Rye (Old) - Sussex - England

Rye Golf Club,
Camber,
Rye,
East Sussex,
TN31 7QS,
England


  • +44 (0) 1797 225241

  • James Laidler

  • Harry Colt, Tom Simpson and Sir Guy Campbell

  • Michael Lee

“Rye - and there are surely few pleasanter places to get to,” wrote Bernard Darwin in The Golf Courses of the British Isles. “It looks singularly charming as the train comes sliding in on a long curve, with the sullen flat marshes on the left and the tall cliff on the right, while straight on in front are the red roofs of the town huddled round the old church. We have only a few yards to walk along a narrow little street; then we twist round to the right up a steep little hill and under the Land Gate and we are at the Dormy House, old and red and overgrown with creepers.”

So, we've arrived at Rye, but will we get a game? Well, Rye Golf Club is so very private that it is exceedingly difficult to secure a tee time. It is easier to get a game on the Old course at St Andrews. In Darwin's day, things were very different: “It is the ideal place for the golfer who is wearied out with a fortnight's fruitless balloting at St Andrews, which has resulted in his once drawing a time, and that at 12.30.” They say patience is a virtue, and all good things come to those that wait. So, if you've always wanted to play Rye, try writing to the Club Secretary. You never know your luck. Or, as James W. Finegan wrote in All Courses Great and Small: “...with the planets properly aligned, you may just find yourself on the 1st tee, under the warning eye of the clubhouse clock, ready to embark on the splendid adventure”. But wait a minute... the club has recently launched a new website and many say it is now easier to get a game.

Rye was founded in 1894. A 25-year-old Harry Colt laid out the course - surely one of the most impressive debut designs in history. Colt later became Rye's secretary. Today's layout bears the hallmark of Tom Simpson and Sir Guy Campbell, though the Second World War almost obliterated the links and a flying bomb almost destroyed the clubhouse. But, thanks to the faithful few, Rye rose up like a phoenix.

“The two great features of golf at Rye are the uniformly fiendish behaviour of the wind and the fascinating variety of the stances,” wrote Darwin. “The wind presumably blows no harder than it does anywhere else, but the holes are so contrived that the prevailing wind, which comes off the sea, is always blowing across us.” “If you suffer from a lack of balance,” wrote Patric Dickinson in A Round of Golf Courses, “this is not the course for you: it is seldom that you get a flat stance, this is one of Rye's real tests. The fairways nearly always undulate and you will find you must play a full shot from the side of a miniature down and one foot on a level with your nose.”

With a measly par of 68, and a course that measures over 6,300 yards, Rye has to be one of the toughest courses in Britain. The one and only par five hits us straight away and it comes too early in the round to take too much advantage. The five short holes are outstanding but brutal, with alarmingly elusive elevated greens. The remaining twelve par fours are there for the taking - well, three of them at least. Nine others, yes nine, measure more than 400 yards in length. Rye is a battleground and there are so many good holes that it is unwise to list any.

“Surely there can nowhere be anything appreciably better than the golf to be had at this truly divine spot,” concluded Darwin, in his article about Rye.

In 1956, following the death of his wife, Darwin moved into the Dormy House at Rye. On the 18th October 1961, in Filsham House Nursing Home at St Leonards, Hastings, Bernard Darwin died, aged 85. His leather armchair (bequeathed by Bernard's grandfather Charles) now rests close to the window of the men's bar at Rye Golf Club.

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Reviews for Rye (Old)

Av. Reviewers Score:
Description: Rye Golf Club was founded in 1894 and was the inaugural design of 25-year-old Harry Colt. With a measly par of 68, and a layout that measures over 6,300 yards, Rye has to be one of the toughest courses in Britain. Rating: 5.030303030303 out of 6

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!

August 27, 2017


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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.

June 19, 2017


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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.

April 21, 2017


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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.

June 28, 2016


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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.

April 27, 2016


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Rye was my first experience of a links golf course and it most certainly won't be the last! It was definitely the toughest eighteen holes I've played, but I came away smiling, marvelling at the design and wishing I could play again to fall into a few different tough spots.As others have said, with a bit of luck you can get a tee off time with far less hassle than I gather there was previously and it certainly helped that a former member was able to vouch for me. The forecast was nothing but sun and wind, with the indoor barometer reading 'moderate breeze'... Basically means 25mph plus! The first hole is a nice, straightforward par five that sums up half of Rye's holes - what you see is what you get. The first of the short holes follows before a brutish 437 yard par four. That opening stretch is Rye in a microcosm, with the danger (mostly) laid out before you and some intricate greens with wonderful run-off areas that really challenge your short game.There were obviously some standouts. The par three seventh is probably my favourite golf hole I've ever played - I came away with a four and was delighted. Danger all around with deep bunkers, moguls and an uneven green; I almost wanted to miss it in different places for the challenge! The short par four ninth was another great hole with the risk-reward element of being right in front of the clubhouse adding to the choices in front of you. The back nine was equally intriguing, and whilst the water on the 11th may have been slightly out of kilter with the rest of the course, it added another threat on a tough hole when playing right into the wind. The thirteenth, too, has been much-mentioned and it's another outstanding hole. The marker is in a ridiculous spot that doesn't help at all, but that just adds to the fun. Normally a hole like this would seem forced, but it fits right in. The fifteenth posed one of the toughest questions with a straight drive needed (with wind off the left!) to a fairway that moguls and bottlenecks quickly to make things even more difficult! I did find the seventeenth a let-down, and I just think it's too long. It's a great green with Rye's usual danger, but at 220 yards and in the middle of a lot of open space, you just can't tell. The final hole is again a toughie and my playing partner managed to find the wall of the clubhouse with his second. I fell foul of a massive drop off just right of the fairway and felt slightly cheated that my seemingly excellent tee shot had led to a 60 degree downhill stance with grass packed behind the ball. I made a six and still had a huge grin on my face - it's a great place to play and if you ever get the chance, go for it.
May 27, 2015


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MD
August 28, 2015
I can see how you would feel the marker is in a ridiculous spot for the approach shot at the 13th...the point is there are two marker posts and you are supposed to line them up to give the line to the hidden green. Omitting to notice the other post would definitely "not help at all" as you put it!
The only par five at Rye is the 1st hole. A straight drive is needed into a fairway which is somewhat wider than it first appears from the tee. The second is a good par three of 180 yards. The green has five bunkers at the sides and a bumpy ridge across the front. The 3rd is the first of nine par fours that are in excess of 400 yards in length.

Any of the five par threes at Rye can ruin your score. The 5th is a wonderful par three. You hit over a valley to a green on top of a flattened dune. Anything short or left will run back down a steep slope. The 6th, index 1, is a very difficult par four of 468 yards. The drive is blind over a marker post on top of a high ridge. Four bunkers are at the narrow entrance to the green.

The 12th tee is right beside wetlands with the Rye docks on your right. Once you have driven over the rough, the hole is fairly straight forward. Thirteen is anything but straight forward. This is a long par four with a ridge of high dunes blocking any view of the green. When playing your second shot, you need to be aware that the green is more to the left than you may have imagined.

Fifteen is a demanding par four with plenty of rough and bumps and hollows. The 16th entails a blind shot over a ridge. Seventeen is the longest par three at 222 yards but it is the least attractive. The hole is flat with the only bunkers at the left of the green. The 18th is a great finishing hole, tougher than its index of 8. The clubhouse clock is your line for the drive. Severe trouble awaits any ball off line, especially down the right.

This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every English course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
May 12, 2015


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Everything about Rye eschews the propensity for superfluous accoutrements found in various forms and enjoyed by other clubs. It is a knowingly understated, pure and simple golf club that presents you with a stiff challenge hole after hole. From the gravel Rye (Old) Golf Course - Photo by reviewercar park to the almost utilitarian clubhouse the palpable essence of Rye's mercurial charms is wonderfully alluring. It is a bastion of that rare ideal of ready Golf, to take more than three and a bit hours for a round here is unheard of. There are many great holes and the par fours are really very tough, The par threes are very enjoyable.Stray from the tight undulating turf and the dunes will have you hitting out sideways. I loved it as an experience. Conditions were perfect from tee to green. For me it was an enjoyable glimpse into an unfamiliar world, devoid of modern pretensions and emblematic of a steadfast refusal to acquiesce to the ubiquitous vulgarity and excess we take for granted in the modern world. JCB Lay
October 08, 2014


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I’d heard that a visit to Rye Golf Club was quite special and like stepping back in time and after having the honor of being invited I most certainly concur. We were very lucky and caught it on a perfectly sunny day with a light 2-3 club breeze. What a great experience. We started the day playing the first 3 holes straight into the wind which was quite a challenging start. The par 4, 4th hole plays on top of a dune ridge and rewards a tee shot staying as far right towards the edge of the ridge as you dare. The approach is also quite tricky. The 4th is a great little drop shot par 3 that’s really tough to judge in the wind and with the firmness of the greens.

One of my favorite parts of Rye Golf Club was the wonderful shaping of the greens. It of course helps that the course was in superb condition. I thought there was great mix of long and short par 4’s and pretty solid one shotters throughout. At a par of 68 you quickly learn that Rye is not a pushover by any means and on the back 9 you think back to the first hole and wonder why you didn’t take more advantage of the course’s only par 5. I understood that we played in opposite winds so a couple of the really long par 4’s were basically playing like par 5’s for us.

While I don’t remember the exact number of the hole on the back 9, maybe the par 4 13th, was really interesting, requiring a very long drive and then a blind approach over a dune to the green. Quite a rare and quirky set up but it works. A tough hole into the wind.

A day at Rye Golf Club is not complete without embracing club culture and sitting down to their traditional buffet lunch. Absolutely worth the recommendation! My only regret was not having time to go back out in the afternoon for another 18.
September 24, 2014


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This is the quirkiest club in the world where grown men relive their school-boy days and play golf in less than 3 hours. Foursomes (alternative shot) is the order of play at Rye. There are no tee times, but just like at school, everything starts at 9am. You’ll see a sign on the first tee reminding you that threesomes and foursomes have no standing and may only be played with the prior permission of the Secretary – who is the equivalent of a school principal. When the Secretary is present or gives direction, the members jump to his attention to avoid him calling their mothers to report bad behaviour. If a two-ball Rye (Old) Golf Course - Photo by reviewerplaying their own ball is identified on the course, this is met with the shock horror that the world is coming to an end. God forbid that golf takes more than 3 hours! Rye Golf Club has a rich history and the 18 holes has certainly evolved since Harry Colt laid it out over 120 years ago due to reclaimed land and sand dunes. Rye is Harry Colt’s first ever golf course. It was a dream come true to play here and see how Colt created a links golf course that doesn’t look anything like his iconic parkland courses which he subsequently designed throughout the UK. The traditions at Rye are wonderful and borderline comedic. You’ll see the members lining up in the dining room like school-boys to get their lunch, you’ll see members strolling around with flashy coloured trousers celebrating their glorious pomp, you’ll see people walking around the dining room with watering cans like nobody cares, you’ll see dogs asleep around the clubhouse – and you’ll certainly enjoy the basic amenities in the locker room and sitting room. My favourite story from Rye is that it’s not encouraged to be seen on the practice ground as you shouldn’t be seen to be working on your game. As expected, there wasn’t a single divot to be found on the driving range. Golf at Rye should come naturally to you. Just go with the flow, rewind the clock to the 19th century and soak up as much hilarity as you can.
June 19, 2014


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