St Mellion: Then and Now

The story of St Mellion has had many ups and downs – almost as many as the undulating Nicklaus Course design itself.

The story of St Mellion has had many ups and downs – almost as many as the undulating Nicklaus Course design itself.

The resort began life in the mid-1970s when Cornish farmers Martin and Hermon Bond left pig-breeding and potato-growing to build a championship golf course.

In 1978, with a new hotel to accompany the original course, the venue hosted the PGA Cup and 12 months later Ken Brown claimed the European Tour’s Benson and Hedges International there.

During that event the Bond brothers heard that Seve Ballesteros was less than impressed with their course and they set about creating a monster that no-one could grumble about.

So in 1982 they approached Jack Nicklaus and within 12 months construction on his first signature golf design in the UK had begun.

In all 1.5 millions cubic yards of the Cornish soil was re-arranged over the next five years as the Bond brothers’ dream began to take shape.

Nicklaus called upon his years of experience at Augusta National to re-create the drama of the short 12th and 16th holes, with a similar design for St Mellion’s 11th.

With a long carry over water, to a shallow green protected by bunkers, with the wind whistling through the trees that create a tight amphitheatre, you could imagine yourself in the heat of Masters contention.

Which, at the age of 46, and with St Mellion nearing completion, is exactly what Nicklaus did in 1986 – winning the title after a thrilling back nine charge that wore down the tournament leader Ballesteros.

From 1990 to 1995 the B&H International Open was held annually at the resort, with the winners including the likes of Jose Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer and one time critic of the resort Ballesteros.

The course continued to host events right through to the start of this century, but the resort had become a little tired and Australian businessman Jeff Chapman personally invested £20million to restore the course and hotel to its former glory.

The investment allowed Crown Golf, the new owners, to fulfil the potential of the resort.

Last year Golf World placed the Nicklaus course in its prestigious Britain’s Top 100 Golf Courses list, making particular reference to its tough reputation (indeed readers of Fore! Magazine voted it the hardest course in England).

Nicklaus himself once said, “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.”

Crown Golf recognise that in the modern climate, with golfers less willing to fly across Europe, or to the States or the Middle East, for golfing breaks, St Mellion can offer the same options those golfing locations can – but accessed by the motorway rather than a long flight.

The course is now ready for holiday golfers and professionals too as the original ideas of the Bond brothers in the 1970s are coming to fruition with St Mellion ready to stage a European Tour event (it will host the 2011 English Open).

Crown Golf has spent £2.5 million on upgrading and reconfiguring the Nicklaus Course, making it a genuine test for the professional golfers of today.

The result is a tight test that includes many of the classic Nicklaus design features.

The tees are high with wide views, but the fairways are cunningly designed – finding the short cut is often difficult enough, but finding the correct part of those fairways is even more of a challenge.

The greens are raised, with the need to hit over water hazards and large, deep bunkers.

Not only is the 11th hole reminiscent of Augusta National – the 10th plays down into a tree-lined fairway, before dropping further into a tight green; a test not unlike the 10th at the home of the Masters.

And the 12th hole is a long par five that funnels down a pine forest avenue, before playing an approach over water – no replica of the classic 13th at Augusta, but with a pleasingly similarity.

Of course any modern European Tour venue requires an on-site hotel with wonderful facilities and the new four-star 80-bedroom hotel which lies alongside the 18th hole is the icing on the cake.

Featuring a brasserie, restaurant, new golf bar and refurbished clubhouse it is fresh, airy and modern.

When Crown took over at St Mellion they arrived in time for the 21st birthday of the Nicklaus Signature Course.

As Stephen Lewis, Crown Golf Chief Executive, put it: “We arrived in time to lavish two million pounds on it.”

“Visitors to St Mellion now have accommodation and golf facilities which befit our stunning Cornish location. It is a fitting flagship for the group.”

Cornish golfers cannot wait for the English Open to arrive at the resort – volunteers are signing up in their hundreds and fans are ready to give the European Tour a big welcome.

But whilst they do have to be patient to see the world’s best golfers, there is no need for anyone else to wait – the resort is open and ready to impress you now.

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