St Mellion's 25th
It's a 25-year celebration at St Mellion this month. We pay a visit to the course that Jack Nicklaus built
By Dave Tindall. Last Updated: 28/06/13 2:50pm
Looking down to the 8th green on the Nicklaus Course
Twenty-five years ago, the first Jack Nicklaus-designed course in the UK opened at St Mellion in Cornwall.
To celebrate the anniversary of the Nicklaus Course, the award-winning resort will hold a Festival of Golf this July along with a series of special offers, more of which later.
Construction began in late 1982/early 1983 and The Nicklaus Signature Course was finished and growing-in when the 'Golden Bear' so memorably won his 18th and final major at Augusta in April 1986.
The new course hosted its first Tour event in 1987 - the British Ladies Open Championship, won by Alison Nicholas - and in 1988 was formally inaugurated in a special USA v GB match between Jack and Tom Watson vs Nick Faldo and Sandy Lyle
Jack Nicklaus looks over the designs
After that it became the home of the European Tour's Benson & Hedges International Open, producing a storied list of winners including Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal and Bernhard Langer.
Another chapter in the St Mellion story unfolded in 2007 when Australian businessman Jeff Chapman personally funded a £20m inward investment programme at the Resort.
Crown Golf spent £2.5m on upgrading and reconfiguring The Nicklaus Signature Course and the adjacent Kernow Course while a new four-star 80-bedroom hotel was also constructed.
In a nod to the legends who won there, the two suites overlooking the 18th hole were labelled the 'Ballesteros' and the 'Olazabal'.
When first viewing the completed Nicklaus Course, Jack enthused: "I knew it was going to be good, but not this good - it's everything I had hoped for, and more... St Mellion is potentially the finest golf course in Europe."
So, does it live up to the billing? Dave Tindall went to Cornwall to find out.
The course and our round
Looking out over the Nicklaus course the night before, I feared the worst. Incessant rain had caused standing water to gather on the 18th fairway and green and the wet stuff was still coming down in droves.
However, to the credit of the groundstaff (and those who put the drainage systems in place), the following morning we awoke to find the course in superb condition.
It's immediately obvious from the off that you're playing a course a cut above most and in terms of looks there must be few places around that can match the beauty of St Mellion. But, Jack being Jack, he didn't design the course just to show off the pretty views. He made it a tough test of golf too.
By all means enjoy the spectacular scenery from the plethora of raised tee areas but quickly get your concentration levels turned up for the challenge of keeping the ball in play, avoiding the strategically placed bunkers and reading the subtle breaks on the multi-tiered greens.
A favourite hole? There are many candidates but the 11th really does give you one of those "isn't life great" moments. From an elevated tee, you hit down to the green below which is protected by water in front and to the left. Not far behind is the 12th which runs through a tree-lined valley and really gives the feeling that you're playing on a championship course where the greats have walked.
Perhaps rising to the occasion, I played these holes well - par and bogey. My brother, a fellow mid/high handicapper, also had his highs with a birdie at seven and a very close brush with a hole-in-hole at the par three fourth.
The very tough closing holes wrecked hopes of a good score but didn't spoil a genuinely memorable and enjoyable 18 holes.
The view looking back to the 11th green and tee
A family resort
As well as my own two kids (7 & 4), my Dorset-based brother also brought his two nippers along after they made the two-hour drive to St Mellion from Poole.
Anyone with children will know that keeping the kids entertained and happy can make or break a holiday and St Mellion certainly came up with the answers.
After checking in and having a gawp at the pool area, the tugging on the trouser legs and repeated pleas of "can we go swimming now daddy" immediately began and 20 minutes later we were splashing about (being splashed). The three swimming pools cater for all ages, with a small, shallow pool a nice alternative for babies or the very little 'uns.
Somewhere for the little 'uns to let off steam before food is served
Kids can get particularly fidgety at meal times so it was a very clever idea to have a small Kids Corner at the front of the Bewdern Brasserie & Bar. They picked their food off the kids menu, went and had a play, came back to eat it and then went back to play again. Much more fun than listening to us boring adults.
A crèche is also available if you want the kids looking after and entertained while you play golf although my son came to the course after being lured in by the promise of a buggy ride. That thrill wore off after five holes so after playing his 3DS from the 6th to the 9th I dropped him off with Mum before heading to the 10th tee.
Whilst waiting to tee off at 11, I quickly tweeted that I was playing at St Mellion and there was an immediate and enthusiastic response from others who had played the course.
Plenty also spoke highly of the other course at St Mellion, the Kernow. A theme from those who didn't live near Cornwall was "well worth the trip".
Having been lucky to play some top courses, I would rate the Nicklaus Course as my favourite parkland track in the UK. Plenty on Twitter agreed.
Festival of Golf
To celebrate the 25th Anniversary, St Mellion will be hosting a Festival of Golf to bring together members and guests of St Mellion from the previous 25 years. There are Open competitions to suit all players from individual events such as the Men's Open to gaining "bragging rights" representing your club in the Golf Club Team Challenge. Or how about bringing your usual partner along to play in the Texas Scramble.
More information is available from the golf shop at 01579 352004
* Throughout July and August, stay in the hotel, dine and play both Championship courses from just £119pp. Call 01579 352001