The course at Royal Winchester Golf Club doesn’t date back quite as far as the city’s famous 11th century cathedral – which features the longest knave and greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe – but it’s been around for well over a hundred years, nonetheless.
The club was founded in 1888, with members playing on a course located at Morn Hill, near Chilcomb, to the east of the city. One of the club’s earliest professionals was Andrew Kirkcaldy, who lasted only six weeks before heading back to Scotland, with J. H. Taylor replacing him.
Royal Winchester moved to its present location on Teg Down in 1901, although J. H. Taylor had already left to join Royal Wimbledon before subsequently moving on to Royal Mid-Surrey, he was brought in to set out a new course that was modified some time later by Harry Colt.
The Royal prefix in the club’s title had been used in good faith since 1893 when the Duke of Connaught became a patron and apparently granted permission for its use, however the Home Office intervened twenty years later to inform the club that no official authority had ever been given by the monarchy.
A hastily composed letter of request, along with details of the club’s financial status, was submitted to the Secretary of State and on 2nd January 1913, a letter was received confirming that King George V had granted the club its royal title, allowing everyone to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
Royal Winchester has overcome a number of challenges down the years; the lady members kept the club solvent by joining the men’s club and contributing their financial reserves in the 1940s, then the old clubhouse was sold and a new one built in the mid-1960s but this was lost to a fire in 1994, resulting in the construction of a new building.
Stretching to 6,387 yards from the back tees, the course plays to a par of 72, with fairways laid out across pleasantly undulating downland. A bunker renovation programme was completed in 2017, with in-house staff installing EcoBunkers to deliver badger-proof banks and a gentler sand profile which is resilient to sand wash down.
Highlight holes include the par three 7th (played to a sand-protected raised green), back-to-back par fives at the 9th and 10th, the long, stroke index 1 par four 15th (though many think the left doglegged 13th is the toughest hole on the card), and the 355-yard 18th, where a “bomb-hole bunker” guards the front of the 3-tiered home green.
A pleasant down land course that is generally very well conditioned with lovely springy fairway turf all year round. It has some very good holes. I love the stretch from 7 to 10 although some people find the par 5 10th a bit silly with a green perched up on a shelf well above the end of the fairway and with a very slopey green that is hard to putt on when the greens get quick. The 13th is a lovely 450 yard downhill par 4 hitting into a valley that plays shorter than it's yardage - take a lot less club than you think for the approach to the green. The 18th is also an especially enjoyable finishing shortish par 4, again driving into a valley and where the approach to the correct tier on a 3 tier green is key to reducing the risk of a 3 putt. Some nice views to be had also from the higher parts of the course. The club house balcony is a lovely place to sit on a Summer afternoon after your round. Unfortunately pace of play can be slow here and the members are not good at playing faster groups through in my experience. The club has a relatively large membership which makes it very busy a lot of the time also. I would happily play it again (at a quiet time). I enjoyed the course and the club and it's definitely much better than most other more highly rated clubs in the winter as the chalk based turf drains so well. It has a good argument for being in the race for the title of best course in Winchester although Hockley and South Winchester have their strong points also.