St. Enodoc Golf Club (Church Course)
Rock, Cornwall, England
United Kingdom

St. Enodoc’s magnificent routing provides a panoply of rich backdrops that lends a game here an enchantment rarely found.

Why is England the author’s favorite country for golf? From a historical perspective, golf course architecture began here. When the game moved inland to be near people’s homes, the most intelligent, thoughtful work to render inland properties appealing to golf occurred first in England. Also, the diversity of the landscape is unmatched, from links to heathland to parkland to upland to moorland. Additionally, England embraces more courses in the 6,100 to 6,600 yard range that the author unreservedly considers ideal and worth emulating than any other country.

One of the jewels in the English Crown is St. Enodoc, a course that many consider to be James Braid’s masterpiece. Locals first played golf on these grounds in 1888 on a nine hole course fashioned around St. Enodoc Church. At the turn of the 20th century, according to the Club’s Course Historian Peter Bendall, the club acquired ~40 acres closer to the estuary. So when Braid was invited by the club in 1907 to expand the course to eighteen holes, he was the first to have the chance to work in the magical dunes land that is now occupied by today’s first, ninth, sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth holes.

Braid ultimately worked on the course in each of the three subsequent decades with his final refinements coming in 1937. As such, St. Enodoc can be considered Braid’s version of Donald Ross’s Pinehurst No. 2 and C.B. Macdonald’s National Golf Links of America in the context that each architect fine-tuned his favorite course over several decades. True, the firm of Fowler & Simpson lent a hand in the early 1920s but it was primarily Braid that thumped so much character into the course.

Situated in Rock, Cornwall across an estuary from Padstow, St. Enodoc occupies one of the game’s most varied and rambunctious properties. Braid’s routing maximally exploited the advantages of its sundry sections. Golfers start high near the clubhouse and water comes into view walking down the crumpled first fairway. By the third, the player is sheltered from such views and the course rubs against the picturesque rolling farmland for which the area is well known. A massive dune line hinders the approach at the sixth and the tee ball at the seventh. Yet, by the ninth, towering Cupressus Macrocarpa trees form the backdrop. The tenth might not even be a hole (!) but standing on the eleventh tee, the Stepper Point headland seen at the first gloriously re-emerges. The golf turns inland and plays beside the aforementioned 12th century stone church that lends the course its name before ascending uphill at the thirteen and fourteen to the course’s high point. The three concluding holes are played across rumpled land framed by dunes.

The author’s brother John goes so far as to pose the question: Do enough people appreciate that this might well be the single finest property for golf in the world? Well – now that’s a point for discussion! In a recent conversation, the two brothers marveled at both the property’s micro and macro features. In terms of micro, one, two and three foot tall features meaningful impact the game here, be it the random fairway contours, or the wall at the third and fourth, or the support wall to the vexing fourteenth green. In terms of macro, one of the game’s grandest bunkers is found here and the long sweeping views in all directions bewitch.

Numerous views of water are afforded throughout the round, and yet no hole is at risk to coastal erosion.

Three of the holes rise and fall by more than 80 ft. (e.g. the third, tenth, and thirteenth) and one (e.g. the fourteenth) plays along a ledge. It’s a rollercoaster ride and yet, it doesn’t take much more than three hours to complete. Some in the United Kingdom compare it to Cruden Bay but in many respects, the brothers think of the course in the same vein as their favorite course on continental Europe: Royal Hague. The never ending twists and turns in both the land and the routing define the pleasure of a round at each. Recently, Royal Hague has climbed in GOLF Magazine’s world top 100 and the brothers are confident the same will happen with St. Enodoc: the golf is that good.

St. Enodoc’s diversity makes it stand out. Several of the author’s favorite links – The Old Course, Brora, Portmarnock – feature eighteen holes ‘cut from the same cloth.’ Their properties are consistent and the player delights in ceaselessly playing across crumpled land. St. Enodoc represents a different brand of golf over ridiculously different and ever-shifting playing fields. The changing environments greatly add to the allure of the place; there is something for everyone.

Ultimately, St. Enodoc obtains the ideal balance between pleasure and challenge. Surely it helped that Braid was there to see the design transition from hickory to steel. After he passed in 1950, the club has made a series of prudent decisions (which includes those all important decisions to do nothing). Fortuitously, they never chased length for its own sake, so the course measures under 6,600 yards. The Brits understand that a club is for the enjoyment of its members and that sort of distance over that sort of land is more than ample for its membership (and their dogs!). True, several holes have been extended (especially the fourth, sixth, eleventh, and sixteenth) but were done so to require shots similar to those in the Golden Age of architecture.

Given its raucous land and stone walls, the course evolution might have easily gone askew. For instance, the seventh hole features a blind drive in the opposite direction over the same dune from which the Himalaya bunker was carved. Given that blind shots have fallen from favor in certain (dull) circles, the club could have decided to ‘alter’ the dunescape and ‘improve’ the visuals. What a tragedy and loss of adventure that would have been. However, as a nod to modern equipment and heeding Peter McEvoy’s advice, two bunkers were added down the left and one down the right so that the tee shot isn’t too freewheeling. It is the best of both worlds: the golfer appreciates an old-fashioned challenge but allowances have been made for the modern game.

A mercifully unaltered dunescape greets the golfer on the 7th tee.

Another action that helped the course was pushing the sixteenth green back 60 yards in the fall of 2006. It and the thirteenth are the only greens relocated since Braid’s last work here. This move mitigated the vulnerability of a par 5 built in the Golden Age to the onslaught of technology, especially one that frequently plays downwind like this one. Yes, the Braid green was exquisitely located but it flattered too many players who approached it with a mere mid iron. The green was placed on top of a dune rather than its base and angled just enough to frustrate the tiger.

The 16th green was pushed back and situated high on a dune in 2006. The course’s two three shot holes play in the opposite direction. Similar to the 5th and 14th at The Old Course at St. Andrews, this design ideal is rarely achieved.

Recent enhancements to bunkering schemes that fit the modern game and a renewed dedication to fast and firm playing conditions have pushed the course to the forefront of links golf. Indeed, given how the design pedigree excels, the golfer might wonder why it isn’t a ‘royal’. Perhaps the former Duke of Windsor is to blame? He spent quite a bit of time here, which shows that his good taste wasn’t confined to matters of sartorial excellence. Yet, after abdicating the throne in 1936, the Duke likely sealed the fate of the club and course as being underappreciated back in Buckingham Palace!

Regardless, St. Enodoc’s last four holes comprise one of the most appealing finishing stretches and the first four represent the only start on a links that rivals Royal County Down and National Golf Links of America. In between are found St. Enodoc’s two most infamous holes. A tour of the course highlights the varied backdrops, which enunciate the course’s ever-changing landscapes as we see below.

Holes to Note

First hole, 530 yards; This opener makes any golfer yearn to play. Ironically, it used to be the second hole before today’s stately clubhouse was moved southeast 400 yards to today’s commanding position. The clubhouse re-location was driven (no pun intended!) by the acceptance of the automobile and the resulting need for parking. Back on the course, humpy-bumpy land stretches in all directions, creating a vista of pure golf. The four longest holes (here, ten, sixteen, and Home hole) have no prayer of going their distance without dropping and bobbing and/or having a shoulder of a dune intrude into the proceedings. So good is the land that a stone marker is required to point the way off the tee and a black and white 150 yard pole is perched just before another significant stair step down in the first fairway. Braid saw no reason to employ bunkers down the length of the hole or at the green site.

The drive flies over the first post and the distant black and white marker helps orient the golfer for his second.

St. Enodoc is the real deal where the ground game plays a crucial role. The absence of bunkers enhances the gorgeous simplicity of the first green.

Speaking of micro contours, note the graceful sweep and transition from the fairway to the putting surface.

Second Hole, 450 yards; The author previously played St.Enodoc only once, in 1999. Two takeaways from the 2017 visit: the course from an agronomic point of view was immeasurably superior, the turf firmer and faster. Congratulations to Green Keeper Scott Gibson and his crew and to the club for having John O’Sullivan, one of Europe’s top agronomists, consult on a regular basis. Secondly, what kind of dolt could ever forget the second hole?! How that came to pass I know not for it is top drawer. The left section of the fairway offers the best (i.e. more level) stances. Braid built the course’s deepest greenside bunker at the right front base of the green and the thought of escaping from it with a niblick leads to no happy conclusion.

Luscious random contours in the 2nd fairway make it clear why links is the highest form of golf. The yellow flag stands at attention on the plateau green.

Among the dazzling long views at St. Enodoc is this scene across the 2nd green and out to Stepper Point.

Third hole, 440 yards; Just as one goes to North Berwick to experience unique challenges, aficionados flock to St. Enodoc where the third and fourth holes exemplify golf you are unlikely to find elsewhere. The course possesses a slew of holes that accurately could be described as par 4 1/2s –  this is the third in a row! A long time admirer, golf course architect and critic Tom Doak stopped in for another visit in 2016. He suggested that several of the circular/oval greens could be expanded in the corners to add a few more interesting peripheral hole locations. As an example, this green was soon expanded in the front and a new, fiendish back left hole location was restored as well.

The 3rd cascades downhill along the eastern perimeter of the property. It is bisected by the beach road 300 yards from the tee.

Braid was slower than other Golden Age architects to employ bunkers. The bunkerless 3rd joins the 1st and 10th as superb examples of using other means to establish playing interest. Again, note how the green is at grade with the surrounds, making a running shot a genuine option.

Looking back up the convoluted landforms that comprise the 3rd fairway, it’s hard to believe that this is the most inland part of the Church Course.

Fourth hole, 325 yards; A flawless hole, in the same league as the fourth at Woking, where every golfer can appreciate the genius of man. So glowing is this design marvel that one must wonder if Braid has ever received his proper due among the Golden Age greats. Certainly, the Braid Society and the efforts of John Moreton through his writings have helped spotlight Braid, the golf course architect. Moreton notes in his August 2014 Feature Interview on GolfClubAtlas that many of Braid’s commissions were for private clubs and that Braid never took the ability of the golfer for granted. Braid could have easily built courses that only The Great Triumvirate (J.H. Taylor, Harry Vardon and Braid) would have enjoyed – but he didn’t. Hence, his courses possess a fine mix of holes including this short two shot pearl that measured less than 280 yards in his day. All sorts of trouble is found on the direct line to the hole from the tee and it takes a special player to aim away from the flag and play smartly to the outside of the dogleg. Should someone struggle to understand how/why a sub 6,600 yard course is among the world’s elite, they need look no further than this hole for edification.

Playing angles and a valid risk reward proposition make the hole thrilling.  A courageous tee ball over the out of bounds and into the far corner of the club’s property leaves this …

… straightforward pitch down the length of the green. Bernard Darwin sang the praises of this hole.

Sixth hole, 430 yards; A new back tee 50 yards behind Braid’s tees restores some of the terror that golfers felt in the age of hickory golf. One of the game’s most renowned hazards soaks up all the attention but the author thinks the green complex punched into the dunescape is just as noteworthy. It and seventeen are two examples of greens that reward ‘thrusting’ while other greens like the upturned saucers at the first and twelfth reward ‘parrying.’ All great designs have shifting challenges that place an onus on the golfer to determine when to attack and when to be prudent.

Even into the sun, the monstrous Himalaya bunker photographs well. It is located 90 yards from the green.

Alister MacKenzie had a way of encouraging/rewarding the golfer for bold play. Same too for Braid with this ¾ punchbowl green where an attacking shot is often times rewarded by a friendly shove back onto the putting surface.

Eighth hole, 165 yards; Seven bunkers make this hole, yard for yard, the most heavily bunkered hole on the course. And sure enough, there is a reason for this shift in design ethos. In 1922, Fowler & Simpson consulted on several alterations and according to Bendall, this brand new hole was created by the removal of a hole from the loop a few holes ahead near Daymer Bay. Those who sniff that The King’s Course at Gleneagles is Braid’s finest effort perhaps do so in part because Fowler & Simpson touched three of the five one shotters at St. Enodoc to one degree or another.

This side view of the 8th highlights the fronting bunkers and the depth of the green.

Bunkers across the course are more uniform and crisply presented than in the past. The revetting was accomplished in house and a pride in authorship is evident.

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