If I was guilty of whining about the narrow roads in Ireland, back in June (see article HERE), I apologize and take it back.
The roads in Devon and Cornwall, in southwest England, are even narrower and scarier. Case in point, the adjacent photo, where two double-decker buses couldn’t get past each other, as we were driving back from playing golf at Trevose, to our charming VRBO flat in Newquay. I’ve sadly discovered that Waze, which is one of the internet’s greatest apps, is no more familiar with the roads over here than I am. The number of sheep tracks (seriously, only as wide as our subcompact car) Waze has had us driving down is innumerable. I can only surmise that one or both of the buses was also following Waze.
I’m not here in Cornwall on a golf trip, per se. If I were, I’d be regaling you with notes of playing some of the several great courses in this part of the country, whose names you would probably not know: Burnham & Barrow, Saunton, Westward Ho (AKA Royal North Devon GC), and others. These three are part of a fivesome of courses that are perennially cited as the best in the southwest.
But being here in western Cornwall, I would be doing a disservice to my devoted reader(s) if I did not sally forth, in your service, to test the challenge of the other two in the group. So sally I did, narrow roads be damned.
Unfortunately, the only day that I could visit St. Enodoc Golf Club (https://www.st-enodoc.co.uk/) presented a windy, chilly, partly cloudy and rainy afternoon. In other words, a typical day in Cornwall. But at my age, these kinds of conditions are no longer a challenge to be happily borne. Rather, they are a bother to complain about, and bemoan the fact that I hadn’t packed properly. But I’ll spare you the moan.
St. Enodoc had been recommended to me for at least fifty years, primarily by a fine English gentleman with whom I played tennis regularly in Toronto. So I was determined to seek it out.
The club offers two courses, but the one that’s achieved the highest reputation over the decades is the Church course… so named because it plays around a church that dates back to the 11th century, was submerged in sand for decades after a storm nearly 200 years ago, and is the final resting place for everyone’s favourite British poet laureate, Sir John Betjeman.
The Church course was first laid out in 1891, but was re-configured in 1907 by the great course designer James Braid, and has had a few reconfigs since then. Regardless of the tampering, the course is probably the most rugged, natural, undulating, and challenging of all the three dozen links courses I’ve had the pleasure to set foot upon. When I say “undulating”, I mean up and down. There are some hills here, and walks from green to tee, that will test the strength of any man’s stents.
North Americans who are not familiar with links inevitably grouse about hard fairways, and often lack of lush green grass, and putting surfaces with subtle, imperceptible swails. These are in abundance at St. Enodoc. Some of the holes, admittedly, are rather ordinary; but remember, courses were not designed for cameras over a century ago. You will want your camera, though, for a shot from the first tee, looking down to a green some 500 yards away, peeking out at you between a tight alley of grassy dunes.
The 6th, a par-four of less than 400 yards, may be one of the greatest single links holes I’ve ever played. An uphill climb takes you to a totally God-made crater filled with sand that is officially not a bunker, but scares the heck out of you anyway. It looks like it could have been made by a meteorite. The green is tucked around the corner of this high dune, and a score of four here will make you feel you should have a medal placed around your neck.
Number 10, which is punctuated by the church steeple on the right of the green, is a lovely but tough, twisty-turny ride to a green about 450 yards away. The par is four or five, depending on your choice of tees, but I took a six, and felt quite proud of myself for the effort.
The next five holes take you around in a loop of elevated holes, that offer very pleasing views of the ocean beyond. The par-3 fifteenth is one of the prettiest mid-iron shots you might ever play, with an elevated tee over a pond and stream, to a well-bunkered green that just seems to be winking at you like a streetwalker in Hamburg.
And what the 18th may lack in character at least provides you with the relief of the end of an invigorating test of golf. I defy anyone to say they didn’t find St. Enodoc just that – invigorating. Quirky, yes, over-bunkered, maybe, but a memorable test of links golf it surely is.
Only a few miles away as the crow flies, but 40-minutes south as the car drives, is Trevose Golf and Country Club (pictured at top) featuring its Championship Course. The website can give you details about available accommodations. (https://trevose-gc.co.uk/)
If St. Enodoc is the golf equivalent of a day with Joan Jett, an afternoon playing Trevose is like being at a soirée with Rosamund Pike… lovely to look at and charming to be with.
Having a pre-round ale and looking out the clubhouse window at all 18 holes, sloping gently down to the sea beneath you, is highly recommended. So is playing the golf course itself. First opened in 1925, and designed by my favourite architect, Harry S. Colt (who did Sunningdale New, which is in my personal top 5, and Hamilton (Ancaster)), Trevose may not be as memorable in your mind or your calf muscles as St. Eno, but it’s one that golfers of all abilities can play, enjoy, and want to revisit.
I played it the day after St. Eno, and I’m glad for the sequence. It was a kinder day, weather-wise, for one thing. My ball found more bunkers here, but that was okay because I actually enjoy playing out of the terra-cotta-coloured soft clay that Cornwall offers, versus the man-made sludge you often find on our side of the Atlantic.
As the club’s website describes, “In keeping with most Colt designs the course is set out in two loops of 9 holes. The front 9 holes hug the sand dunes and coastline, offering some spectacular views out to sea. The back 9 holes offer a different, but no less demanding, test of golf as you head inland and then back towards the clubhouse.” That sums it up perfectly.
A trio of holes stick out in my mind and memory. The par-3 third, a mid-iron shot of about 155 yards, reminiscent of the postage stamp 8th at Muirfield; the par-5 ninth, a real thinking player’s challenge as you approach the green; and the 375-yard seventeenth, offering a classic risk-reward tease on the second shot, across a dastardly creek right in front of the green.
Different in style and temperament as they are, it was just a pleasure to play both St. Enodoc and Trevose, and both are true links courses. Visiting Cornwall, especially at this time of year when the hordes of international tourists and British holiday-makers have largely vacated the area, is a bit of a weather-risk, for sure. But the rugged coastal scenery, and the serene meadowlands inland, the quaint villages and bustling towns are all a delight to the eye and the senses in any climatic conditions.
And above all, you will not find nicer, more genuine people anywhere else on the planet.
The golf is just a value-add.