Much has been written about this charismatic club over the years since it’s foundation in 1893. It has received high acclaim from many respected sources but likewise has had its detractors too.
Having heard it described as little more than a field with nine flags in it to being dubbed as the greatest nine-hole course in the World, it’s clearly a course that divides opinion. I really just wanted to go there with a neutral mind-set and arrive at my own conclusion.
Some have said it’s not an easy course to gain access to, however, I had no problems in this regard. I simply called the Secretary on the morning I intended to play and was advised that I would be warmly welcomed at my anticipated arrival time of fifteen hundred hours. I was even told that I would pay the twilight green-fee despite this not coming into effect until an hour later.
My cheery reception duly arrived and I was also greeted with the issue of an insurance certificate; ‘Just in case you kill anyone’ I was told by the lovely lady at the other side of the hatch in the olde-worlde clubhouse and to whom I handed my green-fee.
It soon became apparent that this protection was because of the public road that runs the length of the first hole and that also cuts right across the front of the ninth green. However, as I would only find out a few holes later, it could also be for those who are driven to murder after chipping back and forth across the fifth green for the umpteenth time.
I sensed even prior to completing the opening hole that I was going to enjoy what I was about to discover over the duration of the next couple of hours. Once I had teed off at the third I was all but sure of it and by the time I had completing the fifth I was certain.
The opening tee-shot requires you to be on your toes from the off and as soon as you near the green on this straightway par five it becomes apparent that there is something special about the place. Having hit a perfect drive into a brisk breeze, avoiding bunkers on both sides of the fairway at varying distances, I hit a crisp 3-iron down the middle to around 60 yards shy of the green. Ideally positioned, and playing to a front right pin position, I was faced with a multitude of options as to how to play my third shot; a bump and run, a floater or simply putt it, to name but a few. Needless to say I chose the wrong option and turned a great birdie opportunity into a maddening bogey. Welcome to the Sacred Nine.
The 224 yard second is as simple as it is brilliant with an upturned green that led to another chip and three-putt. It’s rare that you walk off a green with a big grin on your face having made a double bogey but I did. I knew it had got me this time but I wasn’t going to let it happen again.
The third is a wonderful hole that angles itself along a ridge. The further you drive the more accurate you must be but lay back and the approach becomes exponentially more difficult. Another missed green and another failed up and down to report here.
The fourth, along with the fifth and sixth, feel detached from the remainder of the course although in reality it is simply a strand of majestic pine trees that divide the rest of the holes from this segment of the course. By the time you have thinned your chip to the back of the fall-away green at the fourth your short game is in tatters, your confidence is shot and you are no longer grinning.
And then you come to the fifth. Anyone who has played it will know. And if you haven’t I won’t go into detail because you simply must go and see it for yourself. Needless to say I visited Mog’s Bog more times than I wish to remember and it’s fortunate that I was playing on my own, otherwise, a call to the insurance company may well have been required.
Moving on, the sixth, a par four of 460 yards, shares a fairway with the fourth but they are divided by bunkers, which don’t allow for much forward progression should you find one, but from close to them you must be to best attack the green. By now you are putting everything from within 100 yards of the green and playing for Bogey, conveniently stated on the scorecard.
The key to the short seventh is a shallow ridge that fronts the green and this was a hole that impressed me more on the second playing. The way this hole almost becomes a large double green with the third adds to the seaside atmosphere of this windswept piece of land.
At the eighth you face another 460 yard two-shotter featuring cross bunkers and a green that once again runs away from you. Meanwhile, the ninth requires an angled drive over a stream before you play to another amazing green. Play too far away from the water hazard on the drive though and you will face a much tougher approach to a green that is best attacked from the right.
It was also great to see every single golfer out on the course carrying a pencil bag on their back, many with a dog at their heels, and whilst no-one was rushing there was very much a sense of hit it, find it then play it again.
This timeless course receives architectural praise for the routing in such a compact area (to achieve this you drive over the green of the previous hole on a number of occasions) but, perhaps selfishly, I’m not too interested in that. I’m more concerned with how the course plays and in this regard Royal Worlington ticks all the boxes.
The sandy, links-like soil produces great turf from which to play but it is the green complexes that elevate this to being one of the UK’s best courses, never mind all this ‘best nine-hole’ business. The natural undulations and contours of the greens, and their surrounds, are simply breathtaking. Some are subtle whilst others are bold but it all comes together perfectly. Granted it can make you look foolish at times but the options it provides is what good golf is all about. In addition, many of the holes are on the edge of par and this not only adds to the challenge out in the field but also in ones head.
Royal Worlington is a golf course that looks great without any make-up on. It doesn’t require flashy bunkers and the like, it is structurally sound and reminds you of a time when golf must have been more simple, less complicated. Where did modern golf go wrong?
The good news is that no matter how far the equipment manufacturers enable a ball to travel, or how quickly they are able to get the latest Pro V1 to stop, players will be making double bogeys at Royal Worlington for eternity.
Believe me, this is the real thing. Or at least anyone who doesn’t like Royal Worlington & Newmarket has a different definition of ‘golf’ than I do.
Following a 4:00am alarm call we’d already driven for more than six hours and covered over 350 road miles before boarding a ferry at Oban sailing to Lochboisdale.
The Halifax Golf Club, often better known as Ogden, is a course that divides opinion.