Searching for coastal golf courses that offer jaw dropping views and interesting wildlife, as well as challenging holes? RICHARD BRYSON picks out some of his favourites around the British Isles.
I’m about to commit golfing heresy now, but links courses can be rather underwhelming from an aesthetic point of view.
There’s no questioning the challenge of seaside golf. The undulating fairways, deep lying bunkers and fast running greens are a test, plus throw in a maritime storm and you have the potential to wreck any score. But what I’m talking about is the visual appeal – can you depart the 18th and recall in your mind’s eye a really striking vista, one you can capture on camera and marvel at in the years to follow?
I’ve played the likes of Royal Liverpool, last year’s Open venue, plus Royal Porthcawl but can barely remember anything about them. Admittedly these were on autumn days of low grey cloud and chilly winds and the flat topography didn’t help. However, having heard so much about these renowned courses I expected more.
As a consequence let’s explore a few really photogenic – some you might even call quirky – courses on our coasts. And, for those not so besotted with the game, I’ll also flag up some places to stay and visit nearby. These all combine enjoyable golf with stunning views.
Let’s start our ‘round Britain’ tour near Bournemouth. Few courses can match the panoramic Isle of Purbeck, set in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty looking out over Poole harbour, Brownsea Island and the Solent. One of its past owners was the distinguished consultant Dr Darrell-Waters whose wife was the author Enid Blyton and in more recent times the former football manager Harry Redknapp has bestrode the fairways.
“It’s a tough site to look after,” says head greenkeeper David Field. “Due to its Site of Special Scientific Interest status, we are limited to where we can apply nitrates. The greens complexes and tees can be treated but the fairways are restricted due to the possible leaching of product into the heathland and water courses. This is why we promote the course as ‘golf in its most natural form’.”
There’s plenty of gorse and scrub to punish errant shots but the wilder parts of the course home the rare Dartford warbler, nightjar, stoat, sika deer, smooth snakes and sand lizards.
Says David: “A five- to six-year masterplan has been made to improve the quality of the golf course as well as collaborating with the National Trust to remove invasive species of trees and gorse to provide a habitat that will encourage rare flora and fauna to thrive.”
Moving westward, St Enodoc occupies a stunning location on Cornwall’s rugged north coast overlooking the Camel estuary. Even if your game isn’t on song, views across the bay to Padstow, and the long strips of sandy beach below, should lift the spirits and remind you golf is better than working. And if you can avoid the mighty Himalaya bunker guarding the sixth green you will be relieved.
It’s a winning combination of scenic beauty and the need for strokemaking expertise. There’s a stylish clubhouse here too, one that nicely mixes the modern with the traditional.
One golf writer described it as “God’s place on earth” – words that may have been echoed by the former poet laureate Sir John Betjeman, who is buried in the grounds of a church on the course.
If the aforementioned clubs are reasonably well known, Sidmouth in Devon will be one that goes under the radar. It has an interesting, undulating parkland layout with hardly any level fairways and when you reach the elevated tenth tee there’s a marvellous view of the sea. This is one for fun holiday golf and the club is very welcoming.
Siloth on Solway Golf Club, on the Cumbrian coast, shares Purbeck’s SSSI status mainly due to its on-course protected species – natterjack toads and great crested newts. Clearly they are at home in this environment as will be any visiting golfer.
The rolling fairways, sunken greens, sand dunes and attractive yellow gorse make for idyllic surroundings even if your game is being tested to the limit. And then there are the views. “The best is either from the fourth tee or the ninth,” says Alan Oliver, club secretary. “Both look over the Solway Firth to the Scottish Borders on one side and on the other to the Lake District. On a clear day you can also see the Isle of Man too.”
For golf that’s very much off the beaten track there’s Durness in the north west Highlands of Scotland. The scenery takes the breath away. Against a backdrop of distant mountain ranges and beautiful bays this nine-holer has 18 different tees so it’s a course that keeps you on your mettle.
“No view will disappoint,” says secretary Lucy Mackay. “On the eighth/17th you can see the mile-long expanse of Balnakiel Bay. But then playing along the third/12th offers you views of spectacular mountains such as Foinaven.”
It’s a strip of land rich in flora and fauna. Says Lucy: “Depending on species and landscape colours Durness has year round appeal, but many will say that late July, August and early September show it at its best.”
Green fees are £25 for nine holes and £40 for 18, so good value.
Castles offer a majestic backdrop to golf courses and one of the most impressive towers over Royal St David’s Golf Club, Harlech. Not quite so heralded, and possibly easier to play, Northumberland’s Bamburgh Castle Golf Club has an entertaining layout with views of Lindisfarne, the Farne Islands, the Cheviots and the castle itself. This mighty fortress, dating back to Anglo-Saxon times spreads over nine acres and is in regular demand as a location for period films.
Prebooking is a must at Bamburgh – you can’t just turn up and play.
Travel around 350 miles south to Thorpeness and you will find a course established as part of an elite private fantasy holiday village by Scottish barrister Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie.
An early hole skirts close to The Meare, a boating lake with little islands inspired by the writings of Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie, a friend of the Ogilvies.
The 18th green is a stone’s throw or two from another quirky landmark, The House In The Clouds, a water tower converted into a five-storey holiday home.
Last, but by no means least, Norfolk has a clifftop course to take golfers back to the age of steam. At Sheringham a train sometimes puffs its way alongside the 16th hole. While playing the 17th Joyce Wethered declared “What train?” before calmly putting out to win the 1920 English Ladies Championship.
Before that there are some wonderful holes near the cliff edge, elevated tees giving you views of the undulating fairways and the North Sea. The par three, 210-yard sixth hole may look straightforward but depending on the sea breezes you may need anything from a mid iron to a driver to find the green.
NOT PLAYING GOLF…?
Here are nearby places to visit away from the fairways:
Near to the Isle of Purbeck Golf Club
Corfe Castle is close by as are the beaches of the Studland and Godlingston Heath National Nature Reserve. Poole and Bournemouth can be reached via the Sandbanks Ferry. You can see the birthplace of Scouting, Brownsea Island (also home to the red squirrel and an abundance of wildlife) from the golf course. It can be reached by ferry.
Near to St Enodoc Golf Club
The 12th century St Enodoc church – last resting place of Sir John Betjeman – is worth seeking out but be wary of passing golf balls as it is situated among the fairways. Nearby beaches at Rock, Daymer and Polzeath offer excellent surfing and coastline walks. The pretty harbour of Padstow is across the bay.
Near to Sidmouth Golf Club
This regency town is in the heart of the East Devon Area Of Natural Beauty where you can find walking trails and nature reserves.
Near to Durness Golf Club
Visit the Cape Wrath Lighthouse via a ferry and bus journey (it’s the most north westerly point on mainland Britain) and there is the spectacular Smoo Cave with boat trips into the inner chambers. Bask in the isolation with walks along clean beaches, or venture on mountain/hill or clifftop walks.
Near to Silloth on Solway Golf Club
Senhouse Roman Museum and South Solway Mosses Nature Reserve are not far away, as is the city of Carlisle. An hour’s drive takes you to the Lake District, England’s largest national park with its rugged fell mountains and expanses of water that inspired William Wordswoth and Beatrix Potter.
Near Bamburgh Castle Golf Club
Bamburgh castle and surrounds are worth a visit and the Farne islands are a short boat trip away. Drive along the coast to Dunstanburgh, Craster and Alnwick, with the latter’s castle a setting for the Harry Potter films and the TV series Downton Abbey.
Near Thorpeness Golf Club
Take time to stroll around this holiday village with a difference, or walk/drive to nearby Aldeburgh. The concert hall and some fine independent shops are at Snape Maltings, just 15 minutes away by car.
Near to Sheringham Golf Club
Cromer with its well-known pier is just a few minutes away, or head west along the coast to Blakeney and Wells-next-the-Sea. The charming town of Holt is a few miles inland.
Where to stay
While playing courses in the West Country we stayed at two Harbour Hotels in Padstow and Sidmouth. We looked across the Camel Estuary to Padstow during our game at St Enodoc – a boat trip would have got us there in about ten minutes but by car, around the bay, it was closer to half an hour.
The Padstow Harbour Hotel, a Victorian era building, stands proud on a hill overlooking the town. Inside the rooms are styled in marine-themed blue, a winning formula in terms of style and establishing a mood of calming relaxation. But the hotel’s interior designer has a sense of humour too, as the quirky neon sign at the entrance and the inverted skiff moored to the ceiling in the lounge suggest.
The superbly appointed restaurant and bar area overlook the estuary making dining one of the most pleasurable parts of your stay. The seafood dishes are exceptional (go for the chef’s signature fish pie) as are the local ales and the cream teas you can enjoy from a lawned area, again with views of the water.
Our Garden View bedroom suites were light and very spacious boasting flatscreen TVs, Bramley all-natural toiletries and complementary gin. harbourhotels.co.uk/padstow
Moving to Devon’s Jurassic Coast the Harbour Hotel at Sidmouth has a similar sense of style, and, thanks to its elevated position, exceptional views of the sea and the local red cliffs.
This hotel has 56 luxury bedrooms, a wrap-around terrace and an outdoor swimming pool by a suntrap terrace. The beach is just a short stroll away.
Nautical black and white prints in hallways offer a contrast to colourful fabrics elsewhere and the nicely designed and laid out restaurant and bar is a lovely place to dine or sip a cocktail or two.
If the weather is less than fine retreat to the HarSPA where you will find a hydrotherapy pool, gym, sauna and steam rooms and lots of opportunities for luxury pampering. harbourhotels.co.uk/sidmouth