Top: The famous railway sleepers at the 4th hole. Above: Bunkers protecting the 11th green
Bunker protecting the 3rdOasis like green at the 5thSea view at the 7th green
Day Four of my tour and today feels a bit special, more like a pilgrimage. I played Royal North Devon some 25 years ago with two friends, but the playing conditions between then and today are a world apart. Today is another day in England’s mini-heatwave and the temperatures are in the high 20s.
When I played RND back in the 1980s it was in a Force Seven gale in waterproofs. The secretary at the time thought we were mad for even attempting to go and play, but it was great fun and the highlight – or should I say lowlight – of the day was my shot to the par-3 143-yard 16th, which plays out towards the sea. I hit a driver – yes DRIVER – and was amazed to see the ball just climb and then start to come backwards and land about five yards short of the green! It was an hysterical moment and we just stood on the tee and fell about laughing.
I’ve been lucky with the weather this week and you may not be so blessed with favourable conditions. But what I would say is: links golf for me holds great memories and magical moments and if you come with the attitude that you’re going to enjoy the experience no matter the weather, you too will have fond memories of your time on the Atlantic Links Tour or any other links course, for the rest of your life.
Royal North Devon doesn’t really get underway until the third hole, but that is not to say that the first two holes are not a test – they are both tough holes and talking to Mark the secretary after the round, the second comes out as one of the toughest holes on the course during competitions.
Aesthetically they are not the prettiest, but as golf holes you have to respect them. You will find RND gives you a chance from the tee. Most holes give you plenty of fairway to aim at even though you may not be able to see it! The marker post are very well-placed and like the course planner states, take aim, swing freely and trust them. I can vouch for that.
The fourth starts a run of great holes and the sleepers that you aim for over at the fourth have been written about many times and are now legendary. But it’s when you get to the fairway that you see all the undulations and a small green to aim at. Again I would say trust the pro’s tip in the planner and aim for the centre of the green no matter where the pin is. Don’t be short – the bunkers have been placed there for a reason and they are more than happy to snap up your ball.
The fifth hole again brings back plenty of memories and a wry smile comes to my face as I look up the hill to that perfectly-defended green. There are no less than seven bunkers protecting it and there are more slopes than a ski resort. You will realise that walking away with par here should be treasured.
Rather than run through this course hole-by-hole, I’ll just say the sixth is a great driving hole. As you stand on the tee looking down the fairway which today is a beautiful golden brown with a very tranquil ocean lapping the shores to your left, it truly is a soothing moment.
The rest of the front nine are great holes and finish with the risk-and-reward ninth. A good tee shot will give you a chance to reach the green and set up an eagle chance, but I am sure the bunker that is nearly the width of the green that guards the green will have plenty to say about that!
The back nine opens with a great par-4 and one for which you will have to trust the marker post is in the right position. It’s a tough hole but be brave, my young padwan. Take aim and trust in the marker post and your swing. I have to say I love the back nine – there are some great par-3s a couple of par-5s that give you a chance and some tough par-4s. Like all links courses, hit the fairway and you have a chance of building a great score. But don’t throw it all away at the 18th and dunk your ball in the wide burn that protects the green.
The writer Bernard Darwin once described Royal North Devon as “one of the greatest of all course.” I would have to agree with the great man.
Not many flat lies at the 10thSaucepan lid like 13th greenThe burn protecting the 18th
All golf photography taken on the day of play © James Mason