stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
One under par, two under water
space
At a pair of England's most historic links, the threat of wind, waves and climate change is palpable
space
By GUY NICHOLSON
Special to The Globe and Mail
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Wednesday, June 12, 2019 – Page A16

ENGLAND -- You might mistake Royal West Norfolk Golf Club for just another seaside golf links, until the tide comes in.

When it does, the surrounding salt marsh fills and laps at the course's edge, changing the nature of several holes and effectively turning Royal West Norfolk and its protective dunes into an island, cut off from the adjacent village of Brancaster. It's not unheard of for members who have lingered too long to find themselves marooned for hours in the musty clubhouse while their parked cars marinate in the waters of the North Sea.

These are the terms of play at one of the oldest and unique courses in England, a relic of the days when Victoria was Queen, golfers used hickory shafts and the game was played on natural scrapes carved from seaside hummocks by wind and waves, cropped by sheep and buttressed by wooden slats. Golf has moved on, but this remains a quirky reminder of how it was played in its cradle, the British Isles, before the modern game arrived.

Royal West Norfolk and another ancient links, Royal North Devon, are not on most golfers' bucket lists. But they are two of the best places in England to see how golf evolved - and two of the starkest examples of how easily its heritage could be lost to climate change.

Both courses are at risk of being swallowed by rising seas or chipped away in pieces by erosion. They're not the only coastal courses under threat; The Climate Coalition charity warned last year that many of Britain's championship links could eventually find themselves under water. But these two Victorian gems are among the most historically significant.

Royal West Norfolk has always been at the mercy of the elements. It survived the ruinous North Sea flood of 1953 and an extreme tidal surge in 2013, but the wind and waves have also played the long game, steadily eroding the Brancaster beach and dunes while surging through sea defences elsewhere along the Norfolk coast. The club has raised its flood banks and embarked on an innovative program of sand-capturing mesh to rebuild the dunes, but it's not clear whether it will be enough as sea levels rise.

In 2013, the water came so high that it crept under the clubhouse, which is on a relative high point at the base of the dunes.

Secretary Tim Stephens said the water could be seen welling under the ground-floor lounge, where members sip postround drinks among vintage trophy cases, commemorative paintings, match record books and painted wooden lists of club champions and captains - princes, dukes and war commanders among them - that date back to the club's founding.

This spring was warm and dry but, on the day I visited, the entire building reeked of must, which permeates the carpets and walls and can only undermine the integrity of the artifacts and records.

The course itself, no less a heritage piece, was covered with brackish water for two weeks after the tidal surge. It reopened intact, but the threat remains palpable at holes such as the parfive eighth, which crosses the tidal marsh two times, wet or dry, and is held up as an early example of golf's heroic school of design. I will remember the birdie I made there not as a rare flash of competence, but as a cherished souvenir extracted from a landmark of the game.

On the other side of England, Royal West Norfolk's spiritual cousin is in full retreat.

Royal North Devon, which lies on a rumpled moonscape outside the southwestern beach town of Westward Ho!, was established in 1864, making it England's oldest golf course. Vast numbers of sheep roam this most natural of links, keeping the grass short and leaving steaming brown deposits everywhere, even in the sleepered bunkers. The course is pockmarked by clumps of great sea rushes, spiky grass skewers that grab wayward shots and make a dangerous fool's errand of ball retrieval.

The club maintains an engaging museum, complete with a guidebook that explains how the course, membership and land have evolved on a tip of land by the estuary of the Taw and Torridge rivers. Once versed in the lore, visitors can peer out at the historic links through an old Nazi submarine telescope mounted in the veranda room.

Royal North Devon is protected from the full power of the Atlantic by little more than a low ridge and dunes. But now, its shoreline is crumbling away as the erosion and flooding accelerate - the club lost several metres of dune beside the seventh green in the winter of 2017-18. Rolling ground that used to slope naturally toward the beach now ends abruptly at a jagged washout.

The volatile climate is a tough enough adversary for a remote village club with limited resources. But Royal North Devon has also been unable to bridge a philosophical gap with a governmental agency, Natural England, that has decided the country's oldest golf course isn't worth defending. While Royal West Norfolk tries to rebuild its foreshore, Royal North Devon is forced to watch its heritage get swallowed by the sea.

As a result, the club finds itself forced to remodel two holes at the tip of the links and abandon a third completely, replacing it with an inland hole on a flattish knoll covering a former landfill capped in the 1990s. The holes and land being taken out of play were first staked out in the 1860s by Old Tom Morris, then refined in 1908 by Herbert Fowler. Both are highly significant figures in the history of the game and its courses.

Royal North Devon's management and membership are largely resigned to the changes, and they may well be the right outcome given the circumstances.

General manager Mark Evans said simply that the new holes are "the best that can be done."

Still, for anyone invested in the game's history, the situation at Royal North Devon is a bitter pill. American golf-course architect Tom Doak, a stalwart admirer of the links, offered to survey the historically significant ninthgreen site and recreate it elsewhere for posterity.

But any golfer should lament the loss of this rumpled, historic links land. As my group left the eighth green, a playing partner waved his hand dismissively at the new site.

"Would you rather be playing here, or there?" he asked, leaving no doubt about his own preference.

"You're lucky you've come today, instead of a couple of years from now."

Associated Graphic

For more than a century, Royal North Devon, England's oldest golf course, has been sheltered from the Atlantic by little more than a low ridge and some dunes. Sadly, its shoreline is disintegrating as flooding and erosion have become more frequent. Several metres of dune were lost in the winter of 2017-18 alone.

PHOTOS BY GUY NICHOLSON/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

On the other side of the country, Royal West Norfolk Golf Club has always been at nature's mercy and has in recent years taken innovative steps to ward off or adapt to the elements. It is unclear if those measures will suffice, however, as sea levels rise. In 2013, the water rose so high that it crept up under the clubhouse.


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Paul_Knox Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page