In the thirty plus years I’ve been a golfer, I have played a lot of golf in Devon, but it’s almost exclusively been on the wild Atlantic coast at Saunton and Royal North Devon - where I’ve been a country member for nearly two decades. My only experience away from the north side of the county was at Bovey Castle on Dartmoor. The course (and hotel) had enjoyed an incredible transformation when the famous entrepreneur Peter de Savary took it over in the 2000s.
So, when the opportunity came up to visit the Cary Arms, another of de Savary's properties, it took me a matter of minutes to say yes. There's no golf course on site, but the seaside inn has formed a link with Teignmouth Golf Club, just eight miles up the coast. Two weeks before I was due to visit the sad news broke that de Savary had died, so the trip felt like a poignant one.
Nestling in picturesque Babbacombe Bay, the Cary Arms is a luxury 5* boutique hotel where guests stay either in rooms at the inn or in a selection of beautiful cottages that are dotted around the little lanes that surround it. We were staying in Cove Cottage that sleeps up to six and, like all of the cottages, enjoys absolutely glorious views over the bay.
Checking in was an experience. The road sign highlighting the 30% hill and twisting nature of the road that takes you down to the Cary Arms from Babbacombe hinted what was to come, but the reality was another level. I was very glad to be driving a Porsche Macan T for the duration of the trip. The SUV was poised and calm (unlike its driver) when having to perform a series of three point turns, on a wet, leaf-covered road, on a 30% hill, in the dark!
Refreshed from a great night's sleep, the next morning I set off on the journey to Teignmouth. This was another chance for the Porsche to show its qualities as the drive was along a twisting coastal road to the pretty town of Shalden, over the bridge that straddles the River Teign and up a hill to the club.
On arrival, the forecast sunshine was yet to break through and a layer of mist sat in the Teign Valley obscuring what, according to the pictures on the club's excellent website (well worth a vicarious look even if you have no plans to visit), were quite magnificent views. For my round I’d been paired up with three local members: Mark, PJ and Andrew, who all proved to be fantastic company and excellent guides advising me well on how to tackle the strategic test of the Alister MacKenzie design.
MacKenzie is of course most famous for his work designing Augusta National, home to the US Masters, but the Yorkshireman’s creations can be found all over the world. In his book, ‘Golf Architecture’, MacKenize lays down 13 principles or hallmarks for what makes for a good course - from there being a minimum of blind approaches, to the course being equally good in winter as it is in summer. Re-reading these principles after my visit, I can confidently say that the course at Teignmouth manages to tick all 13 boxes.
The layout was testing, but it didn't beat you up. It tempted you to take on some heroic shots but always offered a ‘safe’ option off the tee, and it served up birdie chances on a regular basis. The biggest compliment I think I could pay Teignmouth is that I don't think you’d ever tire of teeing it up there such is the variety of holes and the beauty of the views - both internal (i.e of the course) and external with the contrast of Dartmoor to one side and the Teign Valley and out to sea the other.
If I had to pick a favourite hole it would be the 8th. ‘The Road Hole’ is a sweeping dog leg left where you drive across a dip to a fairway that plays up to a green with a false front. It’s only 361 yards from the medal tees but a par here is anything but a given, even for better players.
Special mention should also go to the superb collection of par 3s - five in total that range from a precision shot with a short iron (2nd and 16th) to really good blows with a long iron or fairway wood (7 and 11), or even driver on the 18th.
After the round it was time to return to the clubhouse and enjoy a post-round pint and the stunning views that had appeared when the sun broke through. Having a sundowner on the terrace in the summer must be a fantastic way to sign off a day at Teignmouth.
While I was golfing, my wife and daughter enjoyed a treatment at the small but excellent spa, which is another major reason to visit the Cary Arms. Back at Cove Cottage, there was enough time for a family game of Scrabble around the kitchen table and a relaxing bath before heading down for dinner. Even though it's only a five minute walk, the road is steep and, dressed for the occasion, we decided to take advantage of the Cary Arms’ electric minibus shuttle service.
We had a lovely table on the conservatory looking out to sea - on a summer's evening the views would have been spectacular. Being right on the sea the menu is a mix of freshly caught seafood and fish and lots of gastro classics. Suitably replete, we were even more grateful for the shuttle to take us back to Cove Cottage.
A glorious sunrise heralded Sunday and in a bid to justify what I'd been told by my wife and daughter was a spectacular breakfast, I walked down to the stone pier where fishermen were busy at work, and I then walked round the bay to Oddicombe Beach.
The red cliffs behind the bay were bathed in sunshine and I took a huge number of pictures on my phone that needed no filters or editing to do them justice. Over on Oddicombe Beach there was a hardy group of open air swimmers. Some in wetsuits, some just in swimsuits enjoying a refreshing dip. They looked like they were having fun despite the autumn chill.
The 40-minute round-trip walk certainly did the job of stoking my appetite and there were lots of breakfast options from continental choices through to classics like Eggs Benedict, but rather predictably I had my eyes firmly set on the full Devon breakfast - and it didn’t disappoint.
There was still some time to enjoy relaxing in Cove Cottage admiring the view out to sea before we packed our things into the Porsche and headed off back home. The Porsche was as impressive on the way home as it has been throughout the whole trip adapting to the Motorways, A and B roads with equal measure, and the three-and-a-half hour journey gave us ample time to reflect on a fabulous couple of days away in this lovely part of the world. Our overriding thought… We’ll be back!