When I found out I was going to be visiting the United Kingdom in December of 2016, I knew I had to play some golf no matter what. Naturally, I reached out to our good friend Scott Readman and he said, “I have just the place.” Scott arranged for us to play a four-ball at Saunton Golf Club located just west of the English seaside town of Braunton, Devon in the Saunton Burrows where golf has been played since 1897. Scott made a great choice, and I thoroughly enjoyed my first exposure to English seaside Links golf at Saunton’s West Course.
Unfortunately due to time and weather, I did not get to fully experience the Saunton Golf Club practice facilities. Nestled in the hills, they have some beautiful practice grounds. The one area I did get to spend a good amount of time at was the practice green pictured above. It’s one of two practice greens, and Scott Readman tells me it’s his absolute favorite practice green in all of the United Kingdom. The green is pure, fast, and rolls true with a variety of different putts that will help prepare you for what’s out on the course.
Saunton Golf Club also offers a full driving range (“long practice ground” as they call it), a large short game area, and a covered driving range for irons only.
Amenities & Customer Service
Albert Mackenzie heads up the golf staff at Saunton Golf Club as their PGA Golf Professional. Albert’s staff were all friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. If you have any equipment or apparel needs, any type of clubwork, the Saunton Golf Club pro shop will sort you out with a smile on their face.
The clubhouse also has a full-service bar and restaurant to enjoy a quick pint with some ham, egg, and chips while you wait for the sea mist to lift off the course. I had a croissant stuffed with bacon and cheese, and for such a simple meal, I craved it for the next three days. Following our round we returned to the clubhouse to have a post-round pint while our friend, “Greeno,” enjoyed a giant wedge of German Chocolate cake. More golf courses in America need to serve cake.
Considering I visited Saunton Golf Club in December, not exactly peak golf season in England, I thought the West Course was in incredible condition. In peak season, Saunton wants their fairways and greens to run harder and faster, but the efforts to keep them healthy through the winter result in more welcoming greens and less roll in the fairways. The only indication that it was December was that some of the surrounding trees no longer had any leaves on them. The course was healthy and perfectly playable, and the Saunton Golf Club grounds crew should be commended.
Beauty & Scenery
Saunton Golf Club and the surrounding area does not fall short with its scenery. This was my first trip to England, and I had no idea there was such a strong surf culture on the west coast. After driving through English farmland for two hours, we suddenly emerged in a string of “surf towns” reminiscent of remote beach communities in California. True to that analogy, there were a handful of roads with huge mansions and amazing private beach views that left me wondering who might live on these properties.
My first stop to take in the scenery was just past the golf club on the side of a cliff. There were sheep in a pasture overlooking a giant beach on the Atlantic with seagulls, a handful of people playing with their dogs, and scores of surfers enjoying the cold Atlantic waves. True, coastal America may have similar views, but for this Midwestern boy it was certainly majestic.
My first view of Saunton Golf Club was of hilltops where the valleys were so blanketed by sea mist you couldn’t see the flag on the holes closest to the clubhouse. The sea mist burned off to reveal rolling hills that look unchanged across centuries except for the picturesque golf holes that were seamlessly woven into the landscape. The exceptional views continued on the course. When you found yourself at the outer boundaries of the property, the vistas looking back at the clubhouse and villages were classic, scenic England. With the sun shining, it often felt like I was looking out at a giant painting where the landscape couldn’t possibly be real. No pictures we took could do it justice.
Course Design & Difficulty
Fair, but tough with difficulty being largely dictated by the weather. That’s the best way to sum up the West Course at Saunton Golf Club. I happened to luck into one of the best days of weather you could ever ask for in December on the west coast of England. It was sunny, blue skies, no wind, and about 55ºF. This took a lot of difficulty out of the course, but low scores were no sure thing. If the wind were to whip up, the West Course would quickly become quite menacing.
Many of Saunton Golf Club’s fairways look more inviting and receptive than they really are. If you miss the fairway by much, you will be dealing with heavy heather and pot bunkers that make playing a forward shot a struggle. However, if you place an accurate shot out there, the worst you may have is a little uneven footing and a small target for a second shot, so accuracy is greatly rewarded.
The holes work their way through a very natural links terrain that is everything you could ask for out of Links golf. The greens are quick and true in December, and I can’t imagine how fast they get in the warmer months. The greenside pot bunkers can be invisible from your shot in the fairway, so some local knowledge is more than helpful. If you find one of those bunkers, you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re just playing to get out and not to get close. If I’m honest though, I loved the couple of times I got caught in these bunkers. What would a trip to an English links course be without a few of these shots?
My trip to England was certainly a memorable, once in a lifetime experience, and Saunton Golf Club was the perfect setting for it. Between England’s best storyteller, Pete “Greeno” Green, telling us stories about playing in the first ever televised tournament in England which was held at Saunton (can somebody fact check that?!), rolling putts with Scott Readman on one of the coolest practice greens I’ve seen, soaking in the West Coast Atlantic surf vibes with some good friends, and playing some of the most authentic seaside links golf the west of England has to offer at Saunton Golf Club, I can’t imagine a much better golf experience. My only hope is that I will be fortunate enough to return and do it all over again.