England’s oldest golf club forced to move entire fairway inland due to coastal erosion

Helena Horton
·3 min read
The Royal North Devon golf club is moving inland - SWNS
The Royal North Devon golf club is moving inland - SWNS

England’s oldest golf club has had to have an entire fairway moved inland due to coastal erosion.

As erosion and flooding increase due to climate change, many coastal golf courses will have to adapt and move inland.

The Royal North Devon Golf Club, on the coastline of Northam Burrows Country Park, dates back to 1864 and is regarded as the St Andrews of the South.

However, it has for some years been at risk of falling into the sea, and coastal erosion and storm damage meant the seventh fairway and green had to be completely dug up and moved inland, with plans to do the same for the eighth.

Many of the most illustrious golf courses in the United Kingdom are situated perilously close to the sea. Researchers at the University of St Andrews believe that most could be at risk from coastal erosion in the coming years, and are currently completing an audit to find out the scale of the problem.

The Royal North Devon Golf Club has already almost washed away; Storm Eleanor ripped 49ft of land away from behind the eighth tee in 2018, and 20ft of sand dune beside the 7th green was destroyed during the same winter.

At one point the seventh green was just 35ft from the edge of the erosion, prompting the committee to redesign the affected area to ensure 18 Championship golf holes remain, alongside its status as the 'oldest Links in England'.

The course was designed by the Scottish golfer, Old Tom Morris, who won four Open Championships and still holds the record as the oldest winner of The Open Championship at 46.

General Manager Mark Evans said the decline of the course has been rapid, adding:  "It has escalated over the last five years when we lost about 50 yards of land in depth and we lost the eighth tee four years ago.

"There is a lot of concern about the future - low lying golf courses are suffering. But we seem to be suffering more than most.

"We've just got a cobble ridge between us and the Atlantic which has been there 400 years. But it's suffering these days."

He estimates the end of the course near the sea may have just 20 years left. 

The Environment Agency said: "We advise that all development is moved as far away from the coastline as possible.

"The new eighth tees are offered some protection by the rock armour, but this is not guaranteed for any length of time.

"We also advise that the existing seventh Tees are moved inland where possible. There are significant erosion issues in this section at the moment.

"It is also worth noting that the proposed plan will only offer a temporary solution and further movement will be required in perhaps five to ten years."

The government confirmed that other golf courses across the country are going to be affected in a similar way by erosion.

Both Natural England and The Environment Agency are engaging, where relevant, with golf courses affected by coastal erosion. NE has provided various golf courses with advice locally regarding coastal change linked to conservation, and the EA is working to mitigate the impact of flooding in high risk areas.

A spokesperson explained that the whole coast is constantly and rapidly evolving, creating challenges and that there are other cases of golf courses being impacted by coastal change at the coast.