Saunton East and Saunton West Golf Course Reviews
Devon's 36 Hole Delight
By Mike May
A peaceful and pastoral place where golfers have been pitchin' and puttin' for par for more than a century. That may be the best way to describe the golf experience at the Saunton Golf Club, which is located in the small seaside village of Braunton in north Devon.
Here, golfers have access to a pair of 18-hole championship links layouts - Saunton East and Saunton West. As you stroll along the fairways of Saunton East and Saunton West, you are constantly watching the surrounding hills which are dominated by pastures filled with of bales of hay, grazing cattle, and the next agricultural crop. You'll also see the occasional windmill which is generating power from the ever-present breeze which is a signature staple of this golf club.
At Saunton, there are no sounds of nearby cars, buses, motorcycles, or airplanes. And, there are no homes on the golf course or any resort hotels overlooking the golf course. Instead, at the Saunton Golf Club, you are at one with Mother Nature from the moment you begin play until you hole-out on the 18th hole of either course. It's worth noting that the 10th hole on both courses is 'out in the country,' so you won't see the clubhouse again until you finish the home hole. If you expect to get hungry or thirsty while playing, pack a snack and a thirst-quenching beverage in your bag.
The best way to describe Saunton East is to read the recollections of six-time major champion (three Masters Green Jackets and three 'Champion Golfer of the Year' experiences at the Open Championship) Sir Nick Faldo:
"I've no doubt that if the East Course were located on the coast of Lancashire or Kent, it would have hosted an Open Championship by now," recalls Faldo.
Faldo has similar words of praise for Saunton West.
"The landscape on the West Course is perhaps even more spectacular than the East Course and I cannot think of anywhere in England where the 36 holes could be more enjoyable," adds Faldo.
At Saunton East and Saunton West, which are built upon the sand hills of the Braunton Burrows, the peaceful atmosphere is only interrupted by the sound of the nearby sea. As you look at both courses from various vantage points, the local terrain does not look like a golf course. Instead, it looks like a series of natural sand dunes which act as a natural buffer protecting the integrity of the seashore from local erosion. Instead, in between the sand dunes are the many fairways of the Saunton Golf Club.
The character of Saunton East can also be best described by the names given to each hole. Fifteen of the holes have a one-word title. The exceptions are the 4th (The Gap), the 7th (Anstead's Humps) and the 18th (Isaac's Slopes). Saunton East opens with Gullpit (the 1st hole), concludes the front nine with Beacons (the 9th hole), and starts the back nine with Plateau (the 10th hole). The 11th hole (Field) is particularly quaint. It's a short par four which measures just over 300 yards, but it's a left-to-right dogleg where the fairway winds its way around an adjacent farmer's field which is separated from the course by a stone hedge. And, to the right of the green, bordering the hedge, is a small burn (i.e. stream) which can play havoc with your score if you are careless with your approach to the green.
At Saunton West, the greens are well guarded and require precision pitching and chipping skills to get up and down for par. According to the England Golf website, Saunton West "offers no weak hole." The bunkers have been upgraded and have steep faces. They are fun hazards to admire, but not fun ones from which to escape. Just like Saunton East, the holes on Saunton West have special names assigned to each of them - most of which are one-word monikers. Three of the holes have 'double-barrel' names: Ragged Robin (the 8th hole), Evening Primrose (the 14th hole), and Leonard Lake (the 17th hole). Saunton's finishing hole (Rookery) is not the kind of home hole one expects in golf - a downhill, medium-length par three. Finishing with an ace will put an exclamation mark on any round of golf at Saunton West.
It's worth noting that the Saunton Golf Club has invested a great deal, on and off the course, since mid 2016. In addition to modifications on the East course, changes have been made to nine of the holes on the West course in order to bring it out of the shadow of the East course. That mission has been accomplished.
Under the guidance of Tom Mackenzie, a lead partner at Mackenzie & Ebert, Saunton West has been lengthened to 6,596 yards. Measures have also been taken to make it easier for higher handicapped players whilst the addition of a number of fairway bunkers has created a more strategic layout that places greater emphasis on brain rather than brawn.
"The work done by Mackenzie & Ebert has been undertaken to really raise the profile, complexity and enjoyment of the West course so that Saunton now offers two equally stunning links on the North Devon coastline," explains Russell Mayne, general manager, Saunton Golf Club. "The men's locker room facilities have also been extensively upgraded to satisfy the demands of the modern golfer so that now all areas of the clubhouse are what you would expect from a venue with two courses highly placed in the top 100 golf courses in England."
By the way, the 2017 English Senior Men's Amateur Golf Championship was held at Saunton East and Saunton West in early June. Over the years, a number of top-flight events have been held at both courses, beginning as far back as 1932 with the British Ladies Championship, won by Miss Enid Wilson. Also, in 1997, a young 17-year-old Spaniard by the name of Sergio Garcia traveled to the Saunton Golf Club to compete in the R & A British Boys Championship, which he won. Garcia may be the only golfer to have won championships at both the Augusta National Golf Club and the Saunton Golf Club.
After playing 36 holes at Saunton East and Saunton West, you must do as the locals do, so to speak, and have dinner at Squire's Fish Restaurant in nearby Braunton. This restaurant claims to have the finest fish & chips in the southwest of England. The food is as good - if not better - than advertised.
That evening, you would be wise to spend the night at the Saunton Sands Hotel which is located less than a mile from the course and overlooks a spectacular sandy beach that stretches for miles along the north Devon coastline. The views of the nearby sea and the beach from the pool area, the outdoor sitting areas, and the restaurant make the Saunton Sands Hotel experience so special, distinct, and perfect for any golfer (and his family) planning to play Saunton East and/or Saunton West.
Finally, it's fair to say that if you want to experience true Open Championship-like golf, make a beeline for the Saunton Golf Club in north Devon. On their own, the East and West courses are magnificent settings for a genuine links golf outing. And, Sir Nick Faldo was correct when he stated that the Saunton Golf Club represents the most enjoyable 36-hole golf experience in Great Britain. It will be for you, as well, when you make the journey to Saunton.
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Revised: 03/12/2020 - Article Viewed 9,640 Times
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About: Mike May
Mike May is a Wellington, Florida-based freelance golf and sportswriter, who is also a 25+ year public relations and communications executive in the sporting goods industry. He is also a veteran high school soccer official, an experienced high school basketball coach, an avid athlete, a part-time personal trainer, and a passionate golfer who is forever in pursuit of Old Man Par. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.
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