Perhaps no inland course in the world better emulates the spirit and playing qualities of the Old Course at St. Andrews than the “Sacred Nine.” Home to Cambridge University’s illustrious Light Blue golf team, Royal Worlington & Newmarket Golf Club—more commonly known as Mildenhall—is hands down the best nine-hole course in the world.
With barely enough room for eight holes, architect Tom Dunn and construction foreman Tom Hood squeezed in nine world-class holes on this sandy inland site. It is a master class in building fun, interesting golf on mostly flat land. Loaded with quirk and charm, Mildenhall has an unconventional routing that uses cross-over holes and even jumps over a road on the drivable 9th.
While the course has numerous standout holes that every student of the game should (must!) see, the 5th hole, a short par 3 known unofficially as “Mog’s Hole” or “Mog’s Bog,” tends to stick in players’ memories, and not always for happy reasons. Great nine-hole courses keep us on edge, and the 5th at Mildenhall is perhaps the best example of how to walk the fine line between offering a fun, addictive challenge and causing golfers to cry “unfair.”
To reach the tee, golfers cross a little ditch-like stream. They then hit no more than a short to mid-iron directly over the preceding 4th green. Both accuracy off the tee and putting are at a premium here: the green is long and narrow, and has three levels of dramatic contours with sides that spill of towards trouble. It plays even smaller than it looks.
This par 3 has no bunkers, yet there is no safe place to miss except maybe a touch long—but not too long or else the trees will make the chip back nearly impossible. To the left of the green is the infamous Mog’s Bog, an incredibly deep cavern of turf that may once have been a water hazard, “but today is just the start of many fives,” as fellow Mildenhall admirer Ran Morrissett puts it in his Golf Club Atlas course profile.
Missing on the other side of the green, however, offers no easy recovery. When balls land on the steep bank that props up the right side of the green, they normally bounce and roll their way down into the stream, which plays as out of bounds. This unusual marking of (what was once called) a hazard is part of what makes the hole so nerve racking. With a miss right, you could be facing penalty strokes and a re-tee; with a slight, overcompensating tug, you could be dropping four from the bottom of Mog’s Bog. Putting or chipping into these hazards—sorry not sorry, USGA—is a regular occurrence, too. As Jerry Seinfeld says, “Tennis, anyone?”
The 6th hole doubles back, playing perpendicularly across the 5th green. Walking toward your tee ball, you revisit one of the most diabolical greens in the world, and you cannot help but curse it, marvel at its voluminous undulations, and yearn to do battle with it for a second time… perhaps a third!
After playing “The Sacred Nine” twice in under three hours, have a look at the boards in the quaint clubhouse while enjoying a pour from the famous Pink Jug. You will find the names of many of the game’s most important golfers, architects, and writers. After a round, or two, on the best nine-hole course in the world, you will not wonder why the likes of H. S. Colt, Henry Longhurst, Patrick Dickinson, Bernard Darwin, and J. S. F. Morrison went on to great success in golf after donning the Blue.