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.
Date: August 28, 2019