No proper study tour of golf in the United Kingdom is complete without a trip to the links of Rye. This tightrope walk along the dunes on the English Channel feels more like a Golden Age links than an ancient one. The course has five par 3s, a par of 68 (not even adjusted for Andy), and a bunch of railroad sleepers known as “Ryebrows” that play defense along the ground.
Over the years, Rye’s course has evolved quite a bit thanks to the shifting sand dunes, which continue to provide the club with additional land. A 25-year-old H. S. Colt was the first captain of the club and did the original routing in 1894. When nature created new land, the club saw an opportunity to update the course and to eliminate a road crossing. Today’s Rye Golf Club features holes by Tom Simpson, Sir Guy Campbell, and others.
One thing that hasn’t evolved much at Rye, however, is its distinctive set of traditions. If you are granted access as a member’s guest or via the Secretary, all games are played as a two-ball, and you better bring a coat and tie. The most famous tradition at Rye belongs to the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society, which plays a series of matches here called the President’s Putter in mid-January. This event reinforces Rye’s reputation as one of the best winter courses in Great Britain. The turf here is legendarily sturdy. In the summer, it gets so firm and fast that balls never seem to come to rest. (Rye installed its first fairway irrigation system in 2012, but we are unsure whether the club has ever used it!)
The 4th hole may be my favorite on the course for its daring use of the top of the sharp central dune, which is almost as hard to walk across as to keep your ball on. We also considered Nos. 9, 13, and 18, but we ultimately decided to use one of Rye’s famed one-shotters for our Eclectic 18. The 7th is the best of the bunch, playing into the wind, toward the ever-growing coastal dunes in the distance. Don’t be distracted by the natural blowouts in the background: if you forget to take extra club on this into-the-wind, do-or-die par 3, you will no doubt come up short and face absolute peril.
There is no real need to say much more about this hole’s inclusion. If you have seen pictures of it, or read what Bernard Darwin and Patric Dickinson have written about Rye, we trust you will try to go and see it for yourself. Dress warm and enjoy the wild ride.
Eclectic 18 UK is the brainchild of golf course architects Jaeger Kovich and Clyde Johnson. Read more about the series here, and follow Jaeger and Clyde on Instagram.