The trail begins with Somerset’s Burnham & Berrow where the course has evolved over the decades although today’s layout is largely the work of Harry Colt. Founded in 1890, the club’s first professional was the legendary JH Taylor, five-time Open Champion.
Noted for its distinct sand hills that form stubborn, natural obstacles, along with the buckthorn and even a marsh, there is often a prevailing south westerly wind that whips in from the Atlantic and along the Bristol Channel that makes for a testy links challenge.
Further down the coast is Saunton, set in the remote shadows of the giant sand dunes of Braunton Burrows in Devon. When the club was inaugurated in 1893 its clubhouse doubled up as the local post office, yet now its two championship courses, East and West, are among the greatest links in the world. One of England’s most successful golfers, Sir Nick Faldo, once said, “I’ve no doubt if the East Course were located on the coast of Lancashire or Kent it would have hosted The Open Championship by now.” The West course is also an exceptional challenge in its own right and regularly features in golf course rankings.
A few miles along the coast is England’s oldest links, Royal North Devon, or Westward Ho! as it is also known. Dating back to 1864, this course has barely changed in 150 years. Playing it is like taking a step back in time and seeing how the game was played in Victorian England. The livestock that still graze on the common land on which RND is set are not the only hazards on this gently undulating layout; the giant Cape bunker on the 4th, once the world’s biggest, spiky reeds and rushes and the regular off-shore breeze make RND a tough test.
Designed by Old Tom Morris, RND is regarded as the St Andrews of the South and is positively overflowing with golfing heritage. Consequently the clubhouse houses a treasure trove of golf memorabilia second only to the R&A.
Next stop is Cornwall’s St Enodoc which enjoys a fabulous setting amongst the dunes overlooking the River Camel estuary and Atlantic Coast, ensuring stunning panoramas from almost every hole. Founded in 1890 and designed by James Braid, the Church course, so called because of the Norman Church that was uncovered in the middle of the course, is famous for its towering Himalaya bunker – the tallest in Europe – that entirely blocks golfers’ view of the 6th green from all but a slither of fairway.
Across the Camel River from St Enodoc and opposite the majestic Trevose Head, Trevose Golf & Country Club offers a dazzling links designed by Harry Colt. With only a gentle breeze the 6,973-yard Championship Course offers good scoring opportunities, particularly with 3 par 5’s, but the character of the course is transformed when the winds blows in from the sea.
Testament to the quality of its layouts, the Atlantic Links courses are regularly invited to hold top amateur tournaments. Most recently Saunton’s East and West Courses staged the 2014 English Amateur Championship, the blue riband men’s event on England Golf’s calendar, whilst St Enodoc hosted the English Women’s Amateur Championship the same year.
Despite the premier quality of these layouts, green fees are moderately-priced ensuring excellent value for money whilst the combined appeal of the history, tradition and quality of the Atlantic Links courses is complemented by numerous off-course attractions in the area.
Charming coastal towns like Clovelly and Ilfracombe in Devon and pretty fishing villages like Port Isaac (where the popular TV series, Doc Martin, is filmed), Rock and Padstow can be found along the north Cornish coast. Historic towns the spa town of Bath, near Burnham & Berrow, and ancient Stonehenge are also ideal places to round off a golfing adventure.
The region’s rich culture features the inimitable Barbara Hepworth Museum and Tate St Ives, displaying the best in modern and local art, the celebrated Eden Project and fascinating Lost Gardens of Heligan whilst outdoor activities such as surfing, walking, cycling and horse riding are all readily available.
Recently the South West has become known for its gastronomic delights thanks to an abundance of seafood and local produce. TV celebrity chef Rick Stein for example has put Padstow firmly on the map for excellent seafood. Also on offer are Michelin-starred restaurants, real English ales and traditional pub fayre.
The South West offers a range of hotels, from character to seaside hotels such as Saunton Sands Hotel and delightful B&Bs set in unspoiled countryside whilst Trevose also offers on-site, self-catering accommodation.
In terms of travel, the Atlantic Links are easily accessed from international airports at Bristol, Exeter, London Heathrow and Gatwick and via the M4 and M5 motorways.