Royal North Devon
Founded in 1864, Westward Ho! has received praise for well over a century. Consider these comments:
Bernard Darwin called it ‘one of the greatest of all courses’ in Country Life in 1947 and wrote ‘for fun and adventure of the game, there is no more ideal piece of golfing country in the world.’
J.H. Taylor, aged 90, said upon gazing across the course, ‘This is the finest view in Christendom.’
Sir Peter Allen said Westward Ho!, ‘…like Brancaster and Ballybunion, remains a supreme example of natural seaside golf.’
Furthermore, Pat Ward-Thomas helped explain why Westward Ho! can be enjoyed equally by any class of player. He wrote in The Guardian in 1955, ‘Although it can be a considerable test of skill, especially when the rarely absent wind is strong, for there is no false protection of trees, buildings, or undulating land, it is not fearsome in the sense of long carries or lost balls in thick rough, heather or woods. Neither is there any wearisome toiling of trolleys up and down hills. Most of the fairways are vast and spreading, but let no one think that fours will come easily because of that, for judgment of distance is of the very essence on this flat land and the greens, particularly when fast, can be most deceptive. But the land is not as flat as it seems, for the shallow hollows and rummels can produce awkward stances and tricky little shots from around the greens.’ The description could well apply to the Old Course at St. Andrews, eh?
Rarely though do you hear the same glowing praise today about RND (as the members refer to it). How can that be, given that as little has changed at Westward Ho! in the past eighty years as any course with which the author’s are familiar? Unfortunately, people’s perceptions have changed and none for the better. Firstly, there is the false fascination with conditioning as represented by Augusta National and other such over-manicured courses. Westward Ho! is laid over common land with sheep, cattle and the golfer’s dog having the run of the course. Thus, conditioning may suffer compared to other courses. Secondly, fairness reared its ugly head in the later half of the 20th century. To split the 6th fairway and be asked to hit a three wood from a sloping lie off a hummock to an uphill green, is that fair? Is the minute 13th green a fair target for such a long hole? What about holding the front to back 15th green downwind?
Golfers with the above concerns may be better served to stay away from Westward Ho!. For the rest of us who place the most importance on variety and challenging fun in an inspired setting, then Westward Ho! remains one of the half dozen most engaging links to visit and get to know.
A brief overview of the course highlights the variety of challenges that the golfer will face. The first two holes are laid across the flats with the sheep and burn the keys to avoid (this land inspires first time visitors to inquire where is the golf course?!). The next seven holes play along Pebble Ridge, which separates the course from the Bristol Channel, and are genuine links holes. Holes 10-12 are played through giant five foot rushes that can impale a golf ball. The 13th hole is a field (the authors have never seen a flatter piece of ground than around the 13th tee), then follow three more sandy type holes before returning to the flats for the last two holes. Coupled with its setting, this constant change accounts for much of Westward Ho!’s enduring appeal.
Holes to Note:
Forth hole, 355 yards; The great Cape hole with a mighty fortressed bunker 170 yards off the tee. Even though the carry is not as fearsome as eighty years ago, the sight of the tee ball sailing over the fifteen foot planking that holds up the bunker face remains satisfying indeed (just ask the golfer to the right). The green is tucked into a dell and features some of the tricky shots around the green to which Ward-Thomas referred. This hole commences a remarkable run of holes unlike any in the world.
Fifth hole, 135 yards; This one shotter plays up a sand dune to a flag flapping in the breeze. The golfer below is sheltered from the full extent of the wind, making correct club selection elusive. Ringed by six bunkers, the hole is aptly named Table.