Herbert Fowler, James Braid
Herbert Fowler moorland course. Views, gorse and horses
North of Plymouth on the A386. (post code PL20 6BN)
Steven West
01822 852824
Tim McSherry
Green Keeper
Kristian Summerfield
Access Policy:
Visitors welcome
Dog Policy:
Open Meetings:
Numerous + SW England Open Winter Foursomes
Fees in 1960s
Fees today


The Lopes family, who own Roborough Down on the edge of Dartmoor, have been involved since 1904 when it took, remarkably, only three months from when the local vicar, the Rev Stidston, suggested forming a golf club, to the creation of nine holes by Charles Gibson of nearby Royal North Devon, to the south west of the present Clubhouse.

This early course was abandoned after the First World War – and is now the site of a residential area. Herbert Fowler, whose reputation was quickly established by his first course, Walton Heath, was then invited to lay out a new course on common land to the east of the main road from Plymouth to Tavistock, the open moorland area of Roborough Down.

Herbert Fowler

Herbert Fowler

Fowler, who with his highly regarded assistant, Tom Simpson, was at the forefront of golf architecture in the ‘golden era’ creating such beauties as Delamere Forest, Beau Desert, Saunton East, The Berkshire and Eastward Ho! near Cape Cod.

The doyen of golf writers, Bernard Darwin, said of Fowler “I never knew anyone who could more swiftly take on the possibilities of the ground”.

It is exciting that present-day golf architects, after the artificial bulldozered ‘target’ monstrosities of the 1980s and 1990s, are returning to the philosophy of Fowler’s era, whose most famous quote is “God builds golf links and the less man meddles the better for all concerned”.

The trend towards Fine Golf continues.

A man of fifteen stone and 6’3″ in height, Fowler hit a long ball but put a premium on straightness, accuracy and fairness to all levels of golfer in his designs and this certainly shows at Yelverton.

There are two notable natural features on this open ground with its magnificent views across to Dartmoor that he used to great effect. Firstly, the old mine workings in front of the greens to the thirteenth and eighteenth holes and, secondly, the water leat built in 1790 to transport water to Devonport which, though now dry, is still considered a water hazard and comes into play on holes 8, 9, 10 and 17.

Dartmoor ponies at Yelverton

Dartmoor ponies at Yelverton

The Club has a love/hate relationship with the Dartmoor ponies that roam wild across the course. They bring romance and a naturalness to the turf and rough but have had to be fenced off from harming the greens and, because of their eating habits, the predominant hazard is now gorse rather than heather.

The soil has a profile of dark loam on gritty sand on top of dense yellow-brown clay and the fairways are dominated by wonderful fine fescue grasses. The greens are normally cut at 4.5mm and the able new Course Manager is pursuing traditional sustainable methods to gradually reduce the poa annua (meadow grass) and revert to fine bents and fescues.

Even though when I played it recently there was a hailstorm and driving rain which made it wet underfoot, the course drains well and one still had to run the ball in to many holes and use a ‘fine golf’ judgement under the wind, with the bump and run adding to the ‘joy to be alive’ feeling of being out on one of nature’s fine wild moorlands.

The clubhouse

The clubhouse

There are some great Par 4s at the seventh, tenth, thirteenth, and sixteenth but the first hole is not among them – a weak 200 yarder to get you from the striking timber-framed clubhouse  out to the second, a testing Par 4 with the first of many rough humps and hollows to carry in front of the green.

The third and fourth, 280 and 320 yards respectively in opposite directions, one might think, should yield at least one birdie but that requires care and a deft touch with your bump and run approach.

The fifth and the eleventh, both 480 yards on rising ground, give advantage to the straight long hitter between banks of gorse that line so many of the holes.

The sixteenth

The sixteenth

Fowler’s eighth, ninth and tenth holes were abandoned after World War II. Three holes were substituted from the James Braid 9-hole course (also let go) that are today’s sixteenth (the best hole on the course), the seventeenth (a fine short hole) and the eighteenth (a great 380 yard finish with the mine workings in front of the green providing exquisite choice for those who have not quite got their drive out of the middle).

Professional advice was taken from Donald Steel in 1989 and Hawtree in 2001 and both generally concluded that “though there was plenty of scope for change to combat the enormous advance in the manufacture of clubs and balls, it is not really needed largely because its defences are so natural … fairways lined by heather, gorse and bushes ….an exposed setting with the wind a more or less constant factor”.

They might have added that fine turf and firm greens also require the golfer to negotiate his way round this 6350 yard (Par 71 SSS 71) course where there are five short Par 4 holes less than 350 yards long but each of them with testing characteristics of their own. This is very much more than a ‘holiday’ golf course and attracted recently the Seniors Amateur Championship.

Donald Steel was though taken by the notion of recreating Fowler’s old eighth, ninth and tenth holes, suggesting that these could be taken in and out of play periodically to give other holes a rest. The idea unfortunately was not proceeded with.

Dartmoor from the 8th Tee

Dartmoor from the 8th Tee

At the longest hole (570 yards) the downhill eighth, the leat cuts across the fairway at 280 yards thereby blunting the long hitter’s advantage; likewise on the uphill ninth, it stops the big hitter going for the green.

At the tenth it comes in a parabola across the tilted fairway on this strategic hole with rough humps and hollows short of an interestingly sculptured green.

You don’t want to be short at the downhill short twelfth, whereas most people will play short of the mine workings in front of the 440 yard thirteenth and hope for their pitch and putt four.

In front of the 13th green

Roger in front of the 13th green

Internal out of bounds threatens on the corner of the dogleg next hole but it is only 340 yards, as is the fifteenth back up the hill. Both require two precise shots.

The ‘new’ sixteenth again as at the eighth has a hazard at 270 yards across a sloping fairway and then if you can hit the green, normally coming from the right hand side, into the prevailing south westerly, you will remember the shot for many years.

The seventeenth and eighteenth both test and give a competitive finish. The leat running alongside above the green gives a difficult recovery for those taking the safe bale-out to the right of the 180 yard seventeenth.

Any review of Yelverton would not be complete without mention that it was here that Henry Longhurst, who defined Television golf commentary, for the likes of Bruce Critchley to continue, first played his golf here on holiday.

He wrote later of his philosophy : ” Starting….like this is, I think, a good begining, for it tends to turn you into a traditionalist. You realise golf is basically an amusement….from one point to another. You did not expect good luck or feel ‘entitled’ to a decent lie. You were grateful if you got either.”

Course Manager George Pitts

Course Manager George Pitts

Yelverton continues to offer a most enjoyable, natural, well designed round of golf. And for those who like an even stance, they will particularly like these fairways across this undulating moorland landscape.

The Club sensibly has a ‘greenkeeping’ page on its new website which hopefully will help members understand the policies being taken to encourage firm greens through sustainable greenkeeping and fine grasses.

See “Golf, Gorse and Ponies, Yelverton Golf Club, Dartmoor 1904 – 2004” by Gordon Mott, with his insightful commentary.

Review by Lorne Smith, 2010

Reader Comments

On March 18th, 2013 IAN GASCOIGNE said:

As I read your article, you class the 1st as an easy par 4 with which I would agree but unfortunately for us that play it as a par 3 of 209yds off the white markers, it makes it a little bit sterner especially into a south westerly which it mostly is. If anyone comes away with a par they are delighted. Regards Ian

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