Royal Cromer Golf Club opened for play 130 years ago in 1888 as a 9-hole course. With the help of Old Tom Morris the layout was extended to a full 18 in 1895. Extensive re-modelling was carried out in 1913 by JH Taylor and again in 1924 by James Braid.
Save for 2 new holes, a handful of new tees and bunker re-modelling, the course remains largely unchanged since 1924. In this blog, though we go in search of the ‘Lost 18’ as created by Old Tom, with the same hands and mind that designed St Andrews New & Jubilee courses, Prestwick, Muirfield and Royal North Devon.
This layout hosted arguably the biggest event in the Club’s history – The 1905 British Ladies Amateur Championship and in the same year the first ever international golf match between the ladies of GB & I and the United States of America – photos below from the Championship:
Here is what I found:
1st Hole – 315 yards
Until 1913, the clubhouse and 1st holes sat beneath the lighthouse in an area called ‘Happy Valley’ (see above photo). The figures in the image are in the area of the 1st tee.
Playing up the hill and with the cliff to the left, the opening hole would have been a tough opener playing longer than its yardage.
The above photos show Happy Valley in 2018, with the 1st tee and fairway still walkable but the 1st green location lost to the sea.
2nd Hole – 254 yards
The 2nd hole ran from just over the current cliff edge (top left corner of above photo – red arrow) to the current 14th green, enjoying an iconic location beside the lighthouse.
3rd Hole – 370 yards
The 3rd tee sat at the very edge of the property further back than the current 15th tee (red square on above photo). This tee would have been located in front of the huge and iconic Royal Links Hotel (below left), opened in 1895 and sadly burnt down in the 1940’s.
The area between the current 15th tee and fairway is covered in gorse, bracken, bushes and trees and presents a challenging carry to the valley fairway. Golfers in the early 1900’s would not have faced such undergrowth but rather rough waste areas (below right – photo shows 3rd fairway of the time).
The 3rd green was situated near to the current 14th tee on a flat area identified from the below aerial shot (marked red) taken during the 2018 snow.
4th Hole – 180 yards
The spectacular short 4th hole was played from a tee 120 feet above the beach on the edge of the cliff, across the valley that is now the front of the 15th green, to a putting surface that was around the walkway between the present 15th green and 16th tee (marked red below).
5th Hole – 300 yards & 6th Hole – 200 yards
The 5th and 6th holes are now the 16th and 13th holes respectively (below). In the time of Old Tom Morris, the 6th would have played as a ‘Bogey’ 4 and measured 200 yards.
It is now an uphill one-shotter and has been shortened by around 30 yards. Also, at the time the green would not have been so close to the cliff edge as now- as we will see as we move onto the 7th after a truly epic opening six holes containing hills,valleys, 120 foot cliffs, an imposing hotel and an omnipresent lighthouse.
7th Hole – 390 yards
Starting from the cliff-side of the current 13th green, the 7th hole swept along the cliff, down into a valley and up to the green perched on the cliff side of the present 8th green (below).
Although much of this hole is now lost to the sea, in our lost 18 there was still room for another hole to the seaward side of the 7th, as we will see on the back 9.
8th Hole – 180 yards
The outstanding front 9 continues with this downhill short hole – now playing as the 9th at a yardage of 160 from the white tees.
For Old Tom Morris, with more land to play with, this hole was extended to 180 yards and with the exposed sea breezes would have been a fearsome challenge to land on the putting surface in a single stroke.
9th Hole – 390 yards
Finally moving to flatter land at the Overstrand end of the course, the front 9 closes with another strong near 400 yard hole.
Starting from the current 5th tee (below top), the green was placed to the right of the current cross bunkers around 100 yards short of the current Par 5’s putting surface (below bottom).
And so the front 9 on one of the best courses in the country comes to an end. The routing has taken us across wildly undulating cliff-top turf, weaving between gorse, bracken and sand before completing our nine on the relatively sedate lowland to the Eastern end of the course.
Next week: We uncover the back 9 of the ‘Lost 18’ at Royal Cromer.