Sunday, April 01, 2012

St. Enodoc Golf Club

What does a golf fanatic do when faced with Garden leave? Garden? Certainly not. He embarks on a pilgrimage. The BBC estimates that over 100 million people a year take a pilgrimage. I'll bet you have already guessed that I'm not going to Santiago de Compostela. My pilgrimage is a golfing one, of course, to some out-of-the-way courses I have always wanted to play.

First up is St. Enodoc, which requires some effort to play because it is not located near any other golf destination or well known courses. The club was founded in 1899. It doesn't have a marketing department or isn't pitching itself as a must play course, so it is truly a destination for the die-hard golf nut. St. Enodoc is located on the Cornish coast of England. That would be the bottom left part of the country (Southwest for you sticklers). Way down there. Cornwall (the Royal Duchy of Cornwall is its full name) has a very rugged and dramatic coastline.

Cornwall, England, home of St. Enodoc

My regular readers know I'm crazy. One of my first posts on the blog was a winter visit to Ganton and Woodhall Spa in Northern England. England has always held a great appeal to me because it is such a quirky country and it fits my personality to a "T." To me there is nothing in the world like getting behind the wheel of a stick shift car after a red-eye flight, driving on the wrong side of the road, with a little mist coming down on my way to play a new golf course!

The rolling hills of the English countryside never disappoint. Its bucolic beauty is timeless. American real estate developers like to use names from the English countryside when building developments and naming streets. Most new sub-divisions have at least one neighborhood or model home named Devon, Exeter, Dorchester, etc. The trip to St. Enodoc took me through these actual historic places.

The last ten miles to St. Enodoc are a driving experience, with its narrow, twisting lanes through the rolling countryside. I'm a veteran of this type of driving, where you can't spare a half inch on either side when a car or truck is passing from the other direction. More than once, I have knocked off the mirror on the left side of the car. The road approaching St. Enodoc is lined with Cornish hedges. No, not Cornish hens, Cornish hedges.

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The hemmed in roads of Cornwall with their hedges tight to the roadway

A Cornish hedge is some kind of crazy earthen embankment that creates the effect of driving through a tunnel, with no lateral visibility at all. The roads would be bad enough if they were straight, but of course, they are almost always winding with lots of blind curves. The hedges are made variously of mud, shrubs, ferns, rocks or all of the above, and are a driving nightmare because they create a situation of near zero visibility at almost all times. I'm sure they served some sort of useful purpose in the past like keeping sheep in a field or blocking the wind. For the modern driver, they are a terror.

Fittingly enough, the entry drive at St. Enodoc is a one-lane road straight up a big hill lined with hedges. I was lucky to play St. Enodoc on a Sunday afternoon in the late fall. Throughout my drive to St. Enodoc BBC radio described the day's weather as variously: Fine and dry. Crisp and clear. Lovely, with a fresh breeze. A spectacular day by any standard.

The golf course was designed by James Braid and opened for play in 1907. Along with Prestwick and Merion, St. Enodoc has one of the best opening holes in the world. A par five of 528 yards, you hit into a wildly undulating fairway with a big set of sand dunes guarding the right side of the hole.

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The fabulous opening tee shot at St. Enodoc

Your second shot is at the big striped pole and plays to a green set slightly down a hill. Once you walk up to the crest of the hill, the most amazing landscape unfolds all around you.

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The wild, untamed undulations of the fairway on the 1st hole at St. Enodoc

You can see the massive rocky landforms in this part of Cornwall tumbling down to the beautiful blue sea. Behind the big mountain is the gorgeous English countryside, perfectly manicured. Where the land meets the sea is a series of perfect wide sand beaches. You can also clearly see for the first time that the golf course is perched on top of a massive headland and that St. Enodoc is going to be a treat. As you progress from tee to green, this amazing landscape reveals itself. What a jewel. I was bowled over.

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The dramatic view from the first green at St. Enodoc

The third hole is a par four of 440 yards, doglegs to the left and plays down a big hill. Your drive is again at a striped pole.

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The downhill tee shot at St. Enodoc's 3rd hole

Your approach shot plays over this rough stone wall to the green sitting below you. The sheep up on the hillside above you add to the bucolic setting.

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Approach shot over stone wall to the 3rd green

The sixth hole has a Himalaya bunker, is 428 yards and features a blind drive. It is said to contain the biggest sand bunker in Europe, and I'm not arguing the point. If you can avoid the bunker, you still have a blind shot to a punchbowl style green set in a little alcove area. It is a very, very good golf hole.

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The sixth hole at St. Enodoc with the Himalaya bunker and hidden green

As is typical in England, St. Enodoc has people walking the course, almost always with dogs. The people walking the course have the right of way. As it was a brilliant Sunday afternoon, the course was quite crowded and on a few occasions I had to wait to allow people to pass before I could hit.

I do most of my golf trips with friends, but at St. Enodoc I played alone, which I like to do on occasion. It was a great opportunity to recharge the batteries, exorcise demons and clear my head. It was also a nice relaxed round where I got to drop balls and try out multiple bump and run shots into various greens and in general just play around.

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View from the 7th green toward Camel estuary

The course is visually dramatic the entire way around. The view above is off the seventh green looking toward the Camel estuary with Stepper Point in the distance.

When you read about St. Enodoc, you hear about the tenth hole being the Church hole. The tenth is a wicked difficult 457-yard sharp dogleg left par four, but you only get a glimpse of the church from the hole. The church really comes into view on the twelfth and thirteenth holes which are set above the fairway and have a commanding view looking down on both the church and the sea.

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The 10th "Church" hole as seen from the 13th hole above

The church was uncovered among the sand dunes in Victorian times. It was originally built in the eleventh century by the Normans!!! The hole plunges from an elevated tee to a narrow fairway below. The green for the tenth hole is seen to the left of the church in the shade. I'm still not quite sure how you are supposed to hit this green in two unless you absolutely kill the ball off the tee since the dogleg is so sharp. Even then, you have to be able to shape your ball flight from right to left.

St. Enodoc had as much variety of sounds as I have ever heard on a golf course, all of them pleasing. There were the waves crashing on the rocks below the course, sheep baaing, gulls crowing, dogs barking, the wind blowing and the church bells ringing. There was also the smell of burning leaves from a nearby land owner, which brought back memories of my childhood, when the practice used to be allowed in the U.S. and an old maid near our house diligently burned leaves every Sunday during the Fall.

The golf course is a unique one and has a collection of standout holes (one, two, four, six and ten) that give the course a cult following among those learned in golf course architecture. The course combines dramatic water views with beautiful dunes links land as seen below on the finishing hole. The course is better than some of the courses in the top 100 I have played and it's a bit of a wonder to me why the course doesn't get more accolades.

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The 18th green at St. Enodoc shows the dunes landscape

I read somewhere that if you like Cruden Bay and Prestwick you will like St. Enodoc, and I agree with this. The course is a bit quirky and short. From the tips it plays 6,547 yards to a par of 69 (there are only two par fives). St. Enodoc is an unconventional but very fun course set in an idyllic location.

After my round I sat in the clubhouse enjoying a Guinness and an egg mayonnaise sandwich on brown bread. I sat savoring the moment eavesdropping on a group of four Englishmen who were as quirky as the course. The perfect ending to a perfect day.


An old phone box that is still found in North Cornwall, near St. Enodoc

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Extremely interesting to have your opinion on a course i have played a fair bit, its fantastic that an international visitor can appreciate the quirks and beauty, and indeed makes the effort to, of a remote, fairly unknown (at least outside of british golfing circles)timeless course. I wonder if you just played St Enedoc on your West Country trip, or if you ventured a couple of miles down the coast to play the decent Trevose course (although it can be set up a bit too much for 'holiday' golf) ive played it many times, and its good fun, and i think has been used for open qualyfying. Also did you venture across the Camel estuary from Rock and sample the views back from Padstow, and the world renowned seafood restuarant of Rick Stein?

Not to mention some of the fine course on the North Devon coast.

Anonymous said...

I was thoroughly entertained by your blog on St. Enedoc. As a quirky Englishman about to move his family down to Rock and planning to join St. Enedoc you have wetted my appetite even more. Good luck in your quest, it is noble and just.

matt said...

I'm playing St Enodoc next week and I can't wait, especially after reading your excellent blog. Wonder if I'll play to handicap...

I'm a little late to the party here as I see you only have 1 course left to play, shouldn't be too hard from here on in! I guess you must already be contemplating the next challenge. Good luck with the last piece of the puzzle.