Royal North Devon
Sixth hole, 415 yards; The tee is the most glorious spot in English golf. Elevated well above the crumpled fairway, the golfer has stunning views in all directions as seen in part below in artist Mike Miller’s interpretation of the hole. The surf pounding the beach on the left is bound to distract one’s thoughts, at least for a moment, before lashing out with a full-blooded driver to the hummocky fairway below.
Seventh hole, 400 yards; Fowler, as usual, maximising the land’s natural contours. The wrinkled fairway, the dogleg nature of the hole, the golfer’s first encounter with the Great Sea Rushes, and the sloping green located against a sand dune conspire to make a links hole of long lasting merit.
Ninth hole, 480 yards; The hole location coupled with the mound in front of the green dictates the entire strategy. In this respect, it is similar to the 14th at St. Andrews,though the rest of the hole hassles of the strategic options found in the 14th fairway at the Old Course. Regardless, many golfers fail to understand why the expected birdie fails to materialize. Tom Doak singled out this hole as one of the great reachable par fives as the player can find the green in two only by using the mound on the right to hold the shallow 22 yard deep green.
Tenth and 11th holes, each 370 yards; These two holes enter the famous Great Sea Rushes. The dogleg 10th is a more strategic hole than the straightaway11th. The five foot tall rushes are only on one side of the fairway (the left) and thus the strong golfer is tempted by taking an aggressive line on this dogleg to the left. The 11th is a potential card wrecker, with the rushes on both sides of the fairway. After the broad, expansive nature of the previous holes, the 11th seems more claustrophobic than is actually the case.
Twelfth hole, 425 yards; Simplicity itself. Death in the form of the rushes down the left; down the right, miles of room. However, Fowler constructed a series of three bunkers that come out from the right hand side of the green, making any approach from the right infinitely more difficult.
Sixteenth hole, 145 yards; One of the game’s most renowned short holes because of its hard to hit table top green. Finding the green is a rarity on windy days,especially for visitors who fail to possess the required punch mid iron shot. Many a match has swung here over the decades and such a short hole is sadly lacking in most 7,000 yard modern courses.
While the last seven holes may not hold the same charm as what has proceeded them, they do possess more character than many first time visitors appreciate. The 13th is the most exacting approach on the course with its small upturned green; the 14th green and surrounds make an up and down unlikely; the 15th green opens up best from exactly left center of the fairway and stopping the ball anywhere near a front hole location takes great skill; the 16th as discussed; the 17th with its exacting back right hole location protected by a bunker; and finally, the 18th requiring an approach shots over a burn to a rolling green.
From a historical perspective, the course has no peer in England – it was the first incorporated golf club in England in 1864 but little is left of the Old Tom Morris layout. W. H. Fowler deserves the credit for the course that golfers enjoy today. He completed his work here several years after he fashioned the Old Course at Walton Heath.
Fowler wrote in 1912, ‘Westward Ho! means the greatest reward for good and the most severe penalty for bad play to be found on any links, and at the time of writing reigns as the finest course in the United Kingdom.’ High praise indeed and it remains far closer to the truth to this day than many people realize.