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Sean_A

  • Karma: +0/-0
ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour New
« on: December 24, 2017, 04:52:01 AM »


Neighbouring Epsom Downs Race Course, Woodcote Park is merely the country club for the magnificent Royal Automobile Club on Pall Mall; an area well known for gentlemen’s clubs.  As one might surmise, the club’s raison d’ętre centred very much on the then recently invented motor vehicles.  Many races were founded by the RAC, including the Tourist Trophy, the first British Grand Prix at Brooklands and the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.  The first “Emancipation Run” was to celebrate the passing of the Locomotives on Highway Act 1896.  With this new law the speed limit increased from 4 to 14 mph. With the increased speed, an escort several yards ahead waving a red flag to warn people of an approaching vehicle was no longer a requirement...that would be a tough gig!

At one time owned by the Abbey of Chertsey, hilly Woodcote Park serves as the club where members of RAC can drive from the city to practice country sport, which includes two golf courses. The estate was purchased in 1913 and as was the case for many sporting clubs, war intervened with part of the grounds taken over for military use.  The Universities and Public Schools volunteer brigade of the Royal Fusiliers were housed at Woodcote Park prior to shipping out.  Sadly, the brigade was virtually wiped out at the Somme and the camp became a convalescent home for Canadian troops.  The club’s bumpy road continued as in 1934 the house was gutted by fire.  Luckily a grand drawing room survives.  The room was shipped to the United States in 1927 and installed in Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts! This is the very same museum I visited in 1987 for the one and only time. While the museum is well worth a visit, I caution visitors to take care in their choice of parking.  Chasing to the end of the story, the three of us seeking a bit of culture returned to the car only to find it missing.  Since the car was borrowed the police naturally thought these damn kids hatched a plan to sell the car and claim it was stolen.  Live and learn.

The club was again tagged for military use during the Second World War, this time for agricultural purposes.  It is remarkable the club endured with golf or that Herbert Fowler’s course could survive such abuse.  Yet persevere it did and by the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 Fowler’s course was back in action.  On the rather unruly terrain which was Fowler's 9 hole C Course, a new 18 course was built, not surprisingly called the Coronation Course.  T Mackenzie recently supervised a bunker project on The Old which included some greens being altered and few new tees.  The overwhelming impression of the work is the Old Course doesn’t feel very old or much like a Fowler design.  For those familiar with Royal Wimbledon, the style of bunkering is very similar.  That is, many of the bunkers are homogenous in size and angle.  Originally the course was known to have large bunkers. What sets Woodcote Park apart is the size of the greens.  Much like Fowler’s Beau Desert, the greens are immense if not nearly as interesting. 



This aerial shows more than 18 holes. The Old is made up of the right side of aerial. It would seem the current 16 through 18 are not original Fowler holes and that nine holes in this routing (the original C course, A and B make up the Old Course) no longer exist. This area is the Coronation Course.


The 1st is not a particularly good opening hole if one believes it's chief function should be a presage of holes to come.  Hemmed between trees right and bunkers left before turning sharply right and uphill, this is not a gentle handshake.  Other than the penal nature of the hole, the uncharacteristic element is a blind bunker at the base of the rise.


Climbing to the next tee, we come across a flat hole hole punctuated by right flank bunkers. 


The green is very large with a prominent step-up.


After a less than inspired start, the short third hints at good things to come.  Despite the gloom of December in England, the two-tier green is obvious.


A down n' up long hole follows.  The reader can see the bunkering entices the golfer to take on the drive as there is space right.  What is more difficult to see is the slope of the fairway feeds into the bunkers.  Throughout the course, the bunkering is generally about tempting rather than forcing play. However, below is a good example of what I mean by the angle and size of bunkers.  As at Wimbledon, the design is a bit too uniform and sends a visual message of rote design despite the excellent placement of sand. 
   

   

I like the 5th very much.  It is a classic hole which offers distinct choices of distance off the tee. 


A very safe drive will leave a challenging approach.


The two-tier green.


A very tough down n' up two shotter, the 6th has one of the biggest greens on the course.  Truth be told, the course could do with a bit more green size variety.




The 7th runs toward Epsom Downs.  At the 8th I finally caught the Fowler feeling.  Another large green with a massive false front hidden by two forward bunkers. 


The next too felt more like a Fowler hole...it is awkward looking from the tee.


The green is on the downslope.


More to follow.

Ciao
« Last Edit: August 05, 2022, 02:47:50 PM by Sean_A »
New plays planned for 2022:

Peter Pallotta

Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour 1-9
« Reply #1 on: December 24, 2017, 09:41:47 AM »
Thanks, as always, for your fine work on these, Sean.
As an aside - pictures don't replace playing, of course, but it's striking how often I'll see a golf hole on one of your tours (in this case, the 5th) and just as I'm thinking "oh, I like this" I'll read a comment from you like "this next hole is a cracking good one".
Best to you and yours for a wonderful holiday season
Peter     

MCirba

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour 1-9
« Reply #2 on: December 24, 2017, 11:51:26 AM »
Great stuff, Sean.  Thanks for sharing these cool, lesser-known gems.
« Last Edit: December 24, 2017, 01:38:45 PM by MCirba »
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

Thomas Dai

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour 1-9
« Reply #3 on: December 24, 2017, 01:00:33 PM »
Sometimes photographs appear and the eyes and brain go “wow”, and sometimes the opposite happens. The new bunkering could be photo-shopped. If there was a DS for bunkering these might be the Castle Course.

Atb

Rich Goodale

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour 1-9
« Reply #4 on: December 25, 2017, 02:23:36 AM »
I'm with Mr. Thomas.


I played RAC 5 or so times 10-20 years ago in member-guest tourneys, and am appalled at the recent bunker work, which substitutes Fowler's subtle intent for an "in your face" statement.


The RAC is a very wealthy club, and it looks like the current powers that be have opted for the the splash the cash strategy, rather than preserving the very member friendly course that they had.


Sic transit gloria "less is more" GCA......
Life is good.

Any afterlife is unlikely and/or dodgy.

Jean-Paul Parodi

Sean_A

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour 1-9 New
« Reply #5 on: December 26, 2017, 04:19:19 AM »
RAC Tour Continued

Good golf continues on the tricky 10th.  The landing zone isn't as wide as it appears and the terrain drags tee shots right.  A few bunkers block the easy path to the green and invariably require the golfer to decide if the carry can be made.




I like the next hole quite a bit.  Playing downhill, #11 isn't overly difficult, but it is the sort of hole one hates to bogey. The homes on the ridge offer a glimpse of RAC's posh neighbourhood.


One of the aspects which impressed me is the tree management.  I don't know if tree work was included in the recent work, but there is little evidence of useless trees. 


The green moves away from the fairway in a typical Fowler fashion.


Moving back up the hill, the dogleg right 12th is an awkward hole.  Bunkering and trees down the right take away the best angle of approach with a view.  Sticking to the fairway leaves an obscured shot, but one which the golfer can play with the terrain in his favour.  A look at the two-tier green.


Totally rebuilt, the short 13th suffered some grow-in issues so work continues.  The hole looks to be a good one, but I must say the temporary green is RAC's best!


The 14th reminded of the opening hole with a drive squeezed between trees right and bunkering left....not holes I much admire.  The 15th, however, is a hole for which I have a lot of time.  The sling left drive isn't special, but the Fowler green is outstanding.  Slightly turned on its axis with drop-offs left and right, this green reminds me quite a bit of Ballybunion's unsung 6th.  To the left of the green is an old chalk pit...a reminder that RAC is part of the Surrey Downs.


It wasn't until this hole that I realized the club was in the festive spirit!


I haven't studied RAC's routing, but it strikes me that there is a plethora of noticeably downhill holes without any serious uphill efforts.  The 16th is yet another downhiller.  The bunkering prongs foward in a similar fashion as the design of a fork.  The result being there is a gateway which can be accessed should one wish to avoid a sand carry.


Perhaps my favourite hole, the short 17th is set-off by a small green by RAC standards.  Perhaps this is because this isn't a Fowler hole. However, the tee doesn't allow a view of the putting surface.  I think a tee should also be located on the platform which houses the 12th tee.  It would be grand to have such different looks for this hole.  A look at the hole from the 12th tee.


The home hole is puzzling due to trees suddenly and inexplicably making a grand entrance.  There is an awesome view of the house on offer, yet a tree stands dead in the sightline.  In fact, the hole is littered with trees, most of which could be removed. 


For all that, this is a good double dogleg par 5. The golf house is on the far right. 


I am pleasantly surprised by RAC's Old Course.  Though there aren't any true All-England candidates, the course is good, the walk is good, the surroundings are lovely and the house is very fine.  RAC is the sort of course that would disappoint few if invited for a game.  True, the Surrey location makes it difficult for RAC to shine and I am not convinced the bunker job helps the cause.  That said, in most cases, bunker style is not something which should be a matter for extreme views.  The placement of sand is the main issue and in this regard the scheme works well in delivering a combination of carry, play between and play around shots.  Bottom line, the Old Course isn't going to make anyone's top 100 best courses in GB&I, but I would like to play it again.  2017

Previous Tour Stops

St Georges Hill
http://www.golfclubatlas.com/forum/index.php/topic,36130.0.html

Huntercombe
http://www.golfclubatlas.com/forum/index.php/topic,32228.msg633321.html#msg633321

Worcester
http://www.golfclubatlas.com/forum/index.php/topic,49998.msg1348691.html#msg1348691

Ciao
« Last Edit: August 05, 2022, 02:49:29 PM by Sean_A »
New plays planned for 2022:

Thomas Dai

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour Complete
« Reply #6 on: December 28, 2017, 09:24:33 AM »
Sean,
Thanks for the photo-tour, interesting as ever.
The back-9 bunkering is perhaps a little less unattractive to my eye than the front-9's!
The 16th reminds me of the away sloping 15th green at Beau Desert with its 'ground game' entrance 'gate'.
Good point about the 18th and the trees. Strange really, given that, as you mention elsewhere in your tour, trees don't seem generally an issue on the course.
atb

Mark_Rowlinson

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour Complete
« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2017, 10:10:23 AM »
As ever, many thanks Sean. How did you get to play it? I thought it was pretty well off limits to visitors.


That said, I have actually played it, as a student in 1973 or 4. I remember nothing about the specific holes (we played all 36 in the day) about which I feel embarrassed - I remember lots about both courses at Moor Park (played similarly as a student), Royal West Norfolk (ditto). The thing was that the Professors of the Royal Academy of Music played the Professors of the Royal College several times a year at very posh courses. They didn't have enough members so they drafted in good students to play. We g0t to play for free and what an experience it was! I remember getting a lift back to a tube station after one match. It turned out to be Dame Janet Baker's husband - she was one of the greatest singers ever to have lived. I remember playing against a young college student, Tom Allen, now Sir Thomas Allen, star of the Met, Covent Garden and La Scala. Heady days!


I remember in particular my match at RAC. I was paired with Lady Lewis the Principal's wife. She was a good player from New Zealand. We won, but that was despite the innocence of Sir Anthony Lewis, her husband and Principal, who knew nothing of golf, and proceeded to pull her trolley through greens and bunkers, usually accompanied by his stentorian, 'Splendid! Splendid!' as he blundered his way around. In the afternoon I was partnered by a composer. Nice chap, who knew little or nothing about golf. We were up against Sir Keith Falkner (Principal of the Royal College) and his partner. My partner committed heinous crimes such as grounding his club in a bunker. Falkner was straight in with, 'That'll be two strokes penalty.' My partner knew not why. We lost heavily. But it was inevitable. For the record, Falkner was also a keen cricketer and had a bowling machine installed on the roof of the RCM so that he could get in a bit of practice at lunchtime!


Thanks for bringing back these memories, Sean.

Sean_A

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour
« Reply #8 on: December 31, 2017, 02:10:58 PM »
Mark...thanks for the stories...as always...very entertaining.

I played with a "society" that was sponsored by a few members.  I didn't realize visitors were verbotten.

Happy New Year
New plays planned for 2022:

Sam Krume

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour
« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2018, 07:02:08 AM »
Sean,
It was good to meet you and if you are ever down here again and as I said on the day, if you would want another look/play at the RAC just let me know.

Sam

Tom Kelly

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour
« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2018, 10:39:08 AM »
Thanks for the tour Sean, nice to see the course coming along. I would like to see it in the summer when the grass around the bunker faces and rough are 'up' abit as I think it would let the bunkers settle in more, they still have that 'new' look to me especially at this time of year.


I do think the criticism here is abit harsh though. I believe the style of the bunkers at RAC was led by old aerials/photos. Given the land is a downland/parkland mix I'm not sure what sort of style would have worked much better than what went in. I can see some wouldn't like the colour of the sand which may sway some peoples overall views of the bunkers but it does have excellent properties, so swings and roundabouts. The old bunkers were terrible too and were definitely in need of work, a mish-mash of styles and they had some serious maintenance issues. There were also a few other 'features' that needed dealing with including the horrible pond on 4. Your comparison to Wimbledon is abit ironic given Tom is now working there to improve the bunkering and the results so far look excellent....think alot more rugged than these.


The club is gradually doing tree work themselves but I think the 18th is so different as it borders the Coronation course, thus the trees down the left were likely planted at a different time to those on the rest of the course. I believe the 18th also originally played from the left of the 17th green hence the odd tree/bunker placements but was moved when the Coronation course was built and maybe trees were planted to protect the new tee form the 10th hole. There are plans for work to the Coronation course too so I'd expect the left side of 18 will change in some way.


The greens are indeed huge especially for UK standards and I thought a few are worthy of note 5, 8 and 15 are favourites. I think the new 13th is nice too, pity it wasn't in play as I believe is has been open earlier in the year. Interesting to note though that when the bunker work started some of the greens had been cut even bigger than present and have since been trimmed back to workable areas. They had been drastically smaller in recent years so they wanted to restore them to original sizes where possible but some seemed crazily big to me. One interesting one was 15 where for a short time they cut the green all the way down into the swale to the left of the green, I assume they had issues with balls running from high right completely off the green as the slope is so big. It looked immensely cool and fun though.


I found it interesting to compare Woodcote to Fowler's other famous work down the road at Walton. You can see some similarities if you look closely especially around the greens surrounds, but I think he handled the gentler land at Walton far better than at Woodcote where I'm not sure he got the routing quite right over the steeper terrain. You are right in saying he negated too many uphill shots but it still feels abit up-down-up-down to me.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2018, 12:57:56 PM by Tom Kelly »

Sean_A

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour
« Reply #11 on: January 06, 2018, 06:29:13 PM »
Tom

I understand what you are saying about the bunkers, but if I was a member of the club that shelled out the kind of dosh they did I would be disappointed. The bunkers are often too much of the same size and shape....they need more variety to really set the this style of bunkering off and the space is there.  I guess what I am saying is it would have been nice to hit a home run with the bunkers...they hit a double tops. 

15, yes, it would be cool if the lower section could be incorporated into the green. 

All in all, I liked RAC a lot because of the space and the many subtle elements.  Its a keeper for me!

Ciao
« Last Edit: January 08, 2018, 05:00:50 AM by Sean_A »
New plays planned for 2022:

Jud_T

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour
« Reply #12 on: January 06, 2018, 07:53:06 PM »
Sean,


Thanks for the tour.  I had the pleasure of playing the course with a colleague years ago and enjoyed it.  Sadly he passed away a few years back so this brings back good memories.
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

Sean_A

  • Karma: +0/-0
Re: ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB Old Course: 2017-18 Winter Tour
« Reply #13 on: January 16, 2018, 05:19:10 AM »
Sean,
It was good to meet you and if you are ever down here again and as I said on the day, if you would want another look/play at the RAC just let me know.

Sam

Sam

Thanks for the invite.  Yes, I would like to play RAC again...also Epsom Downs!

Ciao
New plays planned for 2022:

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