I have been meaning to write about the Royal North Devon Golf Club (whose course is named Westward Ho!) ever since visiting and playing the course several years ago during the winter. The overall experience was one to remember. In addition to the charming—and frightening to drive through—hedge rows that abound in Devon, I found the course exhilarating. To me, the course represents the ultimate time-travel backward to traditional golf as it evolved in the British Isles, and is a much more authentic experience than visiting the Old Course at St. Andrews. For non-R&A members the Old Course is crowded, expensive and quite often a long and tedious round. Quite to the contrary, at Westward Ho! I virtually had the course to myself and was taken in by the railroad sleepers of the 4th-hole (a “Cape”), the sheep grazing along the 13th-hole, and the horses meandering on the early and closing holes. An explanation point is indeed an appropriate part of the course’s name, especially when one hits their ball into the distinctive and penal Rushes!
Host of three British Amateur Championships, the club has just published its 150 year anniversary history, thus, it is a good time to have a look. The Royal North Devon Golf Club 1864-2014 was written and edited by R.K. Fowler and published in a signed limited edition of 500. This is the club’s third history, and it is easily the most comprehensive and elegantly produced.
Golf at Royal North Devon predates Old Tom Morris’ visit of 1864. Prior to his design there were actually two courses: a seventeen hole course which comprised a “short round,” with an additional five holes available to play a twenty-two hole “long round.” Old Tom’s course was subsequently redesigned by Herbert Fowler (no relation to the book’s author) between 1902 and 1904. Fowler’s redesign lengthened the course to a challenging 6,424 yards, considering the equipment of the day. Among the historic images included in the book are two of a North Devon and West of England Golf Club rule book from 1864. The very rare book looks tattered and worn, but it does make the collector salivate and think of other unknown gems still to be discovered.
As compared to the new club history, prior versions were smaller and contain only black and white illustrations. The Royal North Devon Golf Club 1864-1989 (D & J D8320) was published in 1989 and written by E.J. Davies and G.W. Brown. The 202 page book was produced in a signed limited edition of 500. Simultaneously, a slipcased edition was also published in 1989 as an author’s presentation copy (D & J D8290), with no limitation number cited.
As H.N. Fulford writes in the forward to the 1989 club history, the Northam Burrows—the common land the course was built on—was identified as early as the 1850s as land suitable for golf, specifically, “Providence obviously designed this for a golf links.” Among the club’s distinctions, it is the oldest course in England, and the first club outside of Scotland to be granted a royal title.
The club’s first published history was The Royal North Devon Golf Club A Centenary Anthology 1864-1964 (D & J G31210) edited by J.W.D. Goodban, and it is the shortest of the three at only 96 pages.
Horace Hutchinson, who was born nearby in Northam, wrote about Westward Ho! in complimentary terms in his Badminton Library: Golf in 1890, “The new holes, though flattish, are fine golf, and the fourth hole brings us into the country of great sand bunkers, with precipitous bluff, sandy faces, and of the strong sharp rushes.”
The rarest of the books about Royal North Devon is A Short History of the Origins of Golf at Northam and the Foundation of the Present Royal North Devon Golf Club, which was privately printed in 1926 and is a 16 page softcover (D & J L9280) written be G.E. Leman.
Tom Doak selected Westward Ho! early on as one of his original Gourmet’s Choice courses in his Confidential Guide to Golf, for good reason. The historic course is a treat, and deserves a revered place in the world or golf.