Rye Golf Club, England

By: Colin Callander

It’s commonly accepted that it was Philadelphia radio disc jockey Jerry Blavat who invented the phrase “a blast from the past.” Blavat is said to have used it when he played a golden oldie during his broadcasts, but it is a phrase that springs to mind when visiting Rye Golf Club, which sits on the outskirts of a picturesque little town of the same name in East Sussex, England.

With its medieval castle and cobblestone streets, Rye is delightfully old-fashioned and so is its traditional links course. Rye counts former British Prime Ministers David Lloyd George, A.J. Balfour, and Winston Churchill, as well as the doyen of British golf writers, Bernard Darwin, among its former members and little has changed since those four were in their prime.

“The two great features of golf at Rye are the uniformly fiendish behavior of the wind and the fascinating variety of stances,” Darwin wrote. “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.

“Surely, there can nowhere be anything appreciably better than the golf to be had at this truly divine spot.”

Rye’s fine links, set on rolling terrain, was first laid out by Harry Colt, who at the time was a lawyer but was soon to become one of the world’s most respected course architects. Subsequently, both Tom Simpson and Sir Guy Campbell have made sympathetic alterations but today it remains much the same as it was before the hiatus caused by World War II, when the course was littered with mines, barbed wire, and concrete fortifications, and its clubhouse was almost destroyed by one of the last of the flying bombs.

Several things set Rye apart from all but the best British links, and the first of those is that it provides a stringent test even when the wind is not howling. The course is not long at just over 6,300 yards. It has only one par five, the 1st, plus five par threes and 12 par fours, but the par of 68 is an extremely elusive target.

One of the reasons for this is the test provided by the par threes. It is sometimes said the stiffest challenges at Rye are the second shots to the short holes and that is certainly the case if you happen to miss the small and well-guarded greens. Most are raised and surrounded by trouble. The 7th hole, its elusive target menaced by deep bunkers, is the pick of the bunch but the 2nd and 14th are almost as difficult.

Rye is also blessed with some of the purest fescue greens found anywhere in the British Isles, and they are renowned for putting almost as well in the winter as they do in the
summer months.

That is probably just as well because each January around 200 former Oxford and Cambridge University graduates make the pilgrimage to Rye and willingly endure biting winds
and freezing temperatures for the privilege of playing in the President’s Putter tournament run by the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society.

Some see these hardy souls as the ultimate eccentrics, but the competitors themselves know better. They simply wrap up warmly, well aware of how much fun Rye can be, whatever the weather happens to throw at them.