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 was 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.
Royal North Devon at Westward Ho! can rightly claim to be the cradle of English Golf. Founded in 1864, it is the oldest golf course in the country and is regarded as the St Andrews of England. The golf course is as tough as any of the UK’s better-known links and is ranked at number 69 in Golf Monthly’s Top 120 Course Rankings and it also features in Golf World’s Top 100 courses in the world that every golfer “must play”·
Windswept, wild and interesting, England’s Southwest counties of Somerset, Devon & Cornwall host the oldest and some of the most enigmatic golf courses in the UK.
Royal North Devon or RND, as it’s often referred to, is not only a great course but it’s also a place of huge historical importance. Inside the warm, welcoming clubhouse, the golf museum, honours boards and club trophies tell the story of the game from its birth and RND’s unique place within it. Alone they are reason enough to make the trip to North Devon.
The club prides itself on its friendly atmosphere and rather than the stuffiness you might associate with such an old club, we pride ourselves on being open and progressive. Many golfers are amazed to discover how relaxed and informal the atmosphere is at RND and we like to think the “craic” in the clubhouse is just as important as a great day on the links. We are also proud to have the biggest junior section in England and the facilities to encourage future generations.
The course stretches out to over 7,000 yards from the championship tees (used for the West of England Championship – one of the top amateur events in the calendar), although most will agree that it’s a suitably stiff test at 6,650 yards, especially when the wind blows. Even with today’s modern equipment a par score for the top scratch players is never easy.
Above all, this is a great, natural golf course that is largely unchanged from the moment 100 years ago when Harold Hilton et al pronounced Westward Ho! to be England’s number one competition golf course. RND is pure raw exhilaration and ultimately, the experience of playing a fast running links in a stiff breeze still tests the very best in the game.
Many of the great players of the last 100 years were regular competitors at RND but the greatest of them all is undoubtedly John Henry Taylor. Born in the village of Northam, overlooking the course, J.H. started his long association with the club as a caddie boy and he soon became an accomplished player. As students of the game will know he went on to form one third of the great triumvirate, winning five Open Championships. Alongside Harry Vardon and James Braid, he dominated the game for 30 years. The club honoured Taylor with a presidency in 1957 and his portrait and some of the clubs that he used to win his Open titles are proudly displayed in the clubhouse.
A look at the club’s honours boards, dating back to 1864, is like a “who’s who” of golfing greats. It lists many of the games founding fathers such as Horace Hutchinson, Harold Hilton, Herbert Fowler and Capt Molesworth and although golf has changed hugely in the last century and continues to develop and grow, a great links will always stand the test of time. RND is just that, a great links and as far removed as possible from the manicured and manufactured championship courses we see every week on television.
RND’s General Manager Mark Evans is a scratch golfer and a former Devon County captain. He prides himself on producing a natural golf course with greens that will test your nerve and your touch to the limit. Like St Andrews a first sighting can be deceptive, many new arrivals look out from the clubhouse and ask where the golf course is! It is the sort of course which draws you back and many top golfers who have played half a dozen rounds or more will tell you it’s their favourite course.
Our playing surfaces are second to none, boasting year-round fast and true greens, firm tees and tight fairway lies, which require crisply struck iron shots. To sum it up, this is true golf played out under big skies and against a backdrop of crashing surf. Everyone who loves golf should play here, if not to walk on a genuine golfing heritage site then to soak up the unique atmosphere.
If you love links golf, you will surely want to return many times to experience golf as it should be played!
(This golf course profile is the first in a series of the Atlantic Links Golf Courses in Southwest England. England’s Atlantic Links, a collection of the six premier links golf clubs in South West England, has established itself as one of the most prestigious golf destinations in the United Kingdom. This tantalizing trail of championship links stretches along the dramatic north Atlantic coast from Burnham & Berrow in Somerset and Royal North Devon and Saunton in Devon to St Enodoc and Trevose in Cornwall.)