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Mark_Rowlinson

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Royal Worlington photo tour
« on: May 19, 2011, 12:34:59 PM »
Royal Worlington and Newmarket has been the home of Cambridge University Golf Club for over a hundred years. It is popularly known as Mildenhall and is said by many to be the finest 9-hole course in the country (some would say the world).

The course was laid out over a tract of sandy soil in 1893 and has had very little alteration since then. As the club website points out it was designed to be played with the gutty ball and hickories, yet it is no less valid a test with modern equipment. Hardly a house, other than the modest clubhouse, can be seen from the course and there would clearly be room for a further nine holes. But these would not be on the same soil and would not have the same ‘inland links’ character of Darwin’s ‘Sacred Nine.’ The classic course description is by Patric Dickinson in his ‘A Round of Golf Courses.

As the club points out, there is a similarity with The Old Course in that it takes a number of rounds before the full subtlety of the place is appreciated. One who fell in love with it at first sight was my wife, Lavinia. We stopped by on our way home from Cambridge shortly before Easter.

‘There’s a ladies’ Stableford in the morning, so come around 1 o’clock,’ we were told by the secretary. He welcomed us personally, very warmly. We paid our green fee at the bar – literally a hole in the wall (which is a source of great amusement to many visitors) – and we had the course to ourselves. We saw one man tee off on the 1st as we came down the 8th, and a men’s foursome caught up with us on the 18th. There was nobody else out on the course. The weather was superb and the wildlife abundant. Millionaires’ golf!

Mildenhall is flat. There is not more than a few feet difference between its highest and lowest points. But that does not imply dullness. It is full of contour. It is very traditional in not allowing three- or four-ball play, a feature of many old East Anglian clubs. Play here is fast, aided by the compact layout. Its nine holes amount to 3,105 yards with a par of 35 (or, if you prefer, a bogey of 37).

Hole 1 486 yards par 5

A short, flat par 5 opens proceedings.



A cross bunker only just in front of the tee should not be a problem but there are plenty of bunkers hidden from view in depressions left of the fairway, while a minor public road bounds the right.



Bunkers lurk  throughout the length of the hole, some of them quite serious. Late in the day the fairway swings left towards the green.



A depression short of the green and a false front  complicate the approach shot.



The putting surface is far from level. These greens are beautifully firm and provide some of the finest winter putting surfaces in the land.

Hole 2 224 yards par 3



I cannot do justice to this hole with my inadequate photography. It is a very unforgiving hole. The small target is an inverted saucer and only the most precise shot to it will hold the green. It is possible to come to grief in bunkers on the left or on the road on the right. A weak shot will roll back off the putting surface while an overly strong shot will leave a testing pitch back.





Hole 3 361 yards par 4

You play this hole directly over the 2nd green from a tee immediately behind it.



Over the flagstick and over those bunkers….



….or that is what is supposed to happen.



This is the ideal spot for your tee shot. It is not that easy to find, for the fairway narrows as it bends left past damp, long grass in the hollow on the left and damper and longer grass in a bog on the right.



The gully crossing in front of the green affects many approach shots.



The putting surface is none too generous.

Hole 4 495 yards par 5

A walk through a woodland path leads to the 4th teeing ground.



A muntjac saunters in front of the tee, completely oblivious to the fact that I am a notorious ‘topper’ of the ball. The line is on that distant weeping willow, with a line of bunkers down the left shared with the 6th fairway. I do not know when fairway watering was introduced at Mildenhall. I was surprised to see it. But we have had a remarkably dry spring and there were no signs that watering was slowing the usual firm and fast conditions.



The approach to the green is made over a slight ridge.




It takes confidence to weight the shot correctly with the green running away from the shot down towards a stream and out of bounds. This is a hole that gets scarier the more you play it.

Hole 5 157 yards par 3

One of the great bunkerless short holes:



Again my photography is not up to the job. As at the 3rd the tee shot is played over the previous green.



The right side of the narrow putting surface is shaved. Land on that side and the ball takes off towards the stream which ran behind the 4th green.



Lavinia emerges from the chasm that threatens on the left of the green, having just played a miraculous recovery shot.



With several distinct areas joined by devious slopes, this is not a green on which to leave a long putt.

Hole 6 458 yards par 4

This a serious two-shot hole.



The drive is made almost over the previous green to a fairway ever narrowing between the line of conifers on the right and the bunkers on the left which are shared with the 4th fairway.



Those bunkers are barely visible from the tee. You just have to know where they are.



The right hand side of the fairway is not the place to be. Almost certainly the shot to the green is cut out, while bunkers eat into the fairway on the left as it curves right past the end of the trees.



Once again there is enough movement in the ground over the run in to test approach work properly.

Hole 7 165 yards par 3




The least appealing hole on the course, visually, but it is wide open to the wind and both times round we came up short.



We found ourselves in this ball-swallowing stuff just short of the green.



The 7th green (foreground) sits close to the 3rd green on a tongue of higher ground surrounded by depressions.

Hole 8 460 yards par 4



This tee, adjacent to the 7th green, looks onto an inviting fairway, the drive at a slight angle. There are two bunkers in rough ground to the left and another on the right side. Good length is vital to ensure no falling foul of the cross bunkers 100 yards short of the green:



The approach to the green is made on a downslope with a right to left borrow and a big, long greenside bunker waiting on that side.
 


Hole 9 299 yards par 4

A fun hole to finish the round.



The tee shot is made to a fairway very much angled across the line. That ground between the tee and the line of trees on the right is out of bounds. And we all want to bite off as much as we can chew, or even more. Strong players should have no trouble driving the green.




I used the word ‘should’. A tarmac road crosses the fairway just short of the green. Land on that and who knows where the ball will finish. The green is a little punchbowl surrounded by bunkers.

And then it’s off to play another nine holes, perhaps a little wiser. And after 18 holes a pint of something refreshing can be ordered through that hole in the wall.



Jud_T

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #1 on: May 19, 2011, 01:45:14 PM »
Mark,

Thanks for posting these.  From what I've read and heard from those whose opinions I respect,  this course is near the top of my to do list for England...Seems like the ideal local club that most would never tire of...
Golf is a game. We play it. Somewhere along the way we took the fun out of it and charged a premium to be punished.- - Ron Sirak

Jeff_Mingay

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #2 on: May 19, 2011, 03:24:10 PM »
Very cool. Thanks for posting these photos, Mark.

I look at Worlington and Newmarket and think: What else does a golfer really need?
jeffmingay.com

Mark_Rowlinson

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2011, 06:52:45 AM »
Jud, The membership comes from all over the country (all over the world) and I believe your subscription varies according to how far away you live. There isn't much golf in East Anglia but the average quality of the old courses and clubs is high. Were you to visit then Royal West Norfolk, Hunstanton, Sheringham and Aldeburgh would be must plays in addition to Mildenhall. Time permitting, Thetford, Ipswich, Woodbridge, Felixstowe Ferry and Great Yarmouth and Caister would be worth the detour.

Jeff, I agree with you. 

Jud_T

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2011, 08:56:42 AM »
Mark,

Thanks for the list! I keep kicking myself for making several trips to Ireland and a trip to Scotland and yet I've only played 1 nondescript round while at a wedding in England.  Common tourist mistake.  Seems as if one could easily spend a month exploring all the great courses England has to offer...
Golf is a game. We play it. Somewhere along the way we took the fun out of it and charged a premium to be punished.- - Ron Sirak

Mark Bourgeois

Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #5 on: May 20, 2011, 09:56:12 AM »
I have to get to this course. Many thanks for the tour, Mark. I look at these pictures and think if they were black and white they would not look that different from Dickinson's book or other pics of days gone by.

It seems to have been such a formative course in the golfing lives of so many and if there's a word that comes to mind in reading those accounts of the course, it's "love."

Peter Pallotta

Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2011, 10:29:35 AM »
My thanks too, Mark.

When I look at these photos and say "Ah, the way golf should be played", it must be because the quiet simplicity of the course reminds me of what is best about the game -- that it can engender in us, if we let it, a deep appreciation and regard for the humble pleasures of long walks in nature, in the company of men/women of good will, engaging our minds and bodies and spirits in the child-like fun and hitting a ball with a stick.  Ah..."lest you become like little children..."...you know.

Peter

John_Cullum

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2011, 01:39:13 PM »
It seems this course is most admired by those who have not played it. Frankly, the genius of Royal Worl is lost on me
Raynor was a hack

Jim McCann

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #8 on: May 20, 2011, 03:00:51 PM »
John

With the greatest of respect to Mark Rowlinson, I agree with you 100% - I can't for the life of me understand what
gets golfers drooling over this place!!! 

I reviewed it for the Top100 website a few weeks ago and found that, apart from the wonderful putting surfaces,
it was a very ordinary track - good but not great:

http://www.top100golfcourses.co.uk/htmlsite/productdetails.asp?id=38

Alternatively, I played a great wee course called Carradale on the Mull of Kintyre last weekend and it was a REALLY
thrilling 9-holer. Here's a snap from the tee on the par three 7th:



Give me THAT sort sort of delightful, moorland Scottish track over Royal Worlington any day...


   


Jud_T

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #9 on: May 20, 2011, 04:32:55 PM »
You can agree or disagree but I believe it was given a 9 in the Confidential Guide and he said something to the effect that any student of architecture who wants to see what's possible with a subtly designed course on a small piece of property needs to see RW...

9. An outstanding course—certainly one of the best in the world—with no weaknesses in regard to condition, length or poor holes. You should see this course sometime in your life.
Golf is a game. We play it. Somewhere along the way we took the fun out of it and charged a premium to be punished.- - Ron Sirak

Niall C

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #10 on: May 20, 2011, 04:54:18 PM »
Jim

There's room for all sorts of courses and as much as I like the type of course you describe (btw, have you seen the redesigned Covesea course ?) I can also appreciate gently rolling courses like RW even though I haven't played it. A bit like the Gullane courses for example. Great courses that don't have the framing or obvious contours and therefore don't get ready appreciation but nonetheless provide great joy the more you play them.

I think you also have to judge these types of courses for what they are. I don't think anyone is claiming it a championship course but as Mark describes it it is a fun and perhaps quirky round of golf thats not too taxing.

Mark

Thanks for posting the description and photos. Great to see.

Niall

Jim McCann

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #11 on: May 20, 2011, 05:02:05 PM »
Jud

Far be it from me to question the opinion of the author in “The Confidential Guide” regarding RW&N.

Perhaps it’s just too subtle for me.

To quote an extract from the appraisal in the book:    
“Its renown has undoubtedly been padded by the fact that as home to Cambridge University golfers, the Mildenhall nine (as it is affectionately known to Cambridge men) became familiar to such golfing luminaries as Bernard Darwin and Herbert Warren Wind at an impressionable age.”

If the varsity boys and esteemed golf writers really rate this place then maybe it presents the sort of cerebral challenge that I’m not up to…
« Last Edit: May 20, 2011, 05:03:43 PM by Jim McCann »

Ulrich Mayring

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #12 on: May 20, 2011, 06:10:50 PM »
I'm somewhere in-between those two factions. I rate this course on a level with tracks like West Cornwall, Elie or Le Touquet's La Mer. So that makes it a pretty darn good course. Yes, much of its quality comes from the conditioning that brings all the subtle features into play, but it is not illegal to strive for greatness through maintenance practices :)

Ulrich
Golf Course Exposé (300+ courses reviewed), Golf CV (how I keep track of 'em)

Sean_A

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #13 on: May 20, 2011, 06:10:58 PM »
Mark

Thanks for the tour.  Its the first in good weather I have seen of Worlington.  The course does look quite interesting and one I dearly want to see.  As Jim hints, I too am not sure I see anything in the pix more compelling than one of many courses of good ilk without being special.  However, I know from experience that pix can't quite capture the essence of these more subtle designs.  If any courses need visiting for first hand knowledge than it is the Worlingtons, Little Astons, Northamptonshire Cos, Huntercombes and New Zealands etc.  Thanks again and here is hoping you turn up shortly with another profile.

Ciao  
New plays planned for 2024: Fraserburgh, Hankley Common, Ashridge, Gog Magog Old & Cruden Bay St Olaf

John_Cullum

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #14 on: May 20, 2011, 07:06:38 PM »
Jud

Far be it from me to question the opinion of the author in “The Confidential Guide” regarding RW&N.

Perhaps it’s just too subtle for me.

To quote an extract from the appraisal in the book:    
“Its renown has undoubtedly been padded by the fact that as home to Cambridge University golfers, the Mildenhall nine (as it is affectionately known to Cambridge men) became familiar to such golfing luminaries as Bernard Darwin and Herbert Warren Wind at an impressionable age.”

If the varsity boys and esteemed golf writers really rate this place then maybe it presents the sort of cerebral challenge that I’m not up to…


Ditto
Raynor was a hack

Philippe Binette

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #15 on: May 20, 2011, 07:19:26 PM »
Jeff Mingay said it best.... what else does a golfer needs

could play there everyday from what I've seen on those pics

Jud_T

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #16 on: May 20, 2011, 07:51:19 PM »
"(Herbert Warren) Wind saw fit to declare this "the best nine-hole course in the world," and I must simply nod in assent...The genius of the course is to see how the scarce natural features of the property are employed several times each within the nine...Every design student should spend some time pondering how well this course works"
« Last Edit: May 20, 2011, 07:58:29 PM by Jud Tigerman »
Golf is a game. We play it. Somewhere along the way we took the fun out of it and charged a premium to be punished.- - Ron Sirak

James Boon

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Re: Royal Worlington photo tour
« Reply #17 on: May 22, 2011, 05:36:43 AM »
Mark,

Thanks for the photos. It looks like you had slightly better weather than I did last February when I played for the first time.

I think its fair to say that the heritage of the course and its connections with Darwin et al probably add to the courses reputation, however, I thought the course was a delight to play. The 2nd, 3rd and 5th are great golf holes that wouldn't be out of place at some of the finer links or heathland courses in this country. Some of the holes are a little dull, and the avenue of trees that separates the 6th from the 8th is a little out of place for me, but the overall character of the club and the course won me over after just 18 holes. If I had time to play more there, I'm sure I would grow to love it even more?

Cheers,

James

ps Jud, come to England, you wont be disappointed and will be made most welcome!  ;D
2023 Highlights: Hollinwell (Notts), Brora, Aberdovey, Royal St Davids, Woodhall Spa, Broadstone, Parkstone, Cleeve, Painswick, Minchinhampton, Hoylake

"It celebrates the unadulterated pleasure of being in a dialogue with nature while knocking a ball round on foot." Richard Pennell

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