Oldest golf club in England

Royal North Devon Golf Club

Stepping into the clubhouse at Royal North Devon Golf Club is like entering a museum.

Royal North Devon Golf Club
Address Golf Links Road,  Westward Ho!,  EX39 1HD  Bideford,  Devon,  England
Websitewww.royalnorthdevongolfclub.co.uk/
Emailinfo@royalnorthdevongolfclub.co.uk
Phone +44-(0)1237 473817
Number of holes 18
Service caddies, driving range, golf lessons, putting green, pro shop, rental clubs, restaurant, trolleys

Royal North Devon Golf Club has been called the St Andrews of the South. It is the cradle of golf in England, being the oldest club in the country, founded in 1864. When you tour the clubhouse you get a glimpse of its illustrious history. 

A sizable collection of hickory clubs, complete with tags showing who played them.

Photo: Bo SjostenA sizable collection of hickory clubs, complete with tags showing who played them.

Everywhere you turn there is another piece of golf history, from old hickory clubs to ancient golf balls, from countless trophies to a never-ending row of wooden signs listing past club champions. The latter is truly a list of golf greats, with names like James Braid, Harry Vardon and J.H. Taylor. Just sit down at the old wooden table, order a pint, and feel the winds of time.

Sit down in the clubhouse museum and soak up the history.

Photo: Bo SjostenSit down in the clubhouse museum and soak up the history.

Links course

Originally laid out by Old Tom Morris, the course is largely unchanged since 1908 when Herbert Fowler made a few revisions. 

 

It is laid out on common land, meaning that the land belongs to the town, and anyone that resides there has certain rights, like the right to let your animals graze on the course. This may sound strange, but it actually works quite well. You play golf, the sheep and horses maintain the grass. It’s like symbiosis. The animals largely ignore you as they are quite used to golfers. Just respect them as they respect you, and enjoy their company and contribution. And don’t worry if your ball ends up in a hoof mark, a local rule allows for a free drop.

Golfers and animals exist in symbiosis.

Photo: Bo SjostenGolfers and animals exist in symbiosis.

The land is very natural. In fact, if you look at a satellite image of the course, at first it is hard to even spot the course. You have to zoom in to find a green or a bunker to figure out where the golf course is located. The land is very lightly undulated, meaning that the wind is a big factor.

The course starts with three fairly flat holes, and end the same way. Sounds easy, but there are some burns to complicate you shot decision-making. Starting on hole four you are in links golf heaven with a number of excellent holes running along the coastline. After the turn you have your first encounter with the rushes, a bushlike flowering plant that eats golf balls by the dozen. The rushes are a major feature on the remaining holes. I have no further comment other than “stay out of the rushes”.

The approach to the 17th is well guarded by a burn, a road, and sometimes sheep.

Photo: Bo SjostenThe approach to the 17th is well guarded by a burn, a road, and sometimes sheep.

The rushes disappear when you reach the final holes, but instead you see something else rarely found on modern courses. On the 17th, a par five, the green is guarded by both a burn and the road that leads from the clubhouse to the sea. Trying for the green in two will most often end in disaster, either a lost ball or a crushed windshield.

The beauty of "The Pill" is best appreciated when not playing the 18th hole.

Photo: Bo SjostenThe beauty of "The Pill" is best appreciated when not playing the 18th hole.

If you survive the 17th without being hit by a lawsuit, the 18th is a fairly straightforward hole taking you back to the clubhouse. At least so it seems, until you realize the green is guarded by a burn, tellingly named “The Pill”.

If you have any interest in golf history, Royal North Devon is a must play. Even if you don’t you will have a wonderful traditional links golf experience.

The clubhouse at Royal North Devon.

Photo: Bo SjostenThe clubhouse at Royal North Devon.

Information about Links course

Number of holes18
GreenfeeWeekdays: 65 GBP, Weekends and holidays: 75 GBP
Season January - December
Course type
Course opened1864
TeeParLength  (yds)CR/Slope (Men)CR/Slope (Women)
Black726984SSS 74-/ -
White726682SSS 73-/ -
Yellow726424SSS 72-/ -

Map and satellite image

lat: 51.046782, long: -4.227977

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