St Mellion Nicklaus Golf Course Review

St Mellion's Nicklaus Signature Course in Cornwall provides a tough yet beautiful test with some truly memorable holes

St Mellion Nicklaus Course - 15th hole
The 15th green on the Nicklaus course at St Mellion
(Image credit: Bob Atkins)

St Mellion Nicklaus Golf Course Review

GF Round: £45-£90wd, £45-£100we
Par 72, 6,593 yards
Slope 134
GM Verdict – Undoubtedly one of the UK’s toughest inland tests, but also very beautiful in places with many memorable holes.
Favourite Hole – The par-3 11th playing downhill over water to a shallow green is tough enough off the yellows, but real heart-in-mouth stuff off the tips at 200+ yards.

St Mellion Nicklaus Course - 18th hole

The 18th green and hotel at St Mellion with the flag in its scariest back-left position

(Image credit: Andy Hiseman)

It is now well over 30 years since an exhibition match featuring Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle marked the opening of Jack’s striking new Signature course at St Mellion just the Cornwall side of the border with Devon. When original owners, the Bond brothers, approached Nicklaus, the Golden Bear initially turned them down due to the steeply sloping topography. In the end, the brothers convinced him and St Mellion became Jack’s first English design project.

St Mellion Nicklaus Course -- 4th hole

The steeply sloping terrain paves the way for some extraordinary holes, such as the par-3 4th

(Image credit: Bob Atkins)

Since then, this most challenging of layouts has hosted many important tournaments, including the European Tour’s B&H International six times from 1990 to 1995. It is widely regarded as one of the best golf courses in Cornwall and the county’s finest inland layout. Its mix of beauty and challenge has a strong appeal, though many a European Tour pro has gone away humbled over the years, with Bernhard Langer the only player to beat par in the 1991 staging of the B&H.

Its reputation for being one of the hardest golf courses in the UK stems from the steeply sloping terrain, but mercifully, it is as unrelentingly beautiful as it is demanding. So even if Nicklaus’ design mind gets the better of you, you will come away with vivid memories of the splendid holes he carved out of the rolling Cornish countryside, unfeasibly so in the case of the 3rd, 4th, and 14th that play over shelves cut dramatically into steep slopes.

St Mellion Nicklaus Course - 14th hole

The 14th is another standout par 3

(Image credit: Bob Atkins)

All the par 3s are strong, varying in length from 130 yards up to 200+. That 4th hole presents a fearsomely narrow target with no margin for error should you miss right. Standing on the back tee with the wind blowing would fill even the purest of ball-strikers with a degree of trepidation.

St Mellion Nicklaus Course - 16th hole

Looking across the 16th green

(Image credit: Bob Atkins)

All the while you are accompanied by free-flowing brooks, delightful stone walls and an enviable degree of seclusion as many of the holes, particularly on the front nine, are self-contained. There are many memorable holes, with the course’s own Amen Corner from 10 to 12 starting with a downhill par 4 where you must keep left to avoid the big tree. The delightful par-3 11th plays downhill over water and sand to a shallow green, while the 12th is a majestic par 5 sweeping down between pines, with the brook that hugs the right side then crossing the hole just short of the green. Prior to that stretch, there’s even evidence of Nicklaus’ love of seaside golf on the 9th, where the mounding brings to mind playing between a valley of dunes on one of our great championship links.

St Mellion Nicklaus Course - 12th hole

A stream cuts across the front of the green on the excellent par-5 12th

(Image credit: Bob Atkins)

St Mellion will likely always divide opinion, whether you’ve been humbled by its mighty test or somehow managed to get the better of Jack’s design mind. Either way there’s little doubt that it’s one of the most original, interesting and varied of the championship layouts of the 1980s golf boom, and every golfer worth his salt should pit him- or herself against it at least once to see what all the fuss is about.

Jeremy Ellwood
Jeremy Ellwood

Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and even instruction despite his own somewhat iffy swing (he knows how to do it, but just can't do it himself). He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 89 of the Next 100. He has played well over 900 courses worldwide in 35 countries, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content. On his first trip to Abu Dhabi a decade ago he foolishly asked Paul Casey what sort of a record he had around the course there. "Well, I've won it twice if that's what you mean!" came the reply...

Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf