JF Abercromby, the designer of great heathland courses such as The Addington and Coombe Hill, may only have a small number of tracks to his name, but few would contest his place at the top table of British inter-war architects. And now another of Abercromby's designs, the course at Bovey Castle in Devon, UK, has been returned to pristine condition.
Built in 1926, Bovey's course is spectacularly located in a river valley surrounded by the high country of the Dartmoor National Park. The course and castle had declined over the years, but both have been brought back to the highest standards after the estate was acquired by leisure entrepreneur Peter de Savary. De Savary, whose property at Skibo Castle, near Dornoch in Scotland, features a course designed by Donald Steel and Tom Mackenzie, brought in the same architects to bring Bovey back to its former glories.
Steel and Mackenzie's updated course adds to Abercromby's original design in many areas, while in others – such as the par three ninth – the course has been restored to match the architect's 1926 blueprint. The modified opening hole – 309 yards from the back tee – is a classic risk/reward par four, with the River Bovey challenging the golfer to attempt the carry and thus to drive the green. The par four seventh – described by Henry Cotton as "perhaps the finest inland par four in Britain" – sees the river meander in front of the tee, and threatening the right side of the fairway all the way to the unbunkered green, positioned behind another twist of the water.
The second half of the course makes use of the higher ground above the river valley. The eighteenth hole has been extensively reshaped by Steel and Mackenzie, principally to reduce the severe sideslope of the fairway, which rendered the second shot exceptionally difficult. The approach remains challenging, though, with golfers who choose the shorter route along the inside of the dogleg facing a blind shot to a green whose slope has been retained.
Not long by modern standards at 6,303 yards (par 70), from the normal tees, Bovey should offer golfers an interesting round in glorious scenery. The area does have a wet climate, though, and to this end, the restoration has included a complete upgrade of the course's drainage system. Designed by drainage consultant Johan Koster, and built by Oxford-based White Horse Contractors, the new drainage scheme should ensure that Bovey remains playable throughout damp Devon autumns
This article first appeared in issue 1 of Golf Course Architecture, published in July 2005.