- Neil White
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
The teams were gathered on the balcony, my ball was perked up in the rough, I reached for my five-iron and swish.
“Golf shot!”, exclaimed my three-handicap partner as the ball came to rest about eight feet from the flag.
I waited for applause, even a whistle or a holler. But nowt. Our society match had already been won, as had our game, so my determined attempt for a slice of personal glory was received by blind eyes.
No matter. I was delighted to have played a part in completing the Press Golfing Society’s victory over Northcliffe at Saunton – the finest 36-hole links complex in the UK.
To perform well on the much-acclaimed East course was a special thrill – although I need to return. We played from the very forgiving yellow tees and I would like to try out the whites.
The difference in levels of drama were apparent from the first. The white, next to the elevated starter’s hut would require a decent-length carry to make the fairway and demand a long approach. The opener is much less intimidating from the yellows.
The narrow gulleys we had encountered on the West course re-emerged on the East and, despite often being mere slithers of water, had a nasty habit of ensnaring golf balls.
Our opponents discovered this on the second – a par-five which is reachable in regulation even for a moderate hitter but penalises those who go offline.
This description was good for many of the holes on the East which have tangly rough and undulating greens as their main defence.
In common with its sister course, the East demands strategy. My partner found that trying to blaze around the course by cutting its corners would not reap consistent results.
For me, the fifth, known as tiddler, is a stand-out par three. It might look easy but judgment has to be pinpoint to avoid the bunkers in front of the tricky plateau green or, much worse, going into the rough at its rear. The wind is an important factor.
The eighth caused much consternation among our group because the yellow tee had a distinctly less advantageous position than the white, demanding a blind tee shot to be hit at an incredibly steep angle over the marker post.
If that can be negotiated and if the ball can be found on the other side of the dune, a stealthy approach is required to a green which is hidden behind a grassy hillock. I can testify that even if the target is found in regulation, its undulations may cause a three-putt.
I have to admit that I was favouring the West over the East by halfway but the quirks of the second nine brought it to a par.
Some may say that holes such as the 10th are Mickey Mouse – with a short tee shot before an ascent to a double-level green, protected by sand traps to the front and fall-offs to the back. I just loved the look of it.
I was inspired to play some of my best golf during the back nine, crashing a three-wood second shot to the top layer of the testing 15th green to give us an advantage in the match which was sealed on the 16th – a classic Saunton hole.
The latter demands a substantial carry from the tee and the hope that the ball will avoid awaiting bunkers or bushes to the right.
Yet again the green is on a plateau and any short pitches could well result in the ball returning to a player’s feet.
The final hole, in front of Saunton’s superb clubhouse (they serve a delicious spicy beef pie) is a cracker, curving to the right off the tee. I found rough but, said, finished with aplomb.
This was the first time I had played in a two-day team match and I must say Saunton was a dreamy venue to make my debut.
My initial thought was to agree with the former Lady Captain of Saunton who told us that the locals believe the West is better than the East which tends to be more feted by raters.
On deep reflection, I would find it very hard to choose between them. Both have enough challenges, idiosyncrasies or even eccentricities to please players of all standards.
I am due to go back in the summer and I can’t wait.