England's Atlantic Links Old & Beguiling

Located on the north Atlantic coastline, England's Atlantic Links are some of the oldest in the country. Yet they've never staged a tournament of the stature of the Open Championship due primarily to the lack of infrastructure in the region.

That's not to say these courses are lacking in terms of allure, quality and history. Now there's a golf trail that invites golfers to find out for themselves about this corner of the U.K.

The first stop on the Atlantic Links is Somerset's Burnham & Berrow, which has evolved over the decades. The current layout is largely the work of Harry Colt and is noted for its distinct sand hills that form natural obstacles, along with buckthorn, a marsh and prevailing southwesterly winds that whip in off the Atlantic and along the Bristol Channel. The club's first professional was the legendary J.H. Taylor, a five-time Open champion who described the layout as "one of the most sporting courses conceivable."

Burnham & Berrow has hosted a number of top amateur events since its inception in 1890. The 2009 Tillman Trophy was here, and in 2011 it held the R&A Boys Championship and Brabazon Trophy - for the fifth time, becoming the first course to hold both championships in the same year.

Farther down the coast is Royal North Devon. Founded in 1864, this is England's oldest links and a must-play for anyone interested in golf history. Experiencing Westward Ho! - as the links are fondly called - is like seeing how golf was played well over a century ago years ago. Adding to the history are the memorabilia and ancient trophies found in the clubhouse, rivaled only by those in the Royal & Ancient clubhouse at St. Andrews.

Nearby Saunton boasts two championship courses that, since 1932, have enjoyed a strong tradition of hosting major amateur competitions. In 2014 Saunton's East and West Courses will stage the English Amateur Championship, the biggest men's event on England's golf calendar. Sir Nick Faldo once said of the Saunton links, "I've no doubt that if the East Course were located on the coast of Lancashire or Kent it would have hosted an Open Championship by now."

As the trail heads down to Cornwall, another fine links along the way is St. Enodoc. Founded in 1890 and designed by James Braid, this course boasts a stunning setting among the dunes overlooking the River Camel estuary and offers far-reaching views of the Atlantic. The Church course, named after the Norman Church that was uncovered in the middle of it, is famous for its towering "Himalaya" bunker that blocks golfers' view of the green from the slender sixth fairway.

St. Enodoc's neighbor, Trevose, has a backdrop of the majestic Trevose Head. In benign conditions, the 6,973-yard layout offers good scoring opportunities, though the course is transformed when the wind blows in from the sea. Trevose has also staged a number of amateur tournaments including the 2008 Brabazon Trophy; this year it will host the McGregor Trophy.

In addition to fine golf, Southwest England's offers other attractions, including postcard coastal towns like Ilfracombe in North Devon, bustling market burgs such as Wadebridge and Barnstaple, and charming fishing villages like Port Isaac, Rock and Padstow along the north Cornish coast. Historic towns like Weston-super-Mare and Bath, near Burnham & Berrow in Somerset, are ideal places to augment a golf trip.

The region's rich culture features the inimitable Barbara Hepworth Museum and Tate St. Ives, which display modern and local art, and the renowned Eden Project and the Lost Gardens of Heligan. Outdoor activities include surfing around Newquay, and walking and horseback riding in Exmoor National Park.

There are also some exceptional restaurants, from the Padstow seafood restaurants of famous local chef Rick Stein and a variety of other Michelin-starred restaurants, to real English ale and authentic pub grub. Places to stay include the Woodlands Country House Hotel, stately homes at the Bath Spa Hotel, modern seaside hotels like Saunton Sands, the St. Moritz Hotel & Spa and friendly bed-and-breakfasts.

The area can be readily accessed via the M5 motorway and A39 "Atlantic Highway," with international airports in Birmingham, Bristol, Exeter and Newquay.

For more information about England's Atlantic Links, visit www.atlantic-links.co.uk.