FITZWILLIAM GOLF SOCIETY TOUR TO NORTH DEVON – SUNDAY 9 TO TUESDAY 11 JUNE 2019
I had decided that it was about time that I organised the Tour to an area of the country that I know very well – North Devon. It’s another one of those parts of the country that most do not visit very often – say compared to South Devon and certainly Cornwall. So we were going to some extent off the beaten track – as generally is my want on these Tours! And we had three excellent golf courses to play – all usually rated in the top 100 courses of the UK and Ireland – in the Bideford and Barnstaple area – Royal North Devon at Westward Ho! (the only place in the country ending in an exclamation mark!) and Saunton East and Saunton West (between Braunton and Croyde, to the north of Barnstaple). I fixed on staying at the Royal & Fortescue Hotel in the heart of Barnstaple – as it’s a good value and friendly, family-run hotel – rather than in one of the larger, chain type of hotel.
So we all travelled down to Devon on the Sunday morning – and we encountered some extremely heavy downpours on the way – and again when we were in the RND clubhouse – whilst having our very meaty, bacon roll and a beer. Our tee-off times were from 1.52 pm – and we started off in slightly rainy conditions – with more rain showers likely later in the afternoon. But amazingly on the 2nd hole – the skies cleared and thereafter, for the rest of the round, we played in magnificent sunny weather. It was a real treat! And partly because the weather was so good, I think that most greatly enjoyed their time at RND – which in fact is the oldest course in England, but one that can divide golfing opinion – especially over the merits and demerits of quite a lot of animals roaming on the course - and a couple of (sometimes busy) roads to cross and walkers roaming aimlessly over the course at times (often oblivious as to how hard a golf ball can be!) – and mostly over some nasty reeds and rushes (for us golfers!) especially on the 2nd nine. But probably because the weather forecast had not been good, the car and pedestrian traffic was very quiet – and there didn’t seem to be so many animals around as normal – although we still had the reeds and rushes to contend with!
The real highlight stretch at RND is between the 3rd and the 8th holes – with some marvellous, albeit difficult holes to play – but with great views out over the shingle ridge and beach of Westward Ho! – and along the interesting coastline and out to the Isle of Lundy. The 6th hole – teeing off from the highest point of the course – is especially highly rated. From the 10th hole – there are three holes – which are often regarded as RND’s Amen Corner – due to the rushes needing to be carried over and surrounding the quite tight fairways. The last four holes are excellent – a difficult par 4, an interesting par 3 with a difficult green to hold, a long par 5 and then a great finishing par 4 hole back towards the clubhouse. We had 20 playing at RND – including two guests – and we really couldn’t have played it in better conditions.
After the golf – we had a quick drink at the golf club – and then made our way to the Royal & Fortescue – where we enjoyed a good evening meal at 8.15 pm. For once I’d allowed the group to choose from a selection of starters, mains and desserts – I think probably for the first time ever – rather than us all eating the same meal! We adjourned to the bar after the meal – but mostly only for a short while – as usual we were tired after a long day travelling, golfing and eating / drinking!
Results at Royal North Devon:
Team Competition in groups of 4 (2 better Stableford balls counting on the 1st 9, 3 counting on holes 10 to 17 and all 4 balls counting on hole 18, on full handicap)
98 points – Richard Newport, Charlie Brown, Pete Bennett & Andrew Garden
96 points – Richard Baker, Bob Barltrop, John Uwins & Graham May
89 points – Colin Dunkerley, David Williams, Stuart Lester & Rob Crabb (guest)
86 points – Mike Hamment, Austin Jessop, Matt Hignell & Ian Rosser
78 points – Alan Wood, Brian Smith, John Coombs & Andrew Coombs (guest)
Nearest the pin 5th: Andrew Garden (nice short par 3 played up the hill to the most scenic part of the course)
Nearest the pin 8th: David Williams (played before this hole is moved next year – because of sea erosion)
Nearest the pin 14th: John Uwins (long par 3 into the wind)
Nearest the pin 16th: Richard Newport (good to hold on this slippery green)
Longest drive 18th: Matt Hignell (great drive down this hole – back towards the clubhouse)
Any par 4 on the 18th: Alan Wood, Stuart Lester, Bob Barltrop, Matt Hignell, Andrew Garden and Pete Bennett (who actually got a birdie here!).
I thought that the 18th was going to prove difficult, but unfortunately it was played with the wind – so I was wrong!