Nick Bayly hops on the London-to-Newquay shuttle from Gatwick, and discovers that a 45-minute flight and the twin delights of St Enodoc Golf Club and the St Enodoc Hotel make for a perfect weekend mini break
Having been brought up in the West Country, I know only too well about the countless hours that can be spent toiling on the static caravan parks that are the M4, M5, A303 and A30, in the vain hope of reaching your destination before it’s time to come home again.
The endless traffic jams, which reach fever pitch around holidays and half-terms, have frankly put me off visiting the West Country more often, which is a bit of a nuisance given the nature of my job, and the stunning variety of golf courses to be enjoyed in this delightful neck of England’s woods.
So when a invitation popped into my inbox politely suggesting an overnight stay at a boutique hotel and a tee time on one of my yet-to-be-ticked-off bucket list courses – flying by jet-propelled plane, rather than via the dubious pleasures of the Queen’s highway – it only required a simple ‘Yes, please!’ and the wheels were in motion.
After leaving the house at 8am on a Friday, driving to Gatwick, flying to Newquay, and transferring by taxi to Rock, I found myself checking into the St Enodoc Hotel just before 11am, and still in time for a spot of late breakfast. A road trip would have had me stuck in tailbacks on the A303 at Stonehenge at about that time.
Making the most of all that extra golfing time gained, I grabbed my clubs and took the five-minute walk up the path that leads from the back of the hotel directly to the first tee at St Enodoc Golf Club, about which I had heard so much, but played not at all.
As a lone golfer exploring unchartered territories, I was grateful to be paired up with one of St Enodoc’s longest-serving members, Simon Pain, who proved a much more interesting and useful guide to the perils and pitfalls of the course than my GPS watch, while also proving an expert ball spotter and entertainingly competitive companion. He was also steeped in the history of the club, which was first founded in 1907, and boasts a membership among whose esteemed ranks was one of England’s finest post-war poets, the late Sir John Betjemen.
Sir John’s heart – spiritually and physically – belonged to St Enodoc, as it was here that the former Poet Laureate would escape when the pressures of the modern world that he so often railed against in his writings became too much. After spending numerous childhood summers splashing about on the beaches of Daymer Bay, near the family’s holiday cottage in Trebetherick, Betjeman developed his love for the links of St Enodoc, a wild and refreshingly unpredictable course whose resistance to change the great poet would look upon favourably if he were alive today.
Not since 1935 in fact, when James Braid was invited back for a second time to modify his original design, has the Church Course undergone any major changes. Even then, the alterations were minor and made necessary by the relocation of the clubhouse. While one or two holes have been subsequently lengthened in recent years to help bolster the course’s challenge, the holes you play today are essentially the same as those that Braid left on the landscape over 100 years ago.
At just 6,299 yards from the white tees – and 6,557 from blues – many would argue there isn’t sufficient length for it to be a proper test. But, like any links course worth its salt, the weather that batters St Enodoc at times can take any number and double it at the drop of a hat. A par of 69 also ensures that red figures aren’t a common feature on too many scorecards, while a course record four-under-par 65 says all you need to know about its difficulty.
Whatever the conditions though, a couple of woods down the rumpled fairway on the opening par five, followed by a daunting long-iron approach to the raised green on the 448-yard par 4 second, will put a stop to any careless talk about the course being too easy.
After the opening salvos, the drama unfolds gently over the next four holes, with three consecutive par 4s and the deceptively difficult par-3 fifth, which requires a carry over a sea of gorse to a green protected by three bunkers and a stiffening cross wind.
According to my guide, the sixth hole, a 378-yard par 4, is a ‘disaster-in-waiting’. And standing on the tee, staring into the abyss of one of the game’s most fearsome fairway bunkers, it was hard to argue with the description.
Any hint of a fade off the tee leaves a blind shot over a bunker so colossal it goes by the name of ‘Himalaya’. This is a bunker that laughs in the face of its namesake that guards the fairway on the fourth at Royal St George’s in Kent.
After hitting my second shot straight into its towering, sandy face, I took my experienced guide’s sage advice and hit it back in the direction from whence I’d come. A chip and two putts later, and a double bogey seemed like a light sentence for having broken such a cardinal rule.
The ninth is a straightaway downhill par 4 that plays to a large raised green sheltered by a circle of tall trees. A birdie here served to soften me up ahead of the challenge that lay in store at the notoriously brutal 10th. At 458 yards, it looked like a tough dogleg par 4 when viewed on the card, but when seen in the cold light of day, it appeared almost impossible. Only a pinpoint drive down the left side of the ribbon-like fairway will leave you the faintest sniff of reaching the green in two with a fairway wood or crisply-struck long iron, while anything right will either be lodged in the cabbage on a 45-degree slope, or completely blocked out by the huge sand dune that cuts the hole virtually in two. Occasionally, I’m told, the golfing gods will let your ball bounce back into the fairway, but more often than not you will, like me, be chipping out sideways and, several hefty blows later, chalking up a treble-bogey seven.
After the high drama of the 10th, the par-3 11th and par-4 12th are somewhat pedestrian by comparison, while the 13th, an uphill par 4, proved such a test that it inspired Betjeman to pen one of his most famous poems, Seaside Golf, after he managed a rare birdie here. I chalked up a slightly less memorable blob, after losing my second shot in the bushes that dominate the right-hand side of the fairway. Still, it was poetry of a sort.
The par-3 15th is a cracking mid-length short hole that requires a lusty blow over a pond to a green set in a hillside, and from here on in to your pint in the clubhouse the fun never really lets up, as the closing trio of holes return you to the dunes and the sparkling, if somewhat chilly, waters of the Camel Estuary.
The 16th is a tough par-5, whose raised back tee offers stunning views over Padstow, while the 206-yard 17th defies the description of a short hole, requiring a full-blooded driver for me just to get up somewhere near the green. The finishing hole is a demanding 450-yard two-shotter, played up a narrow rollercoaster of a fairway to a raised green with a false front.
As we filled out our scorecards on the final green, the rain began to fall, and my partner and I quickly returned to the comfort of the clubhouse, feeling that I’d earned my dinner, while my partner had enjoyed a gentle warm up ahead of the following day’s monthly medal, where stiffer competition awaited.
St Enodoc also offers the shorter Holywell Course, a delightful par-63, 4,080-yard layout that features a combination of eight par 3s and 10 par 4s that will test all elements of your iron-play, as well as providing a gentler introduction to the bigger-version game for younger players.
Dinner back at the St Enodoc Hotel was very much welcomed, especially as James Nathan, winner of the BBC’s Masterchef title in 2008, cooked it. Nathan has stepped into the illustrious shoes vacated by Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw, who left to set up a new restaurant in nearby Port Isaac in 2015 – but judging by his efforts, which offers a more meaty menu than its fish-focused predecessor, the hotel looks to be in safe, if equally adventurous, culinary hands.
The hotel, which has a very relaxed, seaside vibe, boasts 16 double rooms and four suites, the best of which offer stunning views out over the Camel Estuary, while there’s a spa available for those that like that sort of thing, and guests have free use of the nearby gym at The Point in Polzeath. There’s a games room for kids big and small when the weather’s misbehaving, but with the stunning coastline of North Cornwall on the doorstep, the great outdoors beckons.
And once you’ve seen all there is to see in Rock, you can wander down to the beach and take a 10-minute ferry ride over to Padstow, where you are free to spend your money in any number of Rick Stein-owned eateries and shops, or simply watch the world go by with a freshly-baked pasty in your hand.
HOW TO GET THERE
Flybe operates a regular service to Newquay from Gatwick, Manchester and Leeds, with prices for return flights starting from around £78. For timetables and bookings, visit www.flybe.com
A one-night stay for two at the St Enodoc Hotel in a double room with estuary views, including a three-course dinner,
and a full Cornish breakfast, costs from £230. For reservations, visit www.enodoc-hotel.co.uk or call 01208 863394
Green fees at St Enodoc Golf Club are £45 for 18 holes on the Church Course between Nov 1-March 31, and £75 during the summer.
For bookings, visit www.st-enodoc.co.uk or call 01208 863216.