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The view upon turning the corner of the house must rank as one of the highlights British golf. The 18th green is nestled just below the veranda, the plateau first tee to the middle of the vista and on the far right, the West’s first hole strikes off into the massive (5 square miles) Braunton Burrows dune system. The system is the largest in England and backs three miles of the glorious Saunton Sands beach. Just above the northern end of the beach stands the Saunton Sands Hotel. Even if one has no intention of taking a bed, the hotel is well worth visiting for its celebrated views of the Barnstable Bay which naturally include the burrows and beach.
The original layout, like so many in England, was a Tom Dunn design which Herbert Fowler re-designed in 1919. The product of this work had the great advantage of post-dating the arrival of the Haskell and was thus considered a fine and difficult test from its inception. In 1932 the club hosted its first major event, the British Ladies Championship, won by the formidable Miss Enid Wilson – the middle of three in a row. Since this time many important amateur and professional have taken place at Saunton, including the Brabazon Trophy on two occasions and the British Boys in 1997, the year a teenage Sergio Garcia was crowned champion. Some twenty or so years after Fowler completed his design the course was used by American tank divisions training for the Normandy landing. As can be imagined, the course didn’t fare very well in these circumstances and in the early 50s, the thoroughly under-rated CK Cotton brought the course back to life and made changes to the start and end of the round. The course we play today is largely the same with the exception of additional bunkering scattered here and there.
Saunton is well known for its bruising start and rightfully so; the first four holes cover not far off 1670 yards. The opener is a straightish banger playing into the wind - most will not feel as though they lost a shot to par when recording a 5. From in front of green.Looking back to the tee and house.
The second is protected (assuming one can't reach the green) by a sneaky ditch, a particular feature of the East and moreso the West. The green lies in a saddle and is not terribly large!The three-shot second is not that attractive from the tee, but it is disorienting. A ditch protects the left side and two bunkers the right. Once in the fairway, the raised green becomes visible even through the mist.
On the card #3 looks to be a modest hole, but one can't judge a course by the card. This was one of my favourite holes on the course not only for the teasing drive, but also due to amateurishly raised green creating a tough target. From well beyond the drive zone.
The fourth is a brute! One must challenge severe bunkering to the left of the fairway to earn a view of the green through a gap in the dunes. When this is achieved, a wood or long iron is required for the approach.
The first par 3 on the course, Tiddler, was not in play as it underwent the knife some eight months previously. Apparently, the mound to the right was making it too easy to kick shots in. Consequently, that mound has been shaved back and presumably the green re-laid.
The course now drifts into moorland type of terrain with rushes and ditches heavily featured. It also becomes apparent that Saunton will not be a straight forward out n' back course as holes turn in various directions, not allowing the golfer to become overly comfortable with the direction of the wind. The tee shot on the 6th is quite demanding due a ditch bordering the fairway down the right, but the hole is let down by the least interesting green on the course.
Fairly long at 400ish yards and to a tighter than readily apparent fairway, the 7th is a great example of an interesting flat hole which creates a welcome balance with holes running through dunes. The angle of the green running behind the two right bunkers is evident once beyond the centreline bunker.[/URL]
I often say that a links without a daring drive over a dune is somehow less than a satisfying experience. Luckily, Saunton provides this thrilling feature.However, the true test of the hole is in the approach as the green is nestled between two rows of dunes/mounding.
The side finishes very well - in fact the stretch between 7 and 11 is probably my favourite on the course. From the tee #9 is visually confusing with the wind coming off the left. The far bunker is perfectly placed on the outside of the leg to make players take on the left bunkers - thus leaving a terrible angle of approach.From the left side - the flag can just be made out.There is absolutely no room to come in on this side of the fairway.Its difficult to tell in pix but the greens have a fair bit of movement to them with little tiers creating quite severe sections; many of the greens felt very modern. I wonder if Cotton added more touches than folks realize or if perhaps when the greens were re-laid in the 80s some contour was added.
#10 is a classic sucker hole both from the tee and on the approach. It is better to lay back to a comfortable full club distance than it is to have a go at the green 313 yards away. One of the few criticisms of Saunton I can muster is the propensity of flat fairways. This may be a consequence of the WWII military training. One can see that it is better to approach from the left of the fairway so as to take advantage of the full length of the green.
I expect to be in the minority, but I admire holes which are manufactured from land which is far from ideal. Like St Enodoc's 4th, Saunton's 11th is not a looker, but it provides what golf the game is about - thinking golf. The hole is about 350 yards with the corner of a field being the prime hazard off the tee. Depending on where the flag is, one can have a bash and try to execute the finicky chip over a bunker or lay back for a full club approach. With the hole cut up front on this green which runs away from the fairway, I reckon a safe layup to the left of the fairway does the trick. A layup leaked right off the tee leaves a very dodgy wedge over OOB and a ditch. What a hole!
Like the 11th, 12, 13 and the tee shot on 14 are also in moorland country more reminiscent of Exmoor than links. Although, I have a lot of time for these holes. The 12th is perhaps the best of this run; a longish two-shotter with nasty roughright and a ditch left. The approach isn't easy to this green with quite a bit of movement.
With only two short holes in the first thirteen, Saunton must be a bit unusual, unfortunately, this isn't a positive feature. Be that as it may, #13 is probably Saunton's best par 3 due to the severity of the green contours.
#14, or Narrows, is unbelievably difficult if a 4 is the goal. To gain a decent glimpse of the green the tee shot must be played as close to the right fairway bunkering. There is maybe 10 yards of bail area if one can't reach the green...in the middle of the fairway. I didn't get a photo, but in the distance to the right of this hole is huge blow-out. Apparently, it was done on purpose to help spread sand among the burrows.From well in front of the drive zone.Looking back to the tee - Narrows is an apt name.