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Is Rye Old the UK’s best par sub-70 golf course? If so, it would likely make it the best sub-70 golf course in the world. There are several others in the United Kingdom to consider: Swinley Forest, St. Enodoc Church, Royal St. Davids, West Sussex, The Addington, New Zealand, and Aldeburgh. I have yet to play West Sussex, The Addington and Aldeburgh. I have St. Enodoc Church as the best but it is a difficult decision between Swinley Forest and Rye Old.
The best holes at Rye are better than the best holes at Swinley Forest yet the weak holes at Rye are weaker than Swinley Forest. Swinley Forest is more consistent and might have the slightly better greens. Although the routing through the terrain changes at Swinley Forest are excellent, the land movements at Rye Old are more striking. At Rye, one feels like they are often battling the elements of links golf due to the wind whereas at Swinley Forest it can be so quiet and still one feels as if they are playing a game of golf on their own in an arboretum. A final difference is that Rye Old has more challenge due to the slightly longer length of its par 4’s while the two par 5’s at Swinley Forest are relatively easy golf holes.
The net of this is that I have Rye Old just slightly above Swinley Forest due to Rye demanding slightly more commitment to both the choice of club and the required shot. They are very close in my ranking even though the courses are very different other than they share a common trait of excellent greens and green complexes. Both courses take full advantage of the terrain with brilliant routings. I find the par 3’s a bit more memorable at Swinley Forest mainly because of the beauty of the setting in addition to the quality of the holes. This comment does not mean that the par 3’s are better at Swinley Forest; it is that I could stand on any of the par 3 tees at Swinley Forest and look at the hole for quite a while before playing them. I find the par 4’s and 5’s more interesting at Rye Old. My ranking is based on playing Rye only once whereas at Swinley Forest we played it twice the same day. While New Zealand and Royal St. Davids are very fine golf courses, for me there is a noticeable gap in consistency of good golf holes at these two courses in areas such as variety of required shots, bunkering and the greens.
My recommendation is to settle this debate with more golf at all of them followed by some good conversation over a post-round beverage on either’s one patio. It is one of the better debates in golf as there is no wrong answer. For me, I cannot wait to play the The Addington, Aldeburgh, and West Sussex.
We had a beautiful, warm sunny day in mid-July, 2018 when we played Rye, the first design by a young Harry Colt. We played the back tees of 6503 after asking if it was fine as we were visitors. It was windy at the start of the round with the wind disappearing on the tenth only to come back on the sixteenth.
Rye Old reminds me of Burnham and Berrow’s Championship course in that many people have worked on the course over the years to improve it to the fabulous courses that they are today. In Rye’s case some of the changes were forced on it due to the building of the road to Camber. The opening nine holes at Rye Old is about as good as golf can get. The back nine is slightly more uneven as the first three holes are weaker.
There are five par 3’s at Rye. One can take their pick as to which one is the best. The par 3’s are holes:
2- 181, 5 – 174, 7-158, 14-185 and 17 – 243
I favored the fifth as my favorite par 3 followed by the fourteenth which I think gets overlooked, then the seventh, seventeenth and the second. The second hole lacks visual definition as it feels very wide open despite the six bunkers framing the green. I loved the setting for the fifth as well as the shape and the size of the green. It is a splendid feeling being on the fifth tee and contemplating the required shot over the hollow in those dunes knowing if one comes up short or goes right you are likely left with a blind recovery shot. Many favor the seventh which is a wonderful short par 3 but plays slightly longer to the elevated green with two bunkers to avoid but I found the setting not quite as interesting as the fifth and fourteenth. You must hit beyond the front of the seventh green or it will roll back down the steep hill. The fourteenth is set at the bottom of the ridge line and has four bunkers expertly placed for those to consider if they are trying to run their ball onto the green as well as trying to bring a ball in from the left. The ryebrow on the right I recall as the longest one on the course, resembling a 35 feet long snake. The seventeenth’s length is the primary obstacle although the green complex is very good due to the two bunkers on the left. On many courses either of the five par 3’s would likely be the best par 3 on the course.
As for the famous Ryebows, I do not know (I am certain others do) whether they were placed there for stability purposes to prevent the shifting of dunes or added for defense purposes. They are unique but I did not feel they added much in terms of being a hindrance. I suppose a ball could end up close enough to them to create a tough or unplayable shot, but it would be truly rare to not have enough room to slide a wedge under them to get back to the green.
The fourth hole, a par 4 of 442 yards placed at the top of the ridge, with a bit of shelter from the higher dunes on the left side, is one of the finest holes I have ever played. I made par here and consider it to be on of my all-time highlights in golf so magnificent is the golf hole. It offers everything one could ever want in terms of looks, taking advantage of the terrain to create drama. It has superior defenses both left and right for the tee shot as well as the nearer the green. The highest point of the dunes on the left is preceded by a deep valley. Anywhere left is likely a punch out back to the fairway. If one misses the fairway to the right then they are likely down the hill with a blind recovery shot out of heavy grass. The fourth has a wonderful pitched green back to front with fall-offs steeply right and behind it. If there is a definition of a perfect golf hole for the average player, then this hole is it. It has no bunkers nor does it need it given the defenses posed by the land itself. There is room to lengthen the hole another 30 yards for the longer hitters but I think the hole is perfect as it is.
The contrasts at Rye are terrific. Compare the longer par 4 fourth hole to the short ninth hole, a par 4 of 300 yards. The ninth plays from an elevated tee to a hole bending to the right with a ridge line on the right that actually does not play too difficult yet one tries to avoid it and risks going into three bunkers on the left. Driving the ball straight at the green brings a series of deep swales/valleys and ripples fronting the long and narrow green. The green tilts to the left a bit but for those trying to play to the right side there are two deep bunkers awaiting them. These two bunkers are at the one-third and two-thirds sections of the green. There are fall-offs front and left at the green. It is a marvelous short par 4 where a par should almost always be a given, but often is not if one finds any trouble.
Adding to the contrasts are two par 4’s with blind shots at the sixth and the second shot on the thirteenth. The sixth is a long par 4 of 468 yards with a blind tee shot playing over a marker post that is angled to one’s right. The reward for hitting a good drive is a long second shot to a terrific green complex with four bunkers fronting the green starting about 30 yards out. There is a small gap between these bunkers for those trying to run a ball onto the green. The hidden green on the thirteen thankfully has no bunkers. It is a quirky hole with length at 433 yards but it certainly fits in well with the rest of the golf course as it takes full advantage of the terrain to increase the challenge of trusting one’s swing.
The beginning at Rye Old is a short par 5 with a fairway wider than it looks. As it is the first shot of the round and the road is on the left and dunes on the right, the fairway can look much tighter especially if the wind is in your face. It is only 482 yards and the yellow tees are only 457 yards with no bunkers but if one does not find the fairway and draws a bad lie, a bogey or worse is possible. Should the club ever change this to a par 4 then Rye Old would certainly be the world’s best par 67 golf course.
I liked the third hole, the last hole before one plays on or along the ridge line. The fairway has a single bunker with a nice gentle rise in it eventually ending at a large, slightly raised green. At 432 yards it is not an easy par 4, but anything above a bogey should be unlikely.
The eighth is another longer par 4 at 444 yards and is rated the third hardest on the front nine. This dogleg right is a splendid hole with the ridge line on the right coming into play. For the length of the hole and the look from the tee, one can get a feeling of being inadequate for the challenge of the hole.
Walking past the clubhouse through the car park one arrives at the tenth hole with the road to Camber on the right. Although it is a dogleg right, thankfully the fairway is positioned to have one hit away from the road even if the straighter line is parallel to the busy road. While the tee shot is fun, the rest of this long par 4 is uninteresting as one realizes they are leaving the dunes.
I did not care for the eleventh. One almost wishes the club would figure out a different routing to eliminate the pond on the right. I hit the bank and went into the pond but that is not why I did not like the hole. Being out of those remarkable holes in the dunes from 4-9 is a letdown, but having this body of water is disappointing as is the length of the hole at only 322 yards. I felt uninspired on the tee of this hole. Although the green is placed at a really nice location it did not make me think differently of the hole.
Since I had played the first ten holes well, and felt I had blown my round on the eleventh, I decided to blow my score even more on the twelfth, which is a longer par 4 of 457. After waiting a bit for a series of cars, I hit way right into the tall grass, could not get out and had my second consecutive double. Despite my score I did like the hole due to the excellent bunkering throughout. It has seven well-placed bunkers. It is not in the class of the holes on the front nine because it is a flat hole, but put this hole on almost any other course and it would be both memorable and fit right in. I almost felt as if this hole should have been on Muirfield.
From fourteen on in Rye Old returns to the glory of the front nine.
I previously discussed the wonderful par 3 fourteenth and the par 3 seventeenth. Fifteen and sixteen are long par 4’s of 464 and 434 yards. Both fairways have mounds, swales and ripples throughout making it difficult to find a level stance on holes where one is hitting to relatively small greens for the length of the hole. The fifteenth’s ripples are more pronounced. The fifteen bends slightly right while the sixteenth bends to the left. Each hole has two bunkers. The sixteenth’s fairway bunker on the left requires a long drive to clear it for those attempting to shorten the hole. The sixteenth green might be the most undulated one on the course.
The eighteenth is a fitting end to a wonderful golf course. It is a longer par 4 of 437 yards playing from an elevated tee to another rippling fairway. It is a slight dogleg right with a green sitting up on the same rise as the nearby clubhouse. The back side of the green has a fall off if one is too bold. It has a nicely sloped green. It is an excellent golf hole on its own even if it were not the final hole.
Rye Old is a golf course that on a calm day the average index player would have a chance to break 80 but it is not a guarantee given the sss of 72/71/69. On a windy day one should not even care about a score, but instead enjoy it for everything the course has on offer. It has splendid par 3’s. It has a great variety of short and long par 4’s. It has variation in holes on top of the dunes, along the ridges or on flat ground. It does have a couple holes that do not quite fit which is why it is unlikely to ever be a top 50 golf course in the world unless the club decides to change the routing once again. I am sure they could and the course would move up a few spots.
Rye Old is a golf course I could play for a week and never tire of it due to the excellence of the greens, the challenges and the loveliness of the setting. It is near perfection to finish a round, sit on the terrace, and recall the holes.
Rye was Harry Colt’s first design but due to the original course being played over the busy road to Camber Sands, today’s routing is very different from when he first designed the course. Rye is also as much famous for the off course experience as the links itself. It has a reputation for being private, stuffy and traditional, all of which are true to a large degree, but once you’ve been granted access to step foot on site, the experience is first class.
Golf is played in foursomes or two-balls with a good pace of play being a prerequisite to a round at Rye. The course itself is excellent albeit wacky and unconventional in the way I often hope a traditional links will be. You’ll find yourself playing a few blind shots, there’s a traffic light “go/no go” system on the 6th tee, bunker rakes are inserted into housings to stand vertically on end whilst small wooden struts have been constructed to guard against the ground game approach into some of the greens.
As others have mentioned, the course is defined by the long dune that runs through the centre of the course like a spine and its around this dune that the most interesting holes are played. Two blind par fours play over that centre ridge, the 6th with its traffic light safety system where the tee shot is played over the dune, and the other an Alps-style hole on the 13th where this time it’s the approach shot into the green that is played blind.
The spell between 4 and 7 is the highest quality run of holes at Rye. Following a relatively gentle opening three holes, you climb the dune where this long par four is unusually played along the back of the ridge. Miss left or right and you’re faced with a perilous shot back to either the fairway or the green where your stance will no doubt leave you off-balance. 5 is a gorgeous short par three over a large crater-like hollow to a funky green complex, before the blind par four 6th and delicious par three 7th with its green embedded into the dunes combined with dangerous run-offs on all sides complete this splendid stretch of holes. The driveable 9th with its wonderfully rippled fairway is then another fine hole that returns you back to the clubhouse.
I have to admit that the start of the back nine felt a little out of place, 11 particularly. I didn’t personally find driving your ball over a small lake decorated with a water fountain in the slightest way agreeable for an old links such as this. If redesigned today, I’m sure the land from the Jubilee course would have been used instead; on which point, whilst I didn’t get the opportunity to play Rye’s second course, there are one or two great looking holes out there too.
Of the back nine, other than 13, the holes at 16 and 18 would probably be the standouts. Both are tough par fours where avoiding a dropped shot should be celebrated. The 16th has a delightfully bumpy fairway where a menacing bunker set into the bank stares directly at you as you hit your drive, the green on this hole is also tremendous. The 18th on the other hand is a fierce test at 439 yards. It plays over a rise and twists around the clubhouse. That building must surely receive some heavy punishment from wayward shots? Take note that the experience is only partly completed when you shake hands on the 18th. Enjoy a drink on the terrace post round, then shower and change into a jacket and tie to enjoy the marvellous history on display and excellent food on offer within the clubhouse.
For the general golfing public, Rye might be one of the more off-limits links courses in this country, but if you’re lucky enough to get an invite then don’t turn down the opportunity. Rye may have its oddities and inconsistencies, but it’s a delightful day spent with some golf holes to savour.
I’ve had Rye on my hit list for some time now and got the opportunity to play the course the other day. The opening three holes are rather pedestrian, with out of bounds to the left of every fairway as they head away, one after another, from the clubhouse.
I did love the low-lying wooden shuttering along the side of the green at #2 and #3 (repeated later in the round at #14). I don’t think that they’re anything other than decorative (and they do prohibit recovery shots along the deck) but they’re lovely little peripheral greenside items.
There’s great use made of the ridges running through the course and, truth be told, the real strength of Rye lies in the way the holes are routed alongside, on top of, or across these sandy stretches that run the full length of the property.
The best holes (by far) for me on the outward half were the very strong par four 6th – complete with traffic lights on the blind tee box – and the slightly downhill par three that immediately follows. The par four ninth is also a terrific short par four, rising up gently towards the clubhouse.
Once you get over the shock of hitting across a rather large pond on the 11h, you’ll find that the inward half is highlighted by three terrific holes at 13, 14 and 15 – and the first of these is probably the best on the card, played blind over one of the elongated dune ridges to a green on the other side.
Some might question Rye’s modus operandi in the 21st century but fair play to them for cocking a snook at the modern world, continuing to do things exactly as they’ve always done in their own time-honoured way. Looking ahead, I really don’t think there’s much of a future for GolfSixes here…
Many things have been written about Rye and I like and respect all of the traditions that many now moan about.
Rye is a very special enclave AND a very good course too.
Would lobpve to play it again and would love to somehow play the hole back along the "spine" well (the 4th I think it is).
Great course and great golf history and tradition.
When one rates a facility through a one-time visit you are limited to the situation you faced that time. What the weather was like that day. Was the wind blowing from the prevailing side or was it different? What were the turf conditions like -- did the course play optimally fast or was it overly spongy? Where were the pin placements located? Given all that -- my visit to Rye was one I was looking forward to for quite some time.
I had read much on the club and clearly its pedigree in golf circles is well respected. Plenty of people have weighed in with the eccentricities and idiosyncratic nature of the club. These items, for me, are more sideshow than main event. An analogy, I don't go to the movies to eat the popcorn. It's the same philosophy I take with golf courses. The primary emphasis is the holes -- number 1 through 18. The rest is merely a contributory element but in no way is it the primary area for my attention.
On my visit I had a mixed bag of weather -- some clouds, a little sun and a splash of raindrops all within the cumulative round.
The wind was clearly a factor -- 2-3 clubs consistently. The wind was blowing in a steady direction -- off the Channel and across the line of play on all of the holes with 1-2 exceptions.
The opening trio of holes at Rye is rather vanilla. Frankly, if a club is going to have just one par-5 I was hoping it would be a hole in the same caliber of the top tier holes found at Rye. It is not. The challenge is rather pedestrian. No doubt there will be those who will assert the 1st provides the lone really good birdie opportunity against the slew of holes to follow. I have no issue with a birdie opportunity hole -- just provide a bit more architectural heft in its overall presentation. As an example, the 17th at Wannamoisett in Rhode Island also features just one par-5 hole. However, it comes at the 17th and clearly has a major impact on settling matches coming to a conclusion.
The 2nd and 3rd are sufficient for what they offer but neither really stands apart as being compelling architecturally. They are not bad holes per se, just not standouts.
The round at Rye really commences at the 4th. In many ways Rye is similar to another course that starts in much the same manner -- Bethpage State Park's Black Course. The Long Island-based layout really jumpstarts matters when you arrive at the awesome looking par-5 4th. At Rye, the 4th is truly a riveting hole. You play in the opposite direction from the first three and the hole is situated on the top of a ridge line. Hitting the fairway is an absolute must -- those wishing to achieve the best angle playing down the right side -- albeit fraught with demands -- can provide the ideal line to the putting surface. Candidly, I am quite puzzled that the preceding 3rd hole is cited as the 3 handicap hole and the 4th as the 7th. In my mind, the designation should have been flipped.
Beyond the 2nd hole, Rye is blessed with four other par-3 holes that are quite special. At the par-3 5th, which plays 171 yards from the metal tees, the green is elusive to all but the most skillful of plays. Given the location of the teeing area -- the exposure to the wind is clearly an issue. The green appears like a rumpled piece of paper with all sorts of devilish fall-offs. Challenging a tight pin when pushed to the far corners is one any golfer attempt with great peril awaiting.
The 6th and 7th continue the flow and are both solid holes. The former a long par-4 that requires a solid tee shot. Fortunately, when I played it the wind was from the right and slightly helping. At the latter the par-3 is a quality hole. Not as fiendish as the 5th but not one to suffer fools gladly.
The stretch of holes from number 8 through the short par-4 11th is a bit of a letdown. The momentum encountered with the previous four drops slightly. More so with the short par-4's at the 9th and 11th holes respectively. It's ironic that a course with so many par-4's the inclusion of a world class short par-4 is simply not on the menu here.
Once you reach the par-4 12th the run back to the clubhouse is simply first rate. The rightly celebrated par-4 13th is one of golf's finest holes. You need to hit the fairway to have any opportunity in reaching the green in the regulation stroke. The blind shot is one that tests the wherewithal of the player to marry proper distance, line and trajectory. Make a four there and you are certain to be commended.
But, even with success at #13 -- the finishing five holes are akin to battling Darth Vader with a light sabre. You cannot flinch -- you cannot make half-hearted executions. The par-3 17th is the last of the par-3 holes -- its length is a challenge but the architectural inclusions are a step down from the other short holes played.
The concluding hole ends the day with one final stern test. The diagonal nature as you ascend the ridge makes for a tough driving hole. Played with a controlled fade for right-handers is essential. Anything hit with the slightest tug or hook can mean serious pain on the scorecard. The approach is no less stellar. The putting surface immediately near the low level clubhouse truly caps the day.
Rye is one of those few layouts that requires a number of rounds to really digest all the key ingredients of what it provides. My solo round gave me the tip of the iceberg and likely my comments might face an adjustment on all sides with a return to see if my first impressions were spot on.
The most pressing element I found at Rye is the need for top tier driving. So many courses today allow for loose shots off the tee. Not at Rye. If one cannot consistently hit your driver for both length and accuracy you will be exposed and suffer the consequences.
I can't give the course a six-star rating. There are some deficiencies which I illuminated earlier. But there's no doubt that among the courses I have played in England or the UK for that matter -- Rye is one to have on your agenda. When you think you've reached a high caliber of play -- head to Rye. In under four hours - the club won't tolerate slow play -- you'll find out if what you thought was true is actually that.
by M. James Ward
What a wonderful surprise! Having played 19 out of the top 20 courses in the British Isles I believe Rye definitely should be among them. Even though the course is a private one the Secretary was very nice and available in offering us a tee time on a Saturday afternoon. The weather was perfect with a sunny warm and windy day. Even though my score has been pretty poor the experience was great, with some really magnificent holes I won't forget. Several holes are affected by huge mounds where you have to play typical llinks blind shots. Don't miss the experience if you are in the area!
After three straightaway holes at the foot of a large dune ridge – the first being the only par five on the course, the short second the pick of this opening trio and the third the first of many stellar par fours - holes four, five, six and seven highlight the very best of Rye.
The fourth is as good as it is uncomfortable to play but I mean that in a good way. The central ridge that runs through the spine of the course is tackled along the top here with a terrifying drive to a hogs-back fairway – severe chasms at both sides - before a daunting approach to a tilted green.
The fifth is a continuation of this vertigo inducing golf but comes in the form of a one-shotter played 171 yards to a sloping green with a severe embankment to the left. At the sixth you must drive diagonally over the dune ridge and hope for a little draw on your ball to eke out some extra distance at this magnificent hole that calls for an exact approach which must negotiate some ferocious sand traps.
Finally the 7th, perhaps the most famous hole at Rye, is a devilish par three which falls away on all sides and certainly makes good on the notion that the hardest shots at Rye are the second shots into the short holes!
After a sequence of four holes, none of which really float my boat with perhaps the exception of the just about driveable ninth, things pick up again with five of the final six holes exceptionally strong. The 13th may not be regarded as the best hole in this exciting run for home but it is certainly the most unusual, quirky and memorable. This time you switch from one side of the dominant dune ridge to the other with your blind approach shot! Aligning the two marker posts will give you an indication of the line but until you mount the rise and see your ball either on our close to the green you are never sure.
Hole 14 is yet another good short hole with a particularly narrow green, tapering towards the rear, whilst 15 and 16 are two more exceptional par fours; the approach to the former and the drive, to a raised skyline fairway, at the latter being the highlights.
Before you play the magnificent and demanding 18th the long par-three 17th – the weakest hole in the final third – contrasts to the other short holes and although the tee-shot is uninspiring the green complex is superb.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Loved the Rye experience, including wearing a tie and jacket for lunch ! The course is very, very good. I cannot recall any weak holes (which is unusual as most courses, even much lauded courses have them even if it is only 1 or 2). Standout holes for me were 6, 9, 12, 13 & 18. Please make the effort to contact the Club to request a tee time. I received a positive response in very short order when I enquired and everyone at the club both inside and outside of the clubhouse were very welcoming to me on the day.
Played 36 holes, first round on the tough Jubilee Course and then the Old course. My learnings from the day include:-
1. Take up the offer of hitting a few warm up balls. Even on the “relief” course, it is a tough opening hole. In fact no easy holes throughout the whole club.
2. Take plenty of balls or leave driver in car.
3. Play at another time of year as rough is incredible.
4. Take two caddies and put them 200yards away, 15 metres into the rough.
5. If a 4 hcp from Long Reef in Sydney ever plays a 4 hcp from Rye put your money on Rye.
On medal days, if the wind is up I doubt anyone would finish their round on this course as it was set up today, 25 June. I did not get to walk too many fairways as I was trudging through the rough hoping to find a ball, any ball. Expecting to ease into it by playing the Jubilee first I left it a broken man. Simply put, even on this course, you cannot find your ball. It does not lighten up on the Old course either. As mentioned below a great course for match play, where triple bogeys will often win the hole.
The course is very good. The fairways tight but not pristine, a little rough but even enough, a few mushrooms scattered around but the greens were very good. There are a couple dune ridges running throughout the course and they provide some drama and great looking holes. Unfortunately the dunes don’t really frame both sides of too many holes so it’s not like a Cruden Bay or Royal Aberdeen experience and as a result it is a solid 5 baller.
I was well received by the staff but at 175 pds for golf alone it is not a cheap day out. Cheaper if you play foursomes but I did not have that option available to me. On this day the sun was out, the wind was around 20mph going across most holes and there were very few people on the course which is almost a permanent feature of my experiences playing links golf. Warren from Australia.
I could start off by stating the obvious: the 1st Colt course, the membership, the lunch…but that is not what the golf course is all about. This course is the epitome of match play golf. You won’t find a course better suited for the format. That’s why the members play foursomes only, 36 holes a day. Understand that each hole is fantastic, but Rye is not just a pretty course. Rye IS links golf in all of its intricacies (the weather, the wind, the putting from 50meters out etc.). I have no idea why it is ranked where it is, as in my mind, if I could play one match play round in England it would be at Rye. My answer would be different, though for medal play. Also, if you are making a day of Rye, you should start the day with 9 holes on the Jubilee, which is well worth it, certainly have lunch, and then play the 18 holes…I was forgetting try the showers! And just for the fun of it, have a drink in the armchair which once belonged to Charles Darwin.