Malta is the largest of the three Maltese Islands - the others are Gozo and Comino. These colourful islands lie at the heart of the deep blue Mediterranean to the south west of Sicily. There are 7,000 years of history to be found on Malta and the island has often been described as one big open-air museum, so it will come as no surprise that the Royal Malta Golf Club comes with a great deal of history too.
The Maltese Governor and Commander in Chief, Sir Henry D'Oyley Torrens, founded Royal Malta in 1888. Sir Henry took golf with him on his journeys around the world with the armed forces, having previously set up the Cape Golf Club (the forerunner of Royal Cape) in Cape Town, South Africa, some years earlier. On Sir Henry's command, the British Forces laid out a nine-hole course around the dry moats that surround Valletta. The club moved to its present location in the Marsa Grounds in 1904 and an unknown architect, probably serving with the British Forces, laid out the course on a relatively small parcel of land.
The Army handed over the Royal Malta Golf Club to the Maltese members in 1971 and it has since benefited from a raft of improvements, including a sophisticated irrigation system, which ensures lush green fairways all year round.
Royal Malta is not a long course, measuring a little over 5,000 metres from the men's tees (par 68), but this is a very enjoyable course with plenty of well-placed bunkers guarding the greens, and cunningly placed traps on the fairways. Additionally, there are a few water hazards, which will test your accuracy from the tee.
The history of Royal Malta is evident on the 6th, a par 3 called the “Maids' Bedroom” and, avoiding any reference to the likelihood of getting a birdie, it should be noted that the reason for the naming of the hole is that you have to tee off across the remains of the house where golf club's maids once lived.
The closing 18th looks straightforward, but closer inspection reveals numerous hazards and the additional burden of out-of-bounds along the left hand side of the fairway. As with many holes at Royal Malta, this is a hole that can lull you into a false sense of security, and on many occasions there are holes that are typically, 'risk and reward', such as the 10th, with a well-placed water hazard some 180 metres from the tee.
Royal Malta plays over relatively flat ground and this is welcome given the pleasantly warm all-year-round climate. Royal Malta is also a pretty course, which is immaculately maintained and also fair to the higher handicap golfer. No trip to this beautiful island would be complete without a game at the historic Royal Malta Golf Club.
The club is approaching its 125th anniversary and a number of measures are being undertaken to spruce up the layout, not least of which is the renovation of the tee box areas. Consequently, when I teed it up here today, the already short 5487-yard course was playing considerably less than that – not that that helped me amass any more Stableford points in the 30c+ heat and (what felt like) 100% humidity.
The highlight of the front nine is the “Maid’s Bedroom” at hole 6, the middle par three in a run of three consecutive short holes. Measuring 154-yards from the gents yellow tee, the hole is played over an earth bank that has a stone lined walkway leading to the green cut through it so the only look at the flag is through this narrow alleyway – what a unique an utterly charming little par three!
There are plenty of subtle little elevation changes throughout the round here, with many of the greens raised to repel approach shots. Dry creeks cross a couple of the fairways on the back nine to keep you mentally alert and there’s a few old-fashioned examples of crossing fairways (like the 12th and 13th, 17th and 18th) to keep you engaged right to the very end.
In a nut shell, I loved this place; it’s hemmed in on all sides so every inch of available land is used - leading to three par threes at holes 5 to 7 and two more at 16 and 17 - but that’s what I like to see, clubs making the most of what they’re given in terms of the land available when constructing a course. A modern architect would rip the place up and start again but that would remove the allure of a lovely old track that will very soon be complemented by a very attractive new clubhouse.