Royal Worlington & Newmarket
Memories were prompted of the school tuck shop back in the 1970s as I rang the bell to pay for our round at Royal Worlington & Newmarket.
It may be less than a mile off the busy A11 but this very small slice of Suffolk is something of a time-warp.
From the moment, we decided to play on the acclaimed nine-hole course, its old-fashioned quirks became clear.
No BRS or arranging through the pro shop here. There are no specific time slots so a call to the secretary’s office is met with a cheery response and a suggestion of when would be best to play.
In our case, we were told if we teed off before 11.30 on the Monday morning our second nine would not clash with a ladies’ match which was beginning at 1.30 pm. Perfect.
Upon arrival, it is clear this is a golf venue like no other. The clubhouse is a cross between a veranda and a museum with payments made through the aforementioned hatch with sweets and other goodies available if required.
There is a warmth about the place which I would have loved to have experienced back in the day when former BBC commentator Henry Longhurst was among the regulars.
However, I didn’t feel as if the course matched up.
If a nine-hole track has found its way into England’s top 100, I had presumed that they would all be of stirring quality. That wasn’t my abiding impression.
Sure, we played at the height of a very dry summer and, therefore, the condition of the fairways and greens could be forgiven.
But only two or three could be described as truly memorable.
The first, a par-five running parallel to the course’s entrance road is only tricky if a drive goes way right into the trees or ditch or, alternatively, finds one of the bunkers which punctuate the left-hand side (I fell for the latter).
The second is a difficult 200+ yard par-three with out of bounds to the rear and well-paced sand traps.
Royal Worlington & Newmarket is squeezed into a slither of land which feels not much bigger than a good-sized 18-hole pitch and putt.
With land at a premium, there are several points at which holes are very tight to each other or even criss-cross.
Such is the case on the third where the drive is required to go over the second’s green and two huge bunkers to find a steeply sloping fairway. But if the tee shot is successful, no more than a pitching wedge is required to find the green.
Signage is almost non-existent, and this was our undoing on the first time of playing the fourth which also turned out to be the fifth because we approached the wrong green. It was much easier the second time around.
The best and toughest is the 6th, a long par-four with a green partially obscured by an avenue of trees to the right and a bail-out to the left made tricky by bunker placement.
The eighth is another difficult one – an accurate drive is demanded before a decision on whether to carry sand traps which stretch the width of the hole.
Finally, short, dogleg par-four ninth is a curiosity. If the tee shot can clear the brook, there is a very short chip to the green. I birdied it the first time and had a tap-in par on our second nine.
We were glad to have played Royal Worlington & Newmarket and experienced its idiosyncrasies. Indeed, Mrs W had never played two nines before.
But there was not enough on the course by comparison to others in the top 100 to nudge us towards a return visit.