Royal Worlington Newmarket Golf Club Feature Review
Founded in 1893, Royal Worlington and Newmarket Golf Club has been hailed as one of the best 9-hole courses in the world. Although the club is perhaps not as well-known as the other prestigious golf club in Cambridge, The Gog Magog, Royal Worlington has a long-standing connection with golfing excellence. For over 100 years, it has been the home club for Cambridge University’s Golf Team and many famous golfers have graced its fairways. The best-known of these is perhaps the great sports writer, Bernard Darwin, who termed Royal Worlington “the sacred nine”. The ex-CEO of the R&A, Peter Dawson, is also associated with the club, having represented Cambridge as an undergraduate.
The 9 holes were laid out by Tom Dunn, but it was Harry Colt who re-sculpted the track into the nifty little course that it is today. Little is the operative term. Neither the course nor its clubhouse are grand edifices – the latter savours more of a cottage than a castle. But this is arguably part of Royal Worlington’s charm. Apart from a row of towering fir trees, and a number of copses, the course is relatively plain – St Andrews without the vista of the sea – and this may not be a track for those whose chief way of measuring a golf course’s value is by its views. The course’s simple aesthetics belie the quality of the track, however, and, for golfing ‘purists’, who put playability ahead of looks, Royal Worlington is a hidden gem.
Prior to heading out on the course, it’s wise to spend some time on the practice range. As you might expect from the cosiness of its clubhouse and the slightness of the course, Royal Worlington’s practice ground can best be described as snug. The range is hit-your-own-balls, which doesn’t bother me but might alienate golfers who don’t like their practice sessions being punctuated by long walks with a ball picker (though, of course, the plus side of this is that you don’t have to shell out on range balls). There is a rather woolly practice chipping green down the right-hand side of the range (though it may also be a target for hitting at – I never quite figured this out), but this is supplemented by a much better facility towards the middle of the course (the larger range is positioned at the side of the clubhouse) which features a really excellently conditioned green and a bunker for practicing bunker play. There is also a dedicated practice putting green in front of the clubhouse, which again I found to be in great condition, though I found it to be out-of-step with the pace of the greens on the course which were significantly quicker. One of the plus points of Royal Worlington is that it doesn’t operate tee times. Because the club keeps a small membership, this is rarely an issue, but it may be worth keeping half an eye on the 1st tee during your warm-up just to make sure no one pinches your slot.
Front 9 Overview
Royal Worlington opens with a scorable par 5 which will have you licking your chops. It’s about 480 yards long and, in the height of summer, plays much shorter. The hole is mostly straight-away, but has a very slight dogleg right-to-left and so the green is best approached from the right. Veer left and you’re likely to run into a steep-lipped fairway bunker, from which you’ll almost certainly have to punch out sideways. However, if you go for the right of the fairway off the tee and leak it, you’re liable to bounce over the road that borders the hole and roll out of bounds. The green is spacious, but this is both a gift and a curse. Find the wrong portion of it and you will be some distance from the cup, having to negotiate a number of tricky and cleverly-disguised slopes to avoid three-putting.
The 2nd is one of my favourite holes on the course. And one of the toughest too. At 225 odd yards, the 2nd is a long par 3 and a challenge to players of any handicap. As if this wasn’t bad enough the green is also small and significantly raised, balanced precariously between a bunker and two thickets of rough like an upturned saucer. Unless you’ve got a McIlroyesque moonball in your arsenal, trying to land your ball on its surface is asking for trouble. Inevitably, the play is to land short and to try and run on. However, this too is treacherous. The green has a steep false-front, which tends to reject shots skipped in in this way and chipping to the raised green is tricky. This isn’t the most aesthetic of holes, but it’s so well-designed that its lacklustre appearance is easily looked over.
Again, the 3rd isn’t a very pretty hole, but it is well-thought out. At around 380 yards, it’s a short par 4 which almost every player should be able to hit in regulation. Its main defence is a tight fairway, which features a pond down the right and a thick trench of rough down the left where, if you go in it, there is no guarantee of you finding your ball. Even if you do, the approach to the green from this trough is almost unplayable. Like the 2nd, the 3rd’s green is significantly raised, with a harsh slope in front leading down to another bushy swale. What makes approaching this green from the left fairway rough so difficult, however, is the fact that the left side of the green is protected by a large bunker. This forces you to have to land the ball on the green, which you’ve no chance of doing and stopping it from running long into the rough beyond. This hole then, places a significant premium on accuracy – finding the fairway off the tee is key.
The 4th hole is another very reachable par 5, but which, like the 1st hole, plays tougher than its yardage suggests. The tee shot is nicely framed between a clump of firs to the left and another knotty forest off to the right, but because the 4th shares what is effectively a double-sized fairway with the 5th hole, this isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. The tee shot in fact feels refreshingly wide. This apparent breadth is a little deceptive, however, since three closely spaced bunkers at around 220-260 yards out are likely to gather anything tracking too close to the 5th. Given that anything too far right brings the forest into play, however, aiming at these traps is perhaps not such a bad idea. The 2nd shot is a proper risk and reward gamble. It’s difficult to do it justice here, but the 4th green is a wicked piece of architecture. Out of bounds stakes rest just five or six yards long and five or six yards to the right of the putting surface, which is effectively cut into a downward sloping hill. The result is that anything that lands on the surface which isn’t a wedge risks motoring over the back and going OB, and the land immediately prior to the green also slopes off to the right, making the other OB line equally perilous.
If you thought the green on the 4th sounded wicked, then you will be terrified by the green of the 5th. Following the pattern of a par 5 being followed by a par 3, the 5th is the 2nd of three short holes at Royal Worlington, and perhaps the most difficult. At a comparatively brief 160ish yards, this difficulty isn’t because of its length, but, in a familiar theme, because of its green. The green is ridiculously narrow and is flanked by deep (and I mean DEEP!) swales on either side. All it takes is a slight push or a slight pull and you’re sunk, trapped perhaps 15 or 20 feet below the level of green and pitching up to a narrow ledge which, if you overcook it, will result in you facing the exact same chip shot from the other side. The right-hand swale is made more dangerous by the presence of another row of OB posts which any shots missing right are bound to flirt with. This means that most players end up consciously or unconsciously bailing out left, but this, of course, leaves a fiendish chip which can just as easily roll back to your feet as it can scoot over the green and threaten those OB posts anyway. Crazy as it sounds, a four on this most diabolical of short holes is not a bad score.
Like the 4th and the 5th, Royal Worlington’s 6th hole is nicely framed by a row of tall firs down the right-hand side and a little copse long of the green. It’s a fairly straight-lined par 4, but the green is half tucked behind the end of the firs. Playing to the left of the fairway is therefore necessary to have a clear sight of it, but this brings a pocket of bunkers which it shares with the 4th into play. The hole is also long. It’s a par 4, but measures around 460 yards. Even after a good drive, the green is difficult to hit in two. A fade is key if you are to avoid either missing the green left – where another bunker awaits – or clattering into the trees which frustrate a straight approach.
The 7th is the last of Royal Worlington’s par 3 holes, and, annoyingly, by some distance the weakest. Visually, there’s not really much to grab hold of here. It sits awkwardly between the green of the 3rd hole and the last portion of the fairway of the 1st and doesn’t really have anything to define it, lacking the pleasing trees of many of the other holes or the fir-laden backdrop of the 5th. Its green is big and flatter than most and its only defence is bunker to the left and a swale just short.
The 8th is another pretty but testing hole, which requires a good tee ball and an accurate approach shot to survive it. Though a little bit shorter than the 6th hole, the 8th still qualifies as another long par 4, clocking in at around 450 yards. The fairway is narrow, and trouble lurks both right (in the form of another clump of bushels and then the terraced firs) and left (in the form of a couple of big bunkers). There’s also a row of, in summer, pleasingly browned, but devilishly long rough which gives the hole a nice bit of definition (though it may also intimate someone who’s not feeling very comfortable with their driver). The hole is bisected by a row of bunkers about 130 yards out from the green, which are liable to catch a misstruck second shot if you lay too far back off the tee.
Royal Worlington’s 9th hole marks a fitting end to the course (or mid-point if you’re going around again). At a little under 300 yards, the hole is the shortest par 4 on the course, but don’t let its length fool you. Like so many of Royal Worlington’s other holes, the 9th can be bogeyed in a heartbeat and requires a golfer’s fullest concentration if they are to master it. Much of the difficulty of the hole comes from its tee shot. The fairway doglegs left-to-right and an OB-marked brook runs tight along the right-hand side. In another classic risk-and-reward scenario, the more of the brook you take on during the tee shot, the shorter you make your approach. Those who don’t fancy the challenge can bail out left, but will be punished with an approach shot from deep rough. The clubhouse behind the back of the green makes a lovely vista for the approach.
A drink in Royal Worlington’s clubhouse beckons after the round (gunners or vodka depending on the state of your finish!). The bar is well-stocked and everything is served through a pleasingly quaint hole-in-the-wall. The club also serves up a really excellent selection of soups and sandwiches, though the menu may perhaps seem a little limiting to those used to more a spacious, corporate fare. This is more than made up, however, by the clubhouse’s beautifully rustic décor, the highlight of which is the many pictures of famous sportsman and figures who’ve been affiliated with the club, which decorate the clubhouse’s walls.
Overall, I enjoyed my round at Royal Worlington. The course is not the most visually-stunning track that I’ve ever played, but, bearing in mind its location and the lack of natural features in its area, the designers have done a great job with what they had. A fair challenge with a slyly concealed sting in its tale, Royal Worlington offers a thorough and enjoyable test of golf which I would recommend to anyone.
- Length is not an issue at Royal Worlington, and accuracy is more important than distance. Consider hitting irons off the tee to maximise your score.
- Royal Worlington’s greens are like upturned saucers and there’s a premium for missing on the right sides. Be careful not to short side yourself, otherwise bogey (or worse) will surely result.
- The greens are also full of subtle slopes. Treat even the shortest putts with respect or you’ll be three-putting faster than you can say ‘yips’.
Overall Rating – 8
Course (Conditions) – 8
Course (Hole Variety/Layout) – 9
Course (Green Conditions) – 8
Course (Challenge/Difficulty) – 8
Club Facilities & 19th/Clubhouse – 8
Practice Facilities – 7
Pace of Play – 9
Value for Money – 8
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|Royal Worlington and Newmarket Golf Club
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