The Royal Eastbourne Golf Club was established in 1887, with members playing on a 9-hole Horace Hutchinson-designed course on ground adjacent to Compton Place, which was owned by wealthy landowner William Cavendish, who became the 7th Duke of Devonshire.
Less than a month after the club’s formation on 4th October 1887, Queen Victoria had conferred the Royal title on the new club. The following year, Eastbourne Ladies’ Golf Club was formed, with women soon playing on their own course in the middle of the main layout.
Tom Simpson revised this 9-hole course (now called the Hartington) in 1912. At the same time, Simpson and his design partner Arthur Croome re-modelled the main layout which had previously been extended to eighteen holes then redesigned by J.H. Taylor in 1904.
After World War II, C.K. Cotton revitalised the main course, with particular regard to holes 4-7, located at the further point from the clubhouse in the northeast portion of the property. The 18-hole Devonshire course, as it’s now called, re-opened in the mid-1950s.
Today, the modern-day set-up still retains many of the original Hutchinson greens, and old-fashioned design traits are lovingly preserved, such as the fairway cross bunkers in front of the greens on both doglegging par five holes at the 5th and 16th.
The overall length of the layout is a moderate 6,047 yards from the back markers and par is set at 70; 36 out then 34 back. There are back-to-back par fives to negotiate at holes 4 and 5, and a round here ends with a short hole in front of the clubhouse – until recently, holes 17 and 18 were played as par threes.
Highlight holes on the Devonshire include short par fours at the 340-yard 3rd and 309-yard 9th, while the longest of the par threes on the card, the 194-yard 13th, plays to a long, narrow green with a step falloff to the left of the putting surface – resulting in a strong stroke index of 6 for this hole.
Variety is order of the day at this interesting and undulating course with good views over the popular seaside town of Eastbourne and the English Channel. There is a mixture of good and bad holes on an old-fashioned layout which feels squeezed in between the South Downs, an upmarket residential area and the town. Without criss-crossing, some of the holes are quite close to one another, there seems only just enough land to accommodate all 18 holes.
The first hole is a classic par four with plenty of space off the tee before a long approach shot to a large green. After then after crossing a lane, you are faced with a very average uphill short hole before a 330 yard par four where the aim is well left of a green in a bowl. 4 is one of the best holes on the course, a sweeping par five from a raised tee, and 6 a good right-to-left dogleg where the drive is over trees.
The middle of the course seems quite disjointed, starting as it does with a sharply uphill short hole at 8 and then after recrossing the lane to the main part of the course a very tight dogleg requiring precision from the tee.
The back nine is less hilly with excellent holes at 12,13 and 15, the last two being inspiring short holes, before a tame finish as the course heads uphill back to the clubhouse.
The greens are good and roll well at an average pace with the main obstacles to a good score being well-placed bunkers and penal rough if you stray too far off line. Course maintenance is satisfactory.
But sadly I found the golf course little more than average on this hilly site down from Beachy Head. Nevertheless I enjoyed good company on my round on a wonderful mid-summer’s day.
Opinions of golf courses will always be subjective and most times personal to the golfer. One thing that is important to all is a variety of holes on a course and Royal Eastbourne has so much of it, not one hole is like any other on the course and that is a huge plus point. Also when a course has been designed to compliment to existing land, then this is another plus – the course here ticks that box too.
After a very strong opening hole at 424 yards, a little downhill with a SI-3, it is the next two holes that tell me the land was here way before the course. The 2nd, a par-3 at a modest 160 yards but this hole is uphill with the green perched into the side of the land with a severe drop-off on the right-side and there will be more double bogeys than birdies here that is for sure. The hole previously was in fact a par-4 when you had to play across the road with a superb name of Paradise Drive – this had to change when the health & safety brigade saw the potential for trouble.
Playing the 3rd hole for the first time is a conundrum as the line is not obvious from the tee at all – it is however a shortish hole at 340 yards and for reference the line is further left that it looks as your ball will be moving to the right when it lands off of the big bank.
Holes 4-7 are two par-5’s and two par-4’s covering just over a mile in length – they do run alongside each other but there is not that up and down feeling at all. Of these I liked the 6th best; a bunker-less hole, dog-legging to the right at just under 400 yards to a green in a bowl – I do however think the hole could be improved further – I suggest removing at least one of the three trees 100 yards from the tee and also constructing a bunker at driving landing point on the left side.
The 8th is the pick of the par-3’s – another to a perched green – this time the green is off-set and the tee shot must carry all of the 172 yards otherwise your flop shot skills will be required.
The remaining ten holes are played on the clubhouse side of Paradise Drive and the strength continues. The 9th green is my favourite putting surface on the course; three tiers and approaching has to be rather accurate if not wanting to have up to a 125ft putt.
Toughest par-3 comes at the 13th… nearly 200 yards, a touch downhill but to a very slim green and yet another massive drop-off, this time on the left.
The par-4 14th is not a great hole for me and needs a re-think – just 358 yards, it is uphill to a sloping right to left fairway and then 80% of shots to the green will be blind – not sure of the answer but the first hole that didn’t quite do it for me.
I enjoyed the 16th a lot – here is a 512 yard hole that starts turning right at 210 yards and then has three great bunkers at 65 yards short of the green – out of bounds all the way down the right-side too – a decent birdie chance but equally chances to rack up a number. The penultimate hole is a par-4 but at par-3 length (225 yards), which is a little strange; quite a bit uphill though and some decent deep bunkering short and right do take out hitting the green easily.
If a round ends on a par-3, I think it should be a very strong hole – Royal Eastbourne does end on a one-shotter but it is a weak finish – just 162 yards and over some pretty dead ground and does stand out for the wrong reasons, a shame but I do believe the club are discussing what to do. For my two-penneth worth, I may consider combining the existing 17th and 18th holes to make a short par-5 finish – just need to then find one more hole for the back nine, maybe even steal one from the Hartington 9-hole course that sits in the middle of the main course? Just a thought…. Overall, loved my round at Royal Eastbourne and currently a solid 4-ball ranking.