact in the Golf World ‘Top 100 Courses in England’ the East is rated number 22 and the West number 71.
Like Royal Lytham and St. Annes, the sea does not form part of the vista. For me personally, this is the only negative aspect of the course.
On the first hole, you play from a high tee that allows you to see much of what awaits you later in the round. Known as ‘Gullpit’ you will need to hit the ball straight and true to defeat its 465 yards. There are bunkers both left and right should you veer from the fairway. The green pinches in to make flag positions even more tricky should they be in the back portion of the green.
The second hole might seem easy on paper being a 499-yard par-5. But as the old saying goes we play on grass, not paper. The layup area is quite narrow and the green is set up and protected by three deep pot bunkers.
The first par-3 is the fifth – ‘Tiddler’. It plays only 117 yards but again you can quite quickly find yourself in deep trouble if you don’t hit the green. There are some quite severe slopes to negotiate and the green itself is no piece of cake. I was fortunate enough to make my first ever hole-in-one here.
Probably the biggest danger on the next is the ditch that runs down the right-hand side of the fairway. If you can manage to avoid that you should have a relatively short iron into a pretty flat green.
Before moving on to the next tee you might wish to avail yourself of the ‘Tees Up’ service. A selection of food and drink is available during peak periods.
The eighth hole offers one of the classic blind tee shots that you find on so many links courses. The landing area is relatively generous so you just need to make sure you clear the dune in front of you.
The danger on the 10th is in underestimating its difficulty. The second shot is played uphill. Should you miss the green you’ll find yourself with a very difficult chip or bunker shot from one of those deep pot bunkers.
Unlucky for some 13 is another tricky par-3 where the green can be difficult to hit and nasty pot bunkers await. If the flag is set on the upper tier then that can also add to the difficulty.
The par-4 14th is quite tricky as the tee is set up above the level of the fairway and you are generally going to be dealing with a crosswind from the right. Should you manage to negotiate the tee shot then you need to be accurate with your second. Anything falling short is going to have to deal with a very narrow strip of fairway leading up to the green.
The par-5 15th is one where you are likely to feel justified in opening your shoulders as there seem to be acres of room from the high tee. Take care not to go too far right however as you can find yourself in some nasty thick rough or even worse – bushes.
The final par-3, the 17th is generally played back into the prevailing wind. It is around 190 yards and will require a well-struck shot to reach the green. Fortunately, the green is relatively flat so should offer a good opportunity for par if you manage to make a solid stroke from the tee.
The home hole plays as a slight dogleg with an uphill second back toward the clubhouse. Accuracy is paramount as trouble abounds. With bunkers and slopes left and right of the fairway and a nice selection of five bunkers encircling the green.
I have managed to play the course in all four seasons. In my experience, the condition has always been top-notch. I can only offer my hearty congratulations to the green staff for producing excellent surfaces to putt on. Even after significant rainfall (which is hardly unheard of in Devon) the greens remain firm, fast and true.
Unlike parkland courses, links tend to be left more to the vagaries of nature. While I haven’t played the course during a prolonged dry spell I have seen pictures of the fairways looking fairly burnt up. Given the nature of links turf, however, I doubt it would make much difference to your ability to hit a golf ball. By its very nature links turf is a little bit more difficult to hit off. It punishes the slightly indifferent strike more than the softer fairways of a well-watered inland course.
The course has a variety of teeing grounds on most holes although some are set aside specifically for ladies or for major competitions. The par-3 tees can get a bit of a battering as at most clubs but the teeing grounds appear to be in good condition on the whole.
On a calm day, the East course will present a challenge even to accomplished golfers. Should the weather turn less clement then it can undoubtedly become a real beast. That’s the beauty of links golf, the strength and direction of the wind will determine the difficulty of the course. It is not monstrously long by modern standards, even off the championship tees. Most ordinary golfers will still find it tests every aspect of their game, however.
Off The Course
Saunton offers a variety of practice facilities. Those looking to flex their long game muscles have both a covered driving range and a long game practice area to choose from. There are also some nets for a quick warm-up before you play.
There is also a short game practice area to work on your chipping and bunker play prior to hitting the links. You also have a choice of two different putting greens.
The club has excellent locker room facilities and a well-stocked pro shop.
Your après golf needs can be taken care of in the bar where there’s a selection of food and drink available.
For me, the only issue I have with the course is that you can’t see the sea. The course itself will test every aspect of your game from driving to chipping and from long irons to bunker play.
A day ticket to play both courses is now set at £110 ($150 at the time of writing). While certainly not cheap I would consider it worth paying should you be planning a trip to the area.
The club does offer a number of open competitions throughout the year and that would definitely ease the pain of the green fee somewhat. That is how I first experienced the course many years ago.
I should add that I’ve always found the staff and members to be very welcoming so my advice is to get yourself down to Devon at the earliest opportunity!
Frequently Asked Questions [FAQ]
Can I hire a buggy?
The course is pretty easy to walk however you can hire a ride-on buggy from the pro shop. Both electric and pull carts are also available for hire.
Are lessons available?
Yes, you can arrange to have golf lessons just call the professional’s shop.
Can I become a member?
Saunton Golf Club does offer a number of different membership categories but you would need to confirm with the club whether there are any vacancies. At the current time (2023) I believe there is a waiting list for most of them.
What are the Green Fees at Saunton Golf Club?
The Green Fees at Saunton vary depending on the time of year but during the Summer months a round of golf on either course will cost £130 ($162) and a day ticket will set you back £200 ($249).
Which is the best hole on the East Course at Saunton?
The best hole on the East Course at Saunton for me is the 8th as you have to play a blind drive over a dune and then your approach is played to a green set in a bowl. This is into the wind usually.
The scorecard shown below is from a few years ago. The only major difference in the yardages is on the par-5 second which has been stretched out an extra 50 yards.