Originally laid out by Old Tom Morris, the course is largely unchanged since 1908 when Herbert Fowler made a few revisions.
It is laid out on common land, meaning that the land belongs to the town, and anyone that resides there has certain rights, like the right to let your animals graze on the course. This may sound strange, but it actually works quite well. You play golf, the sheep and horses maintain the grass. It’s like symbiosis. The animals largely ignore you as they are quite used to golfers. Just respect them as they respect you, and enjoy their company and contribution. And don’t worry if your ball ends up in a hoof mark, a local rule allows for a free drop.
The land is very natural. In fact, if you look at a satellite image of the course, at first it is hard to even spot the course. You have to zoom in to find a green or a bunker to figure out where the golf course is located. The land is very lightly undulated, meaning that the wind is a big factor.
The course starts with three fairly flat holes, and end the same way. Sounds easy, but there are some burns to complicate you shot decision-making. Starting on hole four you are in links golf heaven with a number of excellent holes running along the coastline. After the turn you have your first encounter with the rushes, a bushlike flowering plant that eats golf balls by the dozen. The rushes are a major feature on the remaining holes. I have no further comment other than “stay out of the rushes”.
The rushes disappear when you reach the final holes, but instead you see something else rarely found on modern courses. On the 17th, a par five, the green is guarded by both a burn and the road that leads from the clubhouse to the sea. Trying for the green in two will most often end in disaster, either a lost ball or a crushed windshield.
If you survive the 17th without being hit by a lawsuit, the 18th is a fairly straightforward hole taking you back to the clubhouse. At least so it seems, until you realize the green is guarded by a burn, tellingly named “The Pill”.
If you have any interest in golf history, Royal North Devon is a must play. Even if you don’t you will have a wonderful traditional links golf experience.