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Perranporth

Yardage
6300
Par
72
SSS
71
Built
1926
Architect(s)
James Braid, T.Knowles, Billy Mitchell
Nature:
Five Star 'Joy-to-be-alive' quirky James Braid running-links with rugged dune wildness and glorious seascape.
Secretary
Sue McDevett
Telephone
01872 572454
Professional
Derek Mitchell
Green Keeper
Rob Cook
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
well-behaved dogs welcomed
Open Meetings:
Perran Sands Open - May, Budnic Open (Mixed) - July.
Fees in 1960s
30p
Fees today
£40 - 2018

Review

Golf courses are split between those that supply merely ‘Target-Golf ‘ and those that offer the ‘Running-Game’.

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

The 4th green with Perran Strand behind. Click to enlarge.

There is a continuum linking the two extremes.  They each have certain characteristics, and at the extremes they are a bit like marmite, you either love them or hate them.

Perranporth is one of the finest courses in GB&I with a five star ‘Joy-to-be-alive’ FineGolf rating because it is, rather like Brora, Royal West Norfolk, Pennard, Ashkernish and so on, a  tremendous design, at the extreme end of firm ‘Running-Golf’, while possessing that attractive element of wild shaggy roughness. This course is at the opposite end of the continuum to the manicured lushness typified by for example the Celtic Manor/Belfry hotel courses of this world.

The Club was formed in 1926 on the side of a south-west facing hill, overlooking the glorious Perran strand beach and on top of a disused tin mine, among the dunes of blown sand and old mine workings. The views from every hole are dramatic and a delight.

It was a local amateur golfer Mr T.Knowles who set the lay-out of the holes that have not changed to this day in any major way apart from some 300 yards of lengthening and in 1984 changing the two loops of nine holes over as they are played.

The Club though, sensibly engaged James Braid (a fives times Open Champion and member of the famous Triumvirate with JH Taylor and Harry Vardon, who dominated professional golf in the Edwardian Era before the First World War) to finalise the design and construction that cost a total of £2,800 with a minimum of earth moving (an RPI equivalent of £150k or a labour cost equivalent today of c.£500k).

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

History book cover showing third green

The History of Perranporth Golf Club‘ by Tony Mansell written in 2013 describes the story of the Club as “a battle against the odds; its efforts to overcome physical obstacles like creating a course out of a windswept, desolate mine dump and its continual fight with wildlife aggrieved at the invasion of its habitat but most of all it is about its struggle to find a solution to its financial problems. It is a story of perserverance and of brave decisions taken at critical points in its life, living proof that tenacity does win through”. It is a book of much humour and many anecdotes and reflects the Club’s lack of pretentiousness, coupled with friendliness.

He notes that Mr Knowle’s considerable input was acknowledged by the offer of Honorary Membership.

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

Billy Mitchell

As is usually the case with top-quality running-golf courses there is a mastermind behind the encouragement of the fescue/browntop bent grasses that deliver the firm, true and sustainable (low input, lower cost) surfaces that so enhance the way this quirky James Braid design plays.

The guiding light here to be heralded is Billy Mitchell (A member of the Pantheon of the finest greenkeepers) who by the end of 2017 will have served for 58 years at Perranporth.

He is of course a legend in the greenkeeping profession, not because he has been able to have a high profile and visibility at some wealthy, high budget club but because he has always set the highest standards at what is a humble club that has been for too long below the radar of many, particularly inland, golfers.

jim arthut, perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

Jim Arthur, the world’s finest golf agronomist.

Billy has had the strength and vision to refuse to be influenced by any members who might have become infected at times with Augusta Syndrome Disease (ASD) and he has patiently pursued a traditional Jim Arthur style of greenkeeping based on regular aeration.

The team here have provided firm, true surfaces throughout the year with low inputs, a low budget and a small personnel. The word ‘sustainability’ is banded about by many individuals and organisations but…

what we see here is genuine long term sustainablity.

I had an outstanding week playing each of the finest Cornish courses (and that includes St Enodoc and Trevose); and the finest experience was at Perranporth.

John and Billy Mitchell with Buster in 1960s.

I Played a competitive game with the Club’s chairman and Billy’s elder, single-figure handicap brother John (Billy was also single figures in earlier days).  John also spent most of his life as a member of the Perranporth green staff.

Some of my most cherished ideas went out of the window! – I don’t usually rate par fives, as they tend to rely on being ‘sloggy’ in order to offer real challenge, whereas so many of golf’s finest holes are often around 440 yards. 

Every shot at the three par fives at Perranporth is exacting and designed to take account of the prevailing wind to create sufficient risk/reward and interest. There are a number of greens set above the fairway but they are into the prevailing wind so the player can hold the ball on the firm, fast running greens. 

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

second green approach

Hole two (‘Whim Wham’. Each hole has a Cornish language name), at 525 yards, is one of the finest par fives in modern golf and is entirely without any bunker. Your drive is uphill to a slippery bumpy fairway, that needs to be held up against the right to left slope and then requires a blind second shot normally played into the prevailing wind. If downwind, cutting the right amount off the corner of the dogleg dune allows a close to central mound afore the green; one of the trickiest natural complexes anywhere, to be avoided on its lower side and to skip one’s ball onto the green with its sunken dell. Thoughts of Royal Dornoch’s ‘Foxy’ come to mind, it is that good, offering so many ways of playing it, guaranteeing to test both high and low handicappers.

Dexter by 14th granite tee-marker

On a course of 6300 yards long, par 72, there is, amazingly, no hole between 400 to 500 yards in length! So much for my lovely 440 yarders.

With three, driveable par fours sited among the mountainous dune land it is not surprising the SSS is set at 71.  Though short by modern ball standards, low handicappers are tested for their strategic play in finding the best side of the fairways in the wind to set-up the easier run-in approach.

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

Drive marker on 13th

I think I counted nine drives that were either blind with marker posts atop the dunes giving the line or where the line is unclear. Unlike modern courses, for example like Dundonald Links, there are no drive bunkers here to give you an aiming point.

Indeed there are only ten bunkers on the whole course and they are all greenside. The back nine holes have just three bunkers and each of those are located around the fifteenth green. It is the natural amount of movement in the ground that protects this course, leaving twelve holes with no bunkers at all! That statistic must be some kind of links-land record.

It is not surprising that most people say that the course grew on them as they discovered its subtleties and how they must strategically place their ball in the wind using the firm running ground. I was lucky to have Billy’s brother John to advise lines and how best to approach holes.

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

Perranporth clubhouse

As he got to know my game and I came to trust him, I was able to execute exhilarating, creative, imaginative shots, demanded at full tilt. There are big open-your-shoulders shots but there are still careful strategic needs. You may ask, which was my most enjoyable shot of the round? 

Well I can tell you, it was my seven iron bump-and-run stroke played from well behind the tenth green after a low raking one iron below the wind had run through. The stroke bounced uphill just as I wanted it to off a slight bank, then through rough grass, then running true and straight on the green. It swung four feet at the last gasp, on what looked like a reasonably horizontal surface, to running out to within ‘kicking away’ distance from the pin. I worked out what I had to do, executed it and the ground behaved accordingly; such a pleasure truly defines what we mean by FineGolf. 

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

Pin just showing on 4th green from the tee

I must mention two of the three par threes as quite outstanding examples of their kind, being both of around 200 yards. The fourth (‘An Low’) at first gaze seems unfair! The hole is uphill to a side-shelf flattish green beside a right-hand dune which is best played by running the ball in from the right. A bit like a redan hole, only the top of the pin is seen. A prevailing side wind requires really good striking here, with no easy bale-out.

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

The sixteenth green

The sixteenth is played downhill and initially seems quite innocuous, played to a green among grassy hillocks and dunes, when one thinks of the many famous short holes surrounded by bunkers.  Nevertheless when you start to think how to play the hole, its beguiling nature with a green running away and left, appears. It is essential to get your ball to run-in and finish below the pin or a three putt is on the cards.

These greens all conform to  The R&A’s ideal speed standards for recreational golf. Cut at 5mm they run at around nine foot on the Greenstester. Any faster and they become unplayable particularly in any wind and would slow the pace of play as golfers would take longer to putt out.

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

Perranporth’s healthy greens soil profile

Of course it is the trueness of roll on the fescue-dominant firm fine grasses that makes these greens some of the best one will ever play on. Though inland golfers who have become used to a monotone green colour, here they will need to get their heads around the blotchey blue, brown, yellow, red and light green mottled colouring in order to build their confidence and putt well. It will be all in their mind, as these greens are reliable and such fun while their speed is changeable with the weather moisture.

Billy might be a traditional greenkeeper but this does not mean he does not keep up with the latest technology. For example he has used ‘Rescue graminicide’ to take out quite a lot of ryegrass on and around the greens and interestingly has used  compost teas to enhance the health of his rootzones. (see brilliant article explaining soil biology by John Quinn MG).

The four short par fours of between 280 and 315 yards, as you can imagine on this hilltop of quirkiness, are far from simple and well protected by the movement in the ground and with just one bunker on the eighth (‘Bothak’).

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

Fourteenth green on hilltop

As on any great course the finish is testing and stretchy. If you have not by now found your driving competance then you are likely to lose your game over these five holes with four blind drives, three being across doglegs which start with the fourteenth (named ‘Gwella Braid’).

Some golf clubs these days, as they firm up their greens, are also extending their size back to where they were when designed in the Golden Era. Perranporth having avoided the siren voices in the 1980/90s of those who love to keep their handicaps down with soft target greens, so have had no need to change. Braid created small greens here, which not only reduces maintenance costs but more importantly makes the relatively short approach shots more demanding.

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

40 yard thirteenth green

The average length of the eighteen greens is 27 yards and that includes the second (‘Whim Wham’) at 35 yards, the thirteenth (‘Perran Gwell’) with an unusual raised middle of the green at 40 yards, the fifteenth (‘Ugerys A – Les’) at 37 yards and the seventeenth (‘Byth War’) a sharply shelving green 35 yards long.

You should by now have realised that this little known course is not to be missed when coming to Cornwall to play the better known temptations of St Enodoc and Trevose.

 

perranporth golf club, james Braid, billy mitchell,

Comfortable accommodation amongst the Dunes

Perranporth is the epitome of the finest running-golf.

 

Many golfing holiday makers use Perranporth’s chalets and huts as their base for enjoyable good value accommodation. The other fine Cornish running-golf courses are within an easy drive as well.

Initially reviewed by Lorne Smith in 2014 and updated in 2017

 

 

Reader Comments

On May 13th, 2018 Dan said:

An excellent review that communicates the sheer fun to be found at an unprepossessing club with a friendly membership and staff.
I’ve taken a couple of Societies there, and love watching them turn the corner after the first and their jaws hit the floor as they contemplate the lunar landscape of the Second. Special mention should be made of the blind drives around the turn, where uniquely dunes are festooned with posts topped by red, yellow and white to give the differing lines from the tees !

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