Monday, January 12, 2015

#96 (World) Rye Golf Club

July 25, 2014

When I initially planned my trip to England, Rye Golf Club wasn't on my schedule. When I was making a tee time at Royal St. George's and the club pro learned of my quest, he recommended I reach out to Rye GC as it was relatively close by and also on my list, even though it is almost strictly private.

A week later, I wrote a letter to Rye GC and was pleasantly surprised to hear back from them in short order.  The reply was fairly short and advised I had a tee time on July 25 promptly at 8 am with no further instructions.  Great, I thought. It would be a good course to finish up my England golf experience.  I made a hotel reservation in nearby Dungeness. I was also excited to play another Harry Colt course (I have enjoyed every one of them I have played thus far).

Fast forward five months later when I am on the south coast of England. My hotel was within sight of the ocean, there were several restaurants with outdoor seating that I could also look out onto the ocean, and it seemed like this would be an awesome final golf experience in England. Unfortunately, when I arrived at Rye GC the next morning, the welcome I received was frosty at best.

A look at the Rye GC proshop. 
A look at the clubhouse from the parking lot.

The proshop is located by itself across the street from the clubhouse and course. There is also very strict parking rules and I was met by a member in the parking lot who advised that I "better not park anywhere but there or there." I thanked him for his advice and parked where instructed. I made my way across the street and checked into the proshop. When I introduced myself and presented my letter of introduction, as well as my invitation letter, I was met with a huff, big sigh, and rolling of the eyes by the man working the counter. After looking down his nose at me for a minute or so, he advised that I was to "walk directly to the clubhouse, into the further right door, turn left in the hallway, and make my way directly to the locker room with no deviation from my course."  I thanked him for his instructions, sighed a little myself, and crossed the street and headed on the exact course I was directed to follow.

The sign located next to the parking lot and entrance to the club.
 Upon entry into the clubhouse, I was met by an elderly gentleman who quickly ushered me to the locker room, watched me like a hawk while I changed into my golf shoes, and escorted me out of the locker room. I was advised I was not welcome to have a look anywhere in the locker room with the exception of the bench I was changing my shoes on and the toilet if it was needed. My trip to England had been a stellar trip thus far and I wasn't going to let a few rude people ruin that experience.  I thanked him, he escorted me to the hill just above the first tee where I met my caddy.

Any thoughts of meeting one nice person at the club was too much to ask for I suppose. He was very short and dangerously close to being rude. He explained if I it a ball out of bounds, he would only give a cursory search and we would move on. There was no time to dally in the area. He then grabbed my bag and walked off.  During the 18 holes walked, he spoke to me exactly four more times, never once offering any advice on how to approach a hole or how a putt would break. All four times he advised where I was not allowed to walk or visit during my time at Rye GC. He seemed bothered to have to "waste his time" caddying for me. It is also the reason the course is not documented with as many photos as I normally take. I don't usually hold my tongue for rude people, but I was a visitor at the club, so took the visit for what it was and tried not to let it ruin my golf experience.

Links courses are my favorite and I had heard tales of Rye being the truest of all links courses one could play in England. With the negative out of the way, I will try to focus solely on the golf experience.

The sign that greets you on the walk to the first tee.

To play at Rye is to almost step back in time. First, the clubhouse is understated from the outside, but appears to be oozing history and tradition inside, though I only got to see it in quick passing. The food smelled terrific as well. Unfortunately, I never had an opportunity to try it so can't comment past the wonderful aroma. A jacket and tie are mandatory and I made sure to wear mine to the club house.

In 1894, Colt helped establish the club at Rye and then designed its course. He later became the club’s Secretary before moving to the newly formed Sunningdale Golf Club, and then onto fifty years of further design endeavors. Though his work at Rye has been significantly altered over the years, the links remains very true to his design ideals. There’ is a single Par 5 (the first hole), and a short one at that, and five Par 3s to produce a total Par of 68. Nine of the Par 4s are over 400 yards. I had heard that Rye has a reputation for being one of the hardest places to play to your handicap and that certainly proved true in my case.  The day I played it was mostly clear, blue skies, but the wind was steady at around 15 mph and gusting to 30. I played from the white tees and it will be the yardage I refer to below.

The first hole is a par 5 that plays to 481 yards. It is played from an elevated tee to a fairway that runs left to right and is paralleled by the local highway running down the left side. After hitting your drive to the center of the fairway, it turns back to the left towards the large, undulating green.

A look down the fairway from the 1st tee box.
A look onto the 1st green from just off the right side.

The second hole is a 180 yard par 3. It is a fairly straight forward hole, with a large green that is protected on both sides by some moderately deep sand traps.

A look into the green from the 3rd tee box.

The fourth hole is a 440 yard par 4. It is an extremely difficult hole as it runs along the top of a sand dune with an impossible second shot on anything not placed straight. A tee ball missed right or left falls off the dune into an abyss of tall grass. The green itself remains on top of the same dune line and any approach missed right falls away as well. The green is pitched sharply toward the golfer, so putting is no solace. On a interesting side note, there are World War II pill boxes that guarded the southern English coast spread across the course.  The first look at one comes on this hole.

A look down the fairway from the 4th tee box.
A look towards the 4th green from the middle of the fairway.
One of several WWII pill boxes found on Rye GC.

The fifth hole is a 171 yard par 3 that plays from downhill from an elevated tee box. The green slopes wickedly from front to back so care has to be taken not to hit it to far to the back of the green.

A look into the green from the 5th tee box.

The sixth hole is a very long par 4 that plays to 468 yards. It's an unconventional hole in that the tee shot plays at a 45 degree angle over a central ridge with a guide post as a directional marker. Once in the fairway, the golfer may draw a level stance but the green is still a long way away. Four bunkers come out fifty yards from the front of the green and help determine just how well you placed the tee shot.
A look down the fairway from the 6th tee box.
A look down the 6th fairway from the top of the center ridge.
The par 3 seventh hole plays to 159 yards. It is a green that moves from right to left and has danger on all sides, including bunkers, sand, and deep grass. The wind also blows in towards you often which makes par a pretty good score on this hole.

A look into the green from the 7th tee box

The eighth hole is a par 4 that plays to 442 yards. In my opinion, it was the dullest hole on the course, playing a long ways straight and then a long ways to the right to a fairly plain and boring green.

A look down the fairway from the 8th tee box.
A look into the 8th green from 150 yard out.

The ninth hole is a 300 yard par 4. A drive towards the second window on the left of the clubhouse (seen in the distance from the tee box) is a good aiming point.  It will place you in a good spot to hit to a tricky green.
A look down the fairway from the 9th tee box. 
A look into the 9th green from 70 yards out.

The tenth hole plays along the same street as the first hole but in the opposite direction. It is a 442 yard par 4 that is almost completely straight and has a fairly flat green. As long as your drive and your approach shot are straight, there won't be much problems parring this hole.

A look down the fairway from the 10th tee box. 
A look into the 10th green from 100 yards out.

The eleventh hole is a par 4 that plays to 324 yards. The tee shot is hit across scrub brush.  A lake on the right side is fairly well hidden so caution should be taken to hit the drive down the left side. The right side of the green is protected by a series of bunkers so, just like the drive, stay left on the approach shot.

A look down the fairway from the 11th tee box.
A look into the 11th green from 55 yards out. 

The twelfth hole is a par 4 that plays to 420 yards. It is another rather boring hole that is a straight drive followed by a straight approach shot to a flat and uninteresting green.

A look down the fairway from the 12th tee box.
A look into the 12th green from 100 yards out.
The thirteenth hole is a par 4 that plays to 430 yards. It is an interesting hole in that it plays across scrub brush to a flat fairway. On your second shot, you are required to take a blind shot over a tall mound with the only marker being a stake on top of the hill to help guide you in the direction to hit the ball. Once you clear the tall mound, there is a relatively flat landing area followed by a flat green to finish off the hole.
A look down the fairway from the 13th tee box. 
A closer look at the tall mound you have to cross on the way to the green, 
A look into the 13th green from the top of the mound.

The fourteenth hole is a Par 3 that plays to 184 yards. The green falls off on the right side so you want to make sure to place your shot center or left to have a putt for birdie.

A look into the green from the 14th tee box,
A closer look at the 14th green.

The fifteenth and sixteenth holes, 430 and 420 yards, respectively are quintessential holes at Rye - long par fours over rippling ground that dish up all kinds of awkward stances from which you are supposed to hit your 1 iron. As with most of the greens on the long par fours at Rye, they aren’t particularly big and are less than 30 paces deep.

A look down the fairway from the 15th tee box. 
A look into the 15th green from 130 yards out. 

A look down the fairway from the 16th tee box. 

The seventeenth is the last par 3 on the course and plays to a whopping 245 yards from the white tees. With the wind blowing towards you, this makes for a very difficult hole.

A look into the green from the 17th tee box. 

A look down the fairway from the 18th tee box.
The 18th hole finishes playing next to a valley on the right. If you aim your drive towards the right window of the clubhouse, it should center you in the fairway. From there, an easy shot to the green lets you finish off the round with a good score.

A look into the 18th green from 70 yards out.
Whomever was in the clubhouse must have been watching for us. By the time I finished the 18th and walked to the clubhouse, a young man was waiting for me with my clothes and shoes. After handing them to me, I was escorted back to the parking lot by my caddie. It was apparent I was not welcome back into the clubhouse and why I have no photos of the inside. From there, he didn't say a word and stretched out his hand for a tip. Against my better judgement, I tipped him the proper and customary caddie fee.  As soon as the cash hit his hand, he turned and walked off without even a thank you or good bye.

Am I glad I had the chance to play Rye GC and check it off my list? You bet. Would I ever play there again? Not a chance, even as much as I like Colt designed courses.  It is a one and done experience and I am happy to keep it that way. There are too many good courses that have good staffs to ever waste time on rude and impolite people again.

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