A traditional course for the links connoisseur

Rye (Old)

Rye Golf Club (Old)

Rye Golf Club (Old)

Date Reviewed
December 2, 2015
Reviewed by Ed Battye
It’s safe to say there’s a lot more to Rye Golf Club than the actual golf course.

It’s an idiosyncratic club with a distinguished history and fully deserves its place as a special component in the rich tapestry of English golf.

Here is a place where you will find that the respect for the traditional aspects of the game are very much still at the forefront.

Those with even a minor knowledge about the history of golf will know the connection with Bernard Darwin whilst in modern times the brisk pace of play, a preference for foursomes golf and the full Rye lunch are often mentioned before the links itself.

Amongst others Patric Dickinson and Donald Steel have penned eloquently and favourable about the club. The latter saying, “My golfing daydreams revolve most frequently around Rye.”

There are limited playing opportunities at this wealthy club – where introduction by a member is the norm – and this certainly helps create a unique and special atmosphere once there.

In terms of the golf - which is also unique, at times unusual but also very special - there are no less than nine holes which I would argue could be placed on any top course and not look out of place. Interestingly these also come in two distinct stretches which gives you a feeling of really gaining momentum during the course of the round.

Rye has seen many alterations over the years and has evolved gracefully since a young Harry Colt laid out the original course. Several architects, and a World War, have left their mark on the course but there is no hint of too many cooks spoiling the broth at this East Sussex delight.

After three straightaway holes at the foot of a large dune ridge – the first being the only par five on the course, the short second the pick of this opening trio and the third the first of many stellar par fours - holes four, five, six and seven highlight the very best of Rye.

The fourth is as good as it is uncomfortable to play but I mean that in a good way. The central ridge that runs through the spine of the course is tackled along the top here with a terrifying drive to a hogs-back fairway – severe chasms at both sides - before a daunting approach to a tilted green.

The fifth is a continuation of this vertigo inducing golf but comes in the form of a one-shotter played 171 yards to a sloping green with a severe embankment to the left. At the sixth you must drive diagonally over the dune ridge and hope for a little draw on your ball to eke out some extra distance at this magnificent hole that calls for an exact approach which must negotiate some ferocious sand traps.

Finally the 7th, perhaps the most famous hole at Rye, is a devilish par three which falls away on all sides and certainly makes good on the notion that the hardest shots at Rye are the second shots into the short holes!

After a sequence of four holes, none of which really float my boat with perhaps the exception of the just about driveable ninth, things pick up again with five of the final six holes exceptionally strong. The 13th may not be regarded as the best hole in this exciting run for home but it is certainly the most unusual, quirky and memorable. This time you switch from one side of the dominant dune ridge to the other with your blind approach shot! Aligning the two marker posts will give you an indication of the line but until you mount the rise and see your ball either on our close to the green you are never sure.

I had the tremendous fortune to play with a good friend and golf course architect, Edwin Roald, on my visit here and he sums up the use of the ridge perfectly by saying, “Today, routing two holes across the dune ridge would most likely spark controversy, but this is perhaps where modern design has fallen somewhat short. The unique and unexpected seems to have given way to a certain sameness throughout. This identifies Rye as a custodian of the art in golf course design, in contrast to, say, a discipline of engineering.”

Hole 14 is yet another good short hole with a particularly narrow green, tapering towards the rear, whilst 15 and 16 are two more exceptional par fours; the approach to the former and the drive, to a raised skyline fairway, at the latter being the highlights.

Before you play the magnificent and demanding 18th the long par-three 17th – the weakest hole in the final third – contrasts to the other short holes and although the tee-shot is uninspiring the green complex is superb. Indeed there are many wonderful green complexes at Rye where the surrounds, especially the contouring just short of the putting surface, are fascinating and dictate how you play your approach. You will also find many intimidating deep sand pits that act as an extra defence to this par 68, 6,500-yard layout.

Low wooden sleepers feature many times during the round and are a unique hazard as far as I’m aware. They first make an appearance at the third but are perhaps used best at the short 14th where they stifle a ground recovery from the right. I imagine they play on the mind of the golfer more than anything else in acting as a defence.

Our round on a beautiful December day was enhanced by the condition of the course at this time of year. Indeed Rye is a venue that plays well for 12 months of the year and is arguably at its best in the off-season. One of the members noted that at this time of year it is always in fine fettle as they are preparing the course for their flagship event; the President’s Putter, an annual four-day tournament for the Oxford & Cambridge Golfing Society.

I will leave it to Roald to sum up the Old course at Rye and he does so perfectly when he says, “Playing and studying the Old course was not only enjoyable and enriching. It was highly inspiring.”

A full day at Rye is one of the finer things in golf and if you are lucky enough to receive an invitation from one of their members I suggest you grab it with both hands.

Read the review of Rye (Jubilee) here.

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