CORNWALL, England -- It makes perfect sense that the sunniest part of England would produce the country's first links golf course.
Indeed, in 1864 residents of Westward Ho! founded Royal North Devon Golf Club, the first of what would soon become a golf-filled coastline on England's southwestern most sliver.
This region has always been a hot spot for the English, literally. Not only has it drawn city slickers from London and Manchester to its rural landscape for centuries, it's also the warmest, sunniest part of the United Kingdom. In fact, you'll find pools here at many hotels -- outdoor pools.
But despite the Southwest's reputation for sun-soaked summers (relatively speaking, of course, this is still the British Isles we're talking about), the country's most popular golf tours have historically been on the northwest coast, thanks to Open Championship venues such as 2008 host Royal Birkdale Golf Club.
But Royal North Devon and a collection of six links courses make the Southwest a British Isle golf destination second to none. It's just that the word hasn't really gotten out about them. Until recently.
"It's one of the regions that's going to get noticed next," says London Golf Tours' Simon Tait, who helped package what has now become the Atlantic Links cooperative. "But it's still certainly off the beaten map."
Tuck Claggett, general manager at St. Enodoc Golf Club, was another of the minds behind creating a new marketing and packaging cooperative to deliver this unique destination to the world.
"It's a different part of England you wouldn't normally experience," says Claggett. "They're going to experience Cornwall, and the North Shore road that takes you up into devon is a dramatic coastline where there's lots of fantastic scenery."
Cornwall still remains largely rural, especially along the north shore. There are no real metropolises here, just small, storybook villages every few miles or so on winding, two-lane roads and cobblestone bridges.
With centuries of practice under their belt, the Southwesterners certainly know their hospitality. The Woodlands Country House Hotel in Brent Knoll, just a short drive from Burnham & Berrow Golf Club, could come straight out of a painting of the English countryside. Dinner is served nightly with nothing but local, organic produce.
The owners, who bought the hotel recently, have been surprised to see how many golfers they've hosted thus far.
But pay a visit to Burnham & Berrow and that mystery fades. This is one championship test of links golf, built by the likes of H.S. Colt and Alister Mackenzie, even if it doesn't get the kind of ink it would if it were in Scotland or closer to England's medal courses in the Northwest.
What really makes the Atlantic Links tour, however, above the rural charm and the sunshine, is the variety of courses.
None is quite like the oldest, Royal North Devon. The friendly membership is immensely proud of their course and will take any visitor on a tour of the history-filled clubhouse or even offer to play a round with you. They can be some real characters, and you need a twisted sense of humor to make R.N.D. your home course. Eighteen holes here consist of navigating through flocks of sheep and dodging a viciously sharp and poisonous Great Searush plant on the back nine, not to mention dodging the occasional horse stampede on the back nine ("Don't worry, you'll hear the ground move before they come," locals like to say.)
It's all part of one of Britain's wildest, most distinct rounds of golf.
Just across the estuary from R.N.D. is an entirely different experience: Saunton Golf Club, considered by some to be the best two-links facility in England. The East Course, over a century old, holds many of England's top amateur championships, including the 1997 British Boy's Championship, won by Sergio Garcia. Its neighbor, The West, is also no slouch. Though shorter and a bit younger, built in 1935, much of the membership reckon it's just as challenging, playing through some of the property's most formidable dunes.
St. Enodoc's Church Course is a James Braid masterpiece that serves up a little something different on each tee box, whether it's knockout views from its perch high above the Camel Estuary or the 12th century church to the right of the 10th green or formidable obstacles like No. 6's enormous "Sahara" bunker." But somehow it all seems to fit perfectly here.
The farthest club west is Trevose Golf & Country Club, a resort-style club with swimming, tennis and cozy on-site accommodations. They have the best views of any club in the southwest overlooking the Constantine Bay, which has such strong waves it's become popular among surfers.
Trevose's championship course plays down toward the bay and hosted this summer's English Amateur Stroke Play Championships.
All the more reason to stay an extra night, the club has a second, shorter nine-hole course and another "Short" course, a popular spot for some post-dinner betting during the peak summer hours, when the sun stays up well past 10 p.m.
Did we mention you get a lot of sun around here?