Splendour

The 10th at St. Enodoc Golf Club. Par 4 (Bogey 5) - 457 yards
Yardage Book: Splendour St Enodoc

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In the pantheon of great Christian saints, poor Enodoc is barely a canonical footnote. You won’t find any charities dedicated to his legacy, and when it comes time for 13-year-olds to adopt a saint’s name at confirmation, his hasn’t been picked since Johnny “Enodoc” Murphy lost half his friends in the spring of ’74. You won’t hear tales of pilgrims come to retrace his footsteps unless you count the club-carrying kind. But if you do, then St. Enodoc should rank up there among Peter, Paul and Mary, because the Cornwall links that took his name was built to be beatified.

The recluse

Tucked down in England’s southeastern corner, St. Enodoc Golf Club remains unexplored by most wandering golfers, even as its name pops up on discussion boards and in annual rankings. It’s not easy to design a golf itinerary that swings through Cornwall, even though one should; Cornwall’s weather is peculiarly sunny by English standards, and nearby Trevose is a quality links companion. But seclusion and a bit of unknowing seem in keeping with this links’ roots: It’s named after a holy sixth-century hermit who may have been a man or a woman (scholars lean toward the former) named Qendyd, turned Gwenodoc, or Wenodoc, or Enodoc. A seaside Cornish parish adopted the last version during the 12th century, and they built their church a few hundred yards away from the hillside remains of Enodoc’s hovel. The two sites hold more than 2,000 years of history between them, yet most visitors pass by without so much as a nod or prayer or sign of the cross. They don’t come for blessings or forgiveness. Rather, they come to test themselves on the handsome unholiness that lies in between.

In his writing about St. Enodoc, you can almost hear Bernard Darwin catching his breath by the clubhouse: “I was not prepared for such mighty hills nor for quite so many of them.” Little has changed about the place since Darwin played it in the early 1900s; its drama and joy are still derived from its relentless undulations. It’s links golf with altitude, a feature some Irish links take for granted, but such climbs and falls are rare around the coastal courses of the U.K. And in the shadow of all its hillocks and vaulted fairways and tee boxes tossed up onto the horizon, St. Enodoc’s most chastening moment lies low in a winding valley, between an ankle-snapping dune and a serpentine creek.

A stone church spire by the green offers a glimmer of redemption, but you’re probably into the wind, and hope is two clubs farther than you think.

Yardage Book: Splendour St Enodoc
A veritable cadre of bogey men lurk in the margins of St. Enodoc’s 10th hole.

If your taste in golf holes leans toward the generous and scoreable, you might choose a different postcard. But if you like a challenge with a dash of the unreasonable, and if you enjoy holes that would not, could not, should not be designed in the 21st century, the 10th at St. Enodoc ticks most of your boxes. Along the way it might make you rethink the distance debate while convincing you that par is an idle construct, before reminding you that you haven’t been to church in nine years as you forget what bunkers are because some holes are too grand to cover with sand, the blending of sport and faith confirming and confusing all the things you thought about yourself. Then you can stop at the church’s small cemetery and take a moment beside the grave of one of England’s great poets, a man who lived and loved golf here, and for just a little while longer you can watch a golf hole recede, replaced by the peace of a mystery.

Or you can just grind for 5. There’s no shame in bogey here.

Yardage Book: Splendour St Enodoc
Yardage Book: Splendour St Enodoc
Yardage Book: Splendour St Enodoc

Two at the church

David Elliott has been playing St. Enodoc for nearly 40 years, and there was a time when, on his holidays as a child, they would wander out and begin on No. 10—a brute of an opening handshake.

“I played off 4 in those days as a teenager, and the 10th was never, ever a two-shotter,” he explains. “It was two woods and a 9-iron. You played your two at the church, and then your third shot went toward the green. And it wasn’t a par 4 on the card. It was a bogey 5.”

A family doctor who retired to Cornwall, site of those erstwhile holidays and his beloved Enodoc links, Elliott isn’t equivocating about scorekeeping. Old British scorecards often list a bogey score—the score your invisible opponent, or bogey man (eventually the less elegant boogeyman), made on a hole and that you were trying to beat in your imaginary match.

Before par scoring (an American import, implemented as technology and proficiency improved), Enodoc’s 10th was less troublesome; golfers respected its pitfalls and played for 5. Ten has teeth in several places—in the burn running along its left edge, and in the unmown slope guarding its right flank—but its most thought-provoking interruption is the dune that juts into the fairway at roughly 250 yards. At a total yardage of 457, the ideal bogey-score play was a 200-yard drive plus a 200-yard approach over the dune to a generous landing area short of the green. But with the introduction of par scoring, more members felt compelled to give the green a go, especially with a bag full of hybrids and a new, brighter line to the pin.

Golf, surf and God: James Braid’s hidden Cornwall masterpiece hits the loftiest notes.

Designed by Scotsman and five-time Open champion James Braid, plenty of would-be experts (this one included) call St. Enodoc his masterpiece—no small praise when one considers Braid’s architectural dossier. The evidence seems clear enough: Enodoc could easily be the most dramatic layout in England, achieving an ideal blend of the quirky, the penal and the divine. And for a 130-year-old course of just 6,500 yards still never to have witnessed a score better than 4-under par proves that ball speed is no match for bold design on uncommon ground. Tom Doak has now been entrusted to update the course; No. 10 will be left largely untouched, according to Simon Greatorex, Enodoc’s general manager, but Doak did suggest that the club clear the overgrowth left of its putting surface in the meanwhile, removing trees and shrubs that had been hiding the stream and obscuring any angle to a severely tucked green. It was wise counsel, and it proved yet again that a golf course can get tougher by getting wider. Now, with the green in sight and creek in play, temptation lurks where prudence once reigned.

“I should be playing 10 exactly the same way as I played it as a teenager,” says Elliott, “two shots and pitch in. But now, with modern clubs, you think you can get there, so you try and you finish in the water and think, ‘Why did I do it?’”

If modern equipment has changed players’ minds about going for the green in two, what about trying to crest that center dune with a barbaric tee ball?

“You’re looking at a good 320- to 330-yard carry to then leave yourself a short iron,” explains Greatorex. “And you’d have to have the wind. Unless the wind is howling right behind you, there’s no chance. In five years, I’ve only seen a couple people attempt it. And only one of our professionals, Joe Cruse, has achieved such a superhuman feat.”

As GM, Greatorex must worry about more than the havoc No. 10 can wreak on his members’ scorecards. A stormy mountain calls to all slicers, and players who venture its slopes risk more than a lost ball.

“Countless people have fallen over after trying a recovery shot back to the fairway from the dunes on the right,” he says. “It’s possible to have a really nasty injury over there. I’m amazed we haven’t had more instances than we have. We’ve got very thick ankles, the people who play St. Enodoc.”

Head pro Nick Williams’ advice is to play for 5 just like teenage Elliott: Lay a drive into the cove shy of the dune, use the church spire as a line for your layup, then land a runner short of the hole, because the wee saucer of a green won’t grab. As a three-shot par-4, St. Enodoc’s 10th is a useful reminder that par is a worthless guide when it comes to charting one’s path through a golf hole. Play the shot the hole is showing you and play it with conviction; golf need not be more complicated. If you insist on finding your own path at St. Enodoc, then you’d better have brought a few extra sleeves and some very thick ankles.

Yardage Book: Splendour St Enodoc
Eye the steeple and play away from the flag on your approach. Pin-hunting tempts a bad kick into the burn.

Sinkinny

“It literally puts the fear of God in most people, to be honest,” says Greatorex about No. 10, “and not just because there’s a church on it.”

The 12th-century Anglican church far predates golf here in the Cornish village of Rock (it predates the Reformation as well, and originally would have been a Roman Catholic outpost), but its placement feels providential. After completing the gauntlet that is 10, with one ball or perhaps a trinity, players feel ready to visit a sacred place to offer thanks or perhaps confess their sins against the game.

It’s more chapel than church, with room for about 60 congregants; the walls are all gray stone, with a crooked Cornish tower of stacked flat rocks. If you visit during your round, you’ll likely find it locked, but a sign explains that there is still a Sunday Evensong service at 3 p.m. (before sundown, as the church has no electricity). It also hosts more than 20 weddings per year, each of which requires patience from golfers as there is no vehicular access to the church—just a walking path through the course. Greatorex and his golf staff end up playing impromptu ushers as they marshal wedding guests across the holes.

“Cornwall’s weather is weather,” says Elliott, who serves in the church as a licensed lay minister. “You view the church on a sunny day and think, ‘Isn’t this marvelous?’ Then you come the day of the wedding and it’s pouring rain. The bride’s got 300 yards to walk through a farmyard and across a golf course, in her dress and Wellington boots.”

Despite the potential hazard of grandparents lost on the fairways, St. Enodoc’s wedding calendar remains full, and that revenue keeps the church’s doors open. That they’re open at all is quite a comeback for St. Enodoc, where a few hundred years ago a storm blew in off the Atlantic and buried the church in sand.

“There is legend in history,” explains Elliott. “We say the sand covered the church and the church disappeared. Probably not. The sand probably came and blocked over the door. It looked like the church was sinking into the sand, so the locals started calling it Sinkinny church. When you look at it, you think it’s set into the dune. The fact is that it was originally built higher, but the sand has come up around it.”

A sinking church presented a unique problem for the Church of England and the local vicar. For St. Enodoc to maintain its status as a church, it had to hold one service every year. And for the vicar to collect his tithes and taxes from local landowners, he had to make sure their church remained a church. So he did.

“Once a year, they took the slates off the roof and dropped the vicar in through the roof to say a service,” explains Elliott. “There probably wasn’t anyone else in there, but the vicar was able to say a service is taking place at St. Enodoc, [so] therefore it is still a church, and an open church.”

Like most churches, Enodoc gets busiest on Christmas and Easter, and during the latter God is watching should you sneak out for golf.

“The story goes that a member was about to play his second shot on 10 and he saw someone coming around by the green and thought, ‘Oh, do I go? Oh, I’ll call him on. It’s a monk. It’s a friar in full robes. I better let him through—come on, come on!’ What he didn’t realize was that the monk was leading an Easter pilgrimage and behind him were—50 people? A hundred? Again, there’s legend in history.”

Players might also have to pause for literary types searching for a grave in the church’s cemetery. Sir John Betjeman was the British poet laureate from 1972 until his death in 1984; he spent his summers at St. Enodoc as a child, and now rests in peace surrounded by the sea and sublime golf holes. His poem “Seaside Golf” is perhaps the most famous combination of golf and verse, and it recounts a rare tap-in birdie at St. Enodoc with words that one feels in its every ridge and roll and pew: And splendour, splendour everywhere

Yardage Book: Splendour St Enodoc
Play the shot the hole is showing you and play it with conviction; golf need not be more complicated.