IN less than two years, England's Atlantic Links - a collection of the five premier links golf clubs in the South West of England - has established itself as one of the most prestigious golf destinations in the United Kingdom.
The reputation of this previously undiscovered cluster of golfing gems has been further enhanced through the continued inclusion of Atlantic Links courses in recognized course ratings compiled by top golf publications and through the hosting of a number of top amateur championships over the last 18 months.
Last summer Trevose Golf & Country Club in Cornwall staged the 2008 Brabazon Trophy (English Men's Open Amateur Stroke Play Championship) whilst the 2009 Tillman Trophy will be staged this July at Somerset's Burnham & Berrow Golf Club.
Two years later Burnham & Berrow will also host the R & A Boys Championship and the Brabazon Trophy - for the fifth time - and in doing so enter golfing history in 2011 by becoming the first course to hold both championships in the same year.
Saunton Golf Club's East Course in Devon was awarded 22nd place in Golf World's "Top 100 Golf Courses in the UK" at the end of 2008 and more recently, St Enodoc Golf Club's Church Course in Cornwall was included in the "100 Best Courses outside the USA" at number 55 in the May 2009 issue of Golf Digest.
All six courses in England's Atlantic Links featured in the 2007/8 Golf Monthly "Top 100 Courses in the UK & Ireland" with Royal North Devon Golf Club, or Westwood Ho! as it is fondly referred to, coming in at number 69.
Together these legendary, award-winning championship courses have firmly established themselves on the golfing map as a tantalizing trail of ancient links golf set amid the wild and dramatic Atlantic coastline of South West England.
"By packaging the five premier links clubs in South West England into England's Atlantic Links, we have created a genuine alternative golf links tour to the high profile destinations of Scotland and Ireland," comments Michael Blight, Managing Secretary of Burnham & Berrow Golf Club.
"In the 18 months or so since we established the offering, we have attracted a great many visitors from Europe and the US who have been both surprised and delighted to discover this relatively-unknown group of glorious links courses that had been overshadowed by the Scottish and Irish links for far too long.
"Meanwhile each course in its own individual right continues to receive plaudits from the world of golf and to be awarded the honour of hosting top amateur championships which have further enhanced the growing reputation of the Atlantic Links as one of the UK's most prestigious golfing destinations."
In addition, England's Atlantic Links' courses boast the combined appeal of history, tradition and variety, which is complemented by numerous off-course attractions along the Atlantic coastline.
England's South West is bursting with attractions including pretty coastal towns like Ilfracombe, bustling market towns such as Wadebridge and Barnstaple and charming fishing villages like Port Isaac, Rock and Padstow along the north Cornish coast whilst historic towns like Weston-super-Mare and Bath, near Burnham & Berrow, are ideal destinations to round off a golfing adventure.
The region's rich culture features the inimitable Barbara Hepworth Museum and Tate St Ives, displaying the very best in modern and local art, the renown Eden Project and fascinating Lost Gardens of Heligan whilst outdoor activities such as surfing around Newquay and walking and horse riding in Exmoor National Park are as good as anywhere in the British Isles.
The gastronomic delights of the South West are not to be missed either, from the exceptional Padstow seafood restaurants of famous local chef Rick Stein and a variety of other Michelin-starred restaurants, to real English ale and authentic pub grub in an abundance of traditional country pubs.
The temperate micro climate allows year-round golf with the gentler winter conditions enabling the greenkeepers to maintain their courses in immaculate condition throughout the changing seasons.
Meanwhile the overall standard of accommodation in the South West has risen dramatically in recent years and there are now a host of comfortable, character hotels like Woodlands Country House Hotel, beautifully restored stately homes such as the Bath Spa Hotel, modern seaside hotels such as Saunton Sands and the St Moritz Hotel & Spa and delightful, friendly bed-and-breakfasts.
In terms of travel, the nearby M5 motorway and A39 "Atlantic Highway", and international airports at Bristol, Exeter and Newquay, ensure easy accessibility for all visitors.
The Courses that Comprise England's Atlantic Links:
Founded in 1890, Somerset's Burnham & Berrow is particularly noted for its distinct sand hills that form such stubborn, natural obstacles, along with the buckthorn and even a marsh for golfers to avoid mid-way through a round. Throw in the prevailing south westerly winds that whip in from the Atlantic and along the Bristol Channel, and golfers are left with a links challenge not for the faint hearted. The course has evolved over the decades but today's layout is largely the work of Harry Colt. The club's first professional was the legendary JH Taylor, five times an Open champion, who described the course as "one of the most sporting courses conceivable". Burnham & Berrow has hosted a string of prestigious amateur tournaments, most recently the 2006 English Amateur Championship.
Dating back to 1864, Royal North Devon, or Westward Ho! as it is also known, is England's oldest links. The golf course has hardly changed over nearly 150 years and to play it is like taking a step back in time and seeing how golf was played
in Victorian England. The golf course, on terrain that undulates more gently than Burnham & Berrow, is set on common land on which livestock still graze. While JH Taylor may have served as Burnham & Berrow's first pro, it as here at Royal North Devon that the golfer started his career as a caddie and later finished it as club president. With such heritage, the clubhouse serves as a treasure trove of golf memorabilia second only to the R&A.
Further down the Devon coast is Saunton, set in the remote shadows of the giant sand dunes of Braunton Burrows. When the club was inaugurated in 1893 its clubhouse doubled up as the local post office, yet now its two championship courses, East and West, are among the greatest links in the world.
England's most successful post-war golfer, Nick Faldo, has said, "I've no doubt if the East Course were located on the coast of Lancashire or Kent it would have hosted an Open Championship by now," although the West course is an exceptional challenge in its own right and it is a mistake to consider it second best. It was here in 1997 that a 17-year-old Sergio Garcia won the British Boys Championship, just two years before making his Ryder Cup debut.
Cornwall's St Enodoc is another links once trodden, never forgotten. Founded in 1890 and designed by James Braid, it has a fantastic setting among the dunes overlooking the River Camel estuary and with far-reaching views over the Atlantic. The Church course, so called because of the Norman Church that was uncovered in the middle of the course, is renowned for its towering Himalaya bunker that entirely blocks golfers' view of the 6th green from all but a slither of fairway. This is the tallest bunker in Europe. Over the past four years the course has benefited hugely from refurbishments that have included laying new greens and tees.
Across the Camel River from St Enodoc and over the majestic Trevose Head that juts into the Atlantic, Trevose Golf & Country Club offers a brilliant links that staged the celebrated English Amateur Stroke play Championship (Brabazon Trophy) in 2008. Complete with holiday flats and bungalows, Trevose conjures a relaxed holiday atmosphere to go with its classic Harry Colt golf course. With only a gentle breeze the 6,973-yard Championship Course offers good scoring opportunities, particularly with 3 par 5's, but the character of the course is transformed when the winds blows in from the sea.
(Please note that handicap restrictions apply and certificates are required at some of these courses.)
Name: Burnham & Berrow Golf Club Address: St. Christopher's Way, Burnham on Sea, Somerset, TA8 2PE Telephone: 01278 785 760 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web Site: burnhamandberrowgolfclub.co.uk The Championship Course Handicap: Max handicap for gents 22, Ladies 30
Name: Royal North Devon Golf Club Address: Golf Links Road. Westward Ho!, Bideford, North Devon, EX39 1HD Telephone: Secretary - 01237 473 817 Bookings - 01237 477 598 Fax: 01237 423 456 E-mail: email@example.com Web Site: www.st-enodoc.co.uk Handicap: certificates required - 24 limit for gents and 28 limit for ladies
Name: Trevose Golf & Country Club Address: Constantine Bay, Padstow, North Cornwall, Pl28 8JB Telephone: 01841 520 208 Fax: 01841 521 057 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Web Site: www.trevose-gc.co.uk