THE five leading links golf clubs in the South West of England have teamed up to form England's Atlantic Links. The quintet of legendary clubs comprises the undiscovered gems of Burnham & Barrow in Somerset, Royal North Devon and Saunton in Devon, and St Enodoc and Trevose in Cornwall, creating a tantalizing trail of ancient links golf set amid the wild and unspoilt landscape of South West England's Atlantic coastline.
Links golf is so often associated with Scotland or Ireland, yet the relatively unknown Atlantic Links of England lack nothing in terms of history, quality, variety and the prestige of hosting important professional and amateur tournaments. Combined with the many off-course attractions along this stretch of coastline and the region's temperate climate, golfers are presented with a genuine 'must-play' golfing experience.
The milder climate of the South West is core to the attraction of year-round golf on England's Atlantic Links, as often provide a brand of winter golf less brutal than the experience in other parts, and the gentler winter conditions enable greenkeepers to maintain their courses in immaculate condition throughout the changing seasons. At the opposite end of the seasonal spectrum, long, warm and balmy summers promote perfect summer golfing conditions too.
Off the golf course, England's South West is bursting with attractions, including pretty coastal towns such as Cornwall's Port Isaac, Rock and Padstow. Unique historic towns like Weston-super-Mare and Bath, near Burnham & Berrow, would be ideal destinations to round off a golfing adventure. The region's rich culture features the inimitable Tate St Ives, displaying the very best in modern and local art, the incredible Eden Project and Lost Gardens of Heligan whilst outdoor activities such as sailing, surfing, walking and horse riding are as good as anywhere in the British Isles.
The gastronomic delights of the South West are not to 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 an authentic ploughman's lunch in an abundance of traditional and unspoilt country pubs.
As for accommodation in the South West, the overall standard has risen dramatically in recent years, and there are now a host of comfortable, character hotels like the Long Cross Hotel, beautifully restored stately homes such as the Bath Spa Hotel and
delightful bed-and-breakfasts, all offering something else for which the unspoilt South West is renowned; value for money.
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.
To mark the formation of England's Atlantic Links,
www.atlantic-links.co.uk has been launched where details of the courses, accommodation and local attractions can be found and packages booked.
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 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 professional was the legendary JH Taylor, five times 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.
Sir Michael Bonallack described the course as: "The magnificent true and speedy greens, the beautifully close cut fairways, the wonderful contouring and definition of each hole and surrounding sand hills are all elements that provide the maximum challenge and enjoyment."
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 is 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. Nowadays, 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 that 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 of 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 will stage the Brabazon Trophy later this year. 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 6863-yard Championship Course offers good scoring opportunities, particularly on some of the gentler inland holes, but the character of the course is transformed when the wind 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
Web Site: burnhamandberrowgolfclub.co.uk
Green Fees: The Championship Course (Max handicap for gents 22, Ladies 30) - Weekdays £50 a round, Weekends £63 a round, juniors 1/2 price.
The Channel Course (No handicap required)
Weekdays £16 a day, Weekends £18 a day & Juniors £7.50 a day
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
Web Site: www.royalnorthdevongolfclub.co.uk
Green Fees: No handicap certificates required. Weekdays £40 a round, Weekends £46 a round & Juniors 1/2 price.
Name: Saunton Golf Club
Address: Near Braunton, North Devon, EX33 1LG
Telephone: 01271 812 436
Fax: 01271 814 241
Web Site: www.sauntongolf.co.uk
Green Fees: Handicap certificates required - 36 limit. West Course - £40 a round,
East Course - £25 a round & Juniors 1/2 price
Name: St Enodoc Golf Club
Address: Rock, Wadebridge, Cornwall, PL27 6LD
Telephone: 01208 863 216
Fax: 01208 862 976
Web Site: www.st-enodoc.co.uk
Green Fees: Handicap certificates required - 24 limit for gents and 28 limit for ladies £45 a round, £70 a day (Saturdays £75 a day), Juniors 1/2 price
Name: Trevose Golf & Country Club
Address: Constantine Bay, Padstow, North Cornwall, Pl28 8JB
Telephone: 01841 520 208
Fax: 01841 521 057
Web Site: www.trevose-gc.co.uk
Green Fees: Handicap certificates required - 28 limit for gents and - 36 limit for ladies. £55 a round, Juniors 1/2 price