Royal Worlington & Newmarket Golf Club possibly has the finest nine-hole golf course in the world. It was certainly an incredible achievement to fit nine holes onto such a tiny piece of sandy ground and it was the first nine-hole course to be voted onto a Britain & Ireland Top 100 list.
This is a classical golf course, often referred to as Mildenhall and it’s the home of golf for undergraduates at Cambridge University. The turf has all the qualities of a seaside links, free draining and springy. Bernard Darwin loved Worlington and in his book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, he wrote: “Worlington is not unlike Frilford in appearance, being extremely solitary, flat and sandy, and dotted here and there with fir trees. There are only nine holes, but of these several are really excellent, and none can fairly be said to be dull.” We agree, it is an engaging little course, but make sure you bring your best putting game – the greens are the highlight.
Tom Dunn, who laid out the course in the early 1890s, reputedly said: “God meant this land to be a golf course”. Some thirty years later, Harry Colt lengthened it and little has changed since. Jo Floyd holds the course record. In September 1949, he went round nine holes in an incredible 28 stokes. He holed his second shot at the opening par five for an albatross two; this obviously put a spring in his step for the rest of the round.
Three and four-ball play is not allowed at Worlington, foursomes and twosomes are the order of the day. Whatever you do, do not let this traditional approach put you off playing this historic nine-hole course; it offers the ideal golf day, especially if you can safely negotiate the infamous short 5th hole.
“One may reach the green with a pitch from the tee,” wrote Darwin, “but what a difficult pitch it is. The green is something in the shape of a hog’s back; immediately on the left of it is a stagnant pool of water, and on the right is a stream, complicated by overhanging willows. To reach the green is one distinct feat; to hole out in two putts, when one has got there, is another.” The stagnant pool has long since gone, there is a grassy hollow there instead, but it’s still one of the toughest bunker-less par threes in the land.
My sister lived in Worlington for many years and I have travelled up and down the undulating lane that borders the course a thousand times, always looking longingly across this highly attractive piece of hallowed golfing real estate. It was only in 2021 (years after she had moved away from the area), that I actually got to play the course for the first time. It was most definitely worth the wait.
The clubhouse and surrounds are classy yet understated and you can feel the history swirling around the relatively small area that encapsulates the clubhouse, final green and modest practice putting area. Long associated with royalty and academia, many of the greatest minds and leaders have spent time on these sandy fairways and you can feel their presence as you enter the fray for the first time.
This iconic and well reputed ‘sacred’ nine hole layout (a term coined by Bernard Darwin no less), has many appealing features, but for me will be remembered for one thing in particular; the green sites. In their size, subtly and sometimes sheer outrageousness, these putting surfaces are both enthralling and maddening and would need to be studied for a lifetime and still most likely, never be fully understood. When we played, they were in relatively friendly condition in terms of their length and speed. It must be a daunting prospect seeing them in their ceremonial dress.
Brave contouring, deceptive drop offs and intimidating sight lines mean that if you let it, the course can have you beaten before you even commit to hitting your approach shot. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the 5th tee, a par 3 with one of the most intimidating greens I have ever witnessed. The raised saddle of a surface looks like it may be allergic to golf balls, such is it’s clear dislike for welcoming them, even though it is relatively large in size. Viewed on the scorecard, the hole should be simple measuring a mere 155 yards but in short, no miss is good. The slope to the right repels balls toward the out of bound markers while the drop off to the left leads to the ball collecting in a cavernous shaved run off area where all bets are off in terms of salvaging a score. A more cowardly approach would be to hit one or two clubs less and take your chances with a chip and putt from the front apron. Any way you can manage it, take a par and run if you are lucky enough to register one.
The final two holes are the only ones that have been significantly altered since the layout was first conceived (suggestions were proffered by Harry Colt in the 20’s). The result is a testing finish that applies pressure to your long game right at the critical moment. There is no doubt the 8th is the strongest hole on the course all things considered and it had the affect of turning my very pleasing 18 hole scorecard (2 loops) into a distinctly average one. Colt lengthened this hole and it is this length combined with the green side defences, particularly on the left side that can bring a simmering round to a grinding halt.
Our experience here was one of peaceful solitude, admiring multi-hole encompassing glances and engaging golf from beginning to end. No shot here is boring and I’m sure no two rounds here are the same. I for one am a subscriber to the view that this is as good a nine hole course as there could ever be. In aesthetics, atmospherics and what it provides in sheer golfing joy, this course has just about everything for me.
RW&N has intrigued me almost more than any other course on my Top 100 journey so far. I was keen to play a course that has seemed to divide opinion, a course that Bernard Darwin christened “The Sacred Nine” and a course that is generally regarded as the World’s Best Nine Hole.
RW&N is a club that is worth turning up early for your round. The walls of the quaint clubhouse is adorned with history and if you’re brave enough, enjoy the Club’s famous Pink Jug, a mix of Pimms, Brandy, Champagne, Grenadine, Chopped Lemon and Ice…possibly best left to post-round.
The course has an inland Links look to it, with holes beautifully shaped by brown fescue. The land is flat and quite how they have managed to fit nine holes into this relatively small plot of land is remarkable and a testament to incredible routing. Holes intertwine seamlessly, with tee shots taken over preceding greens and a double fairway used to utilise space. Despite this, I never felt that the holes sat on top of each other with the rough, clever bunkering and fescue creating the illusion of space between each hole.
The greensites throughout are also special. Run off areas and excellent bunkering protect contouring greens and two putts are by no means a guarantee. This is amplified by the excellent short Par 3 5th, that requires a wedge or short iron into the green, with a premium on accuracy to find the right part of the wickedly contoured green and avoid a huge swell on the left and a creek on the right. It’s a superb short hole and one that deserves its accolades. There are no weak holes, in fact the only improvement I would suggest would be to expand the protection that splits the shared fairway of 4 and 6. You can be aggressive off the tee on 4, as a pulled tee shot still offers a straightforward GIR opportunity, but that is merely an observation.
This is a plotters course with a premium put on your short game. It’s scoreable if the thick rough can be avoided but it’s far from a push over. This is a course that shows what can be achieved with a small piece of land and superb design and is a standard bearer for all elite nine hole courses.
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The formidable Royal Worlington & Newmarket Golf Club (also known as The Sacred 9) is a must play for any golf course architecture nut.
I kept my expectations to a minimum after hearing mixed reviews, and can safely safe they were exceeded with distinction. The clubhouse is very small and old school, and the famous Pink Jug is a staple for a pre or post round lunch.
The course itself is tiny relatively flat and crammed into a small property. It's actually amazing that they fit all 9 holes into the land, a feat only made possible by the genius layout which involves tee shots over greens and double fairways.
Here's a quick rundown of the holes:
1 - A well bunkered par 5 that runs parallel to the main road, with an excellent green complex.
2 - A tough long par 3 to a severe raised green. The runoff left of the green that merges with the 3rd fairway is my favourite place on the course.
3 - You hit your tee shot directly over the 2nd green and a set of cross bunkers. A short par 4 where accuracy is a paramount.
4 - A short par 5 with a double fairway and centre line bunkers. Important to be aggressive off the tee, as if you bail out left you have no shot into the green. Great architecture.
5 - A tough par 3 to a crazy elevated green. Every score from 1-7 is in play.
6 - Probably the weakest hole. Shares the 4th fairway, and it is important to avoid the centre line bunkers
7 - A loverly, short par 3 to a generous green over a valley
8 - A great long par 4 with cross bunkers and a fun approach which should be ran up
9 - A nice short par 4 with a ditch up the right where our approach is played over the road
Whilst the well documented genius of RW&N is the routing, I also think it's worth noting how most holes are half-par holes (much like Sunningdale Old), meaning you will make some birdies and making it a great matchplay course. I would say the HP holes are 1, 2, 4, 6 and 9.
In summary, if you love golf architecture then you must play here, and if you don't then it is still worth a visit, even if it does nothing more than educate you.
There is a wonderful serenity to this golfing experience which is utterly compelling. Firstly, this is essentially a 1 or 2 ball course (I noticed some foursome pairings on the course when I played), which does wonders for speed of play and (obviously), limits the numbers on the course. As such, I played my first 9 in just over the hour and the second 9 just under the hour and a half mark - very refreshing. I enjoyed the view of the majority of holes from the first tee and, as with St Andrews Old and the magnificent Oitavos on the Lisbon coast, holes share fairways. In my view, there is one relatively ordinary hole (the 2nd), which is a long straightaway par 3, whose only feature is a severe slope on the green, which attracts balls landing 15 yards in from the fringe. Ok it makes the hole "strong" but the general blandness of the hole was out of character. The greens are sensational, again probably as a consequence of reduced traffic. "Less is more" is the theme regarding the bunkering however they are strategically placed. It seems incongruous to talk about money when discussing RW&N but the green fee is extremely good value. Despite its inclusion in another rankings list, it is some way off a top 100 GB&I course. Notwithstanding that, it is a memorable golfing experience and a course I could play over and over again and enjoy it without diminution of enjoyment.
Sincere apologies - the outstanding feature of RW&N is that it is a 9 hole course. In fact it is very highly ranked amongst the 9 hole course cohort
Champagne, benedictine, moussec, brandy, Pimms No 1, a few slices of lemon, a dash of soda water and serve with lots of ice. These are the ingredients that make up the infamous Pink Jug that can be ordered in the charming Royal Worlington clubhouse. This potent concoction isn’t equivalent to your standard post round ale, and the ingredients that create the course that graces this Suffolk countryside don’t conform with the norm either.
Bernard Darwin christened this The Sacred Nine whilst architect Tom Doak gave the course a rare score of nine out of ten in his Confidential Guide. Royal Worlington seems to have gained prestige amongst course architecture purists and golf writers alike. And in some ways rightly so. It’s a remarkable feat of design how they fit nine holes into this small pasture that also plays as the home to Cambridge University’s golf team. Shared fairways, tee shots across greens and some clever routing has allowed a nine holer to be constructed over a space where you wouldn’t think it possible. Combine this with the mounded greens with sharp fall-offs and sunken hollows and you can understand why course designers fall in love with this place.
My issue with Royal Worlington being so lauded though is that the plot of land is essentially no more than an open field. The land is distinctly average, and I can’t agree that a great course can be created purely on the basis of solid architecture alone. Aesthetics and land movement must also be a factor?
Onto specifics, and whilst criticism is sometimes thrown at the first for being a benign hole, I personally didn’t have much love for the second. I felt that at 200+ yards, the hole is just too long to be paired with such a severe green. That being said, the rumpled fairway on the lead up to the 3rd is beautifully reminiscent of a links, whilst the humped 5th green is genius, this time because the length of the shot is appropriate for a green of that shape and undulation. The course is full of ideas to create the most from the land, with back to back bunkers across the shared fairway on 4 and 6 and the public road that crosses the 9th helping create a memorable experience.
The green sites were a lot of fun to play, but I do need a golf course to provide more interest from outside of 50 yards, I also like to be stimulated from the tee. Different teeing grounds for the front and back nines might be a start. Admittedly, I only played 18 holes so I may have missed some of the course’s subtleties that the golf architecture enthusiasts opine after, but perhaps this is just an average bit of land with some interesting features? Maybe I’m wrong and it’s one of the world’s best as many educated golfing folk have testified; or maybe too many Pink Jugs were enjoyed during their visits and have clouded their judgement.
A combination of this course being on the top 100 list and the course description mentioning it as one of the best 9 holes layouts it left an itch I needed to scratch.
Living in Norfolk and considering myself quite knowledgeable about courses surrounding me, I was quite surprised that I hadn't heard of Royal Worlington before.
In all honestly I was disappointed. The first few holes show potential and I thought it would really blow me away for the last 6 or 7 holes. This wasn't the case as I really didn't enjoy the layout of the two holes that share fairways, it makes them incredibly easy to play and they weren't long holes anyway.
I found the condition of the course in May quite disappointing with fairways very patchy.
The reception we got there was fairly pleasant but we didn't really see anyone there later on a Sunday evening. A few positives to note about the course include the last hole, a moderately short par 4 with your second shot over the b road driving through the course, well placed bunkers and some lovely looking tall trees behind to separate the car park from the green. The other being the greens. Although under my expectation of a green for this time of year, they provided a great test being small and undulating.
I would consider giving this another go in the peak of summer to give it a second chance but outside of that I don't think i'd bother.
I had been looking to play Royal Worlington for a few years, having played most of the courses in East Anglia. As I was driving down the long straight road to the clubhouse, almost having my wing mirrors ripped off by a white van coming the other way, travelling in excess of 70 mph I wondered if the field to the right was a practice ground.
Initial impressions were very good, the professional was a wonderful host and all of the members we spoke to were very friendly and welcoming. The clubhouse is lovely with excellent facilities.
So to the course. It is clear that it polarises opinion. I am no novice to golf courses, having played a fair few of the top 100 in the UK. Not that it matters, I am a single figure handicapper. I must say I didn’t really ‘get’ Worlington at all. The huge green complexes, certainly the biggest greens in the area were very good and true. I personally (and it would appear this is a very individual appraisal) found the course to be rather uninspiring and rather oddly plotted.
The first hole is a medium length straight par 5 and had no real distinguishing features, looking not unlike the practice ground I thought it was on my way in.
The second hole is a very tough par three with a green that is huge but only a tiny proportion in play with a huge slope off to the left. This is one of the holes that I thought the design to be rather odd. You would have thought a par three over 200 yards would have a relatively simple green, saving the crazy slope off to the left for a shorter hole, but no.
The third is an average par four with trees on the right but a huge fairway to hit into. Par 5 fourth hole I thought to be the best of the lot, gettable in two but with a really interesting green, sloping front to back with a ditch at the back to take an overclubbed shot.
The next par three was nice enough but comparisons with great par threes of the world to me, was very surprising. The green itself is nicely constructed, but the lack of visual excitement was palpable in comparison with, say, Sawgrass or Pebble Beach.
I didn’t quite understand how the next, a very long par four seemed more out of reach in two than the previous par 5, albeit we had a southerly wind which may not have been prevailing. There followed a nondescript par three, par four and finally a fairly simple par four to finish, driving over a diagonal ditch then a wedge to a very nice green complex by the clubhouse.
Overall I got the impression of a course that seemed links like in nature, with little feature. But unlike links there was no wind / breathtaking view or intricately plotted ground feeding subtly into tactical bunkers.
I would say again, the day was made enjoyable by the very friendly club and members. A top 100 course though? Not really in my view.
Apologies, the delightful host was the secretary, not the professional, I am unable to correct my review.
The front 9 on this unassuming property near Mildenhall was enjoyable. It contained plenty of variety - half par holes, violent changes of direction, etc, but the most striking characteristic were the greens. Probably fair to say that they don’t make them like this anymore. At least they’re interesting. And I’m not sure any two were alike. I even managed 8 shots on the 5th hole.
Even more striking as the greens was the halfway house. I’ve never seen such an impressive array of facilities - you could have a sit down meal, a shower, and even buy some additional supplies in a little Pro shop there! It made the Turnberry Lighthouse feel like a bus stop.
Suitably refreshed, we made our way over to the 10th tee. At this moment two things happened. Firstly a fellow golfer came driving across the tee box as I was taking my stance, and continued moving towards us in an intimidating fashion as I, unerringly, launched one off the tee. Slightly bemused by this, but relieved at not being run over, all soon became clear. He suggested we’d pushed in: starting our round on the 10th, when his group of members had already played the front 9, meant they had right of way. I (politely?) stated that we’d also already played the diverse front 9, with his group consistently behind us all the way. I guess he was so engrossed in his own game that he failed to notice us up ahead. And some crazy fools say Golf has an image problem.
The second thing that happened on the 10th tee, was that I got this overwhelming sense of Deja Vu. After all that variety of the front 9, I now felt that the back 9 all felt a bit familiar. There was the same satisfying frozen ocean waves in the green on the 10th as at the 1st, and a comparable pushed up dome at the 11th as at the 2nd. The 12th also turned on a sixpence and fired back over the previous green. The 13th had the same rollercoaster ride from swale to fall away green. The 14th even had a treacherous green that fell away on both sides like an eroded pyramid. I scored a 3 this time, perhaps a little more cautious for my earlier experience. The penultimate hole on the back 9 was also a half par hole where we did well to reach the green in 3 shots. The closing hole even had a similarly pleasant view of (this time) the clubhouse and the nice risk/reward drive where you could attempt to get within 60 yards of the green if you fancied taking the Max Verstappen line again. When holding out on the 18th, part of me even wondered if we played the front 9 again by accident, but my playing partner assured me this wasn’t the case.
Royal Worlington & Newmarket was an interesting and challenging golfing - admittedly not a real verb - experience, and even though it didn’t contain the total variety I’d usually expect in an 18 hole course, I look forward to playing it again. It might not have the wow factor of some eye candy courses, but it has more than enough to hold your attention and test your game in ways other courses might not.
A historic nine-hole course set outside Cambridge, the course is inextricably linked to the university because their golf team plays there. H.S. Colt served as the first Captain of the Cambridge Golf team. Not everyone will appreciate Royal Worlington because the terrain is relatively flat and uninteresting, however, the course is a clinic in deception. Holes that should be relatively easy reach out and bite the golfer with difficult green complexes. In particular, precision is required to hit and hold the green surfaces. False fronts and swales protecting the putting surfaces ensure that the golfer will be hitting delicate wedge shots or putting from off the green all day. It is worth making the trek to Royal Worlington just to see the world famous and demanding fifth hole, one of only 154 yards with no bunkers. Many of the great writers (all Cambridge men) in the game have commented on the 5th hole. Herbert Warren Wind described the green as “exceedingly lean and falls away abruptly on both sides – on the right, to a stream, and, on the left, to a basin of thatch rough, twenty feet below the green, called Mug’s hole.” Henry Longhurst described it as “A diabolically narrow green sloping sharply away on both sides and the green itself like the dome of glass in a fairy tale.” Patric Dickinson describes the green as “pitching on a policemen’s helmet.” I can personally attest to the difficulty of the green having putted off of it! Bernard Darwin was accurate when he nicknamed the course the Sacred Nine. For those that appreciate golf history, the course is worth a visit. It is also fun to play the club’s preferred format of alternate shot. The Secretary and staff are very welcoming to visitors.
Royal Worlington and Newmarket is an extremely unique golf course and I was extremely curious into why a nine hole course had managed to sneak its way onto the top 100 golf courses in England. As a result of this I had to play the course and so it was a pit stop on my way back from Woodhall Spa. I wasn't expecting a lot to be honest and other people had told me that they weren't fans of the course but I can't understand why. From the first hole I knew that it was going to be a good course and I was correct. It excited me for 9 holes more than a few of the courses on the top 100 list did for 18 holes. If this was an 18 hole course and the back 9 was as strong as the front then it would be at least a 5 ball rating. However as there are only 9 great holes it is limited to a 4 ball rating.
The greens are fantastic and extremely undulating so will test out your short game to the full. The fairways and tees are clearly very well maintained and you may well be playing some very interesting shots out some of the hidden bunkers on the 4th/6th hole. The rough is grown out at Royal Worlington which I was a big fan of as it added great character to the course and made it a lot more interesting. If I lived close to this course I would totally be a member here as it would really be a lot of fun and it feels like a golfing playground. You can get really creative with your shots and I could spend ages practicing round some of the greens in the evening when its quiet. A true gem in England and it definitely lives up to its name of being one of the greatest nine hole courses in the world.