RCGC celebrated its 130th anniversary in 2018. During its lifespan, there have been several changes in the golf courses design and layout. These can be summarised as follows:
1888 – Opening of 9-Hole course (no records remain).
1895 – extension to 18 Holes (Course designer: Old Tom Morris).
1925 – Redesign (James Braid)
1965 – Change of layout to create 2 x 9 hole loops
1978 – Redesign (Donald Steel)
Over the course of the next 6 weeks, I will consider the different holes and layouts over the years to create my composite Ultimate 18. With no record of the original 9, it is not possible to include these. During the Second World War, 3 holes at the Eastern end of the course were taken for agricultural use, with golfers playing some holes twice to make up the 18. This layout will also be discounted from my study.
Around half a dozen of the original holes from 1895 are still in play during 2019. Over the years they have held various positions within the layout. For my Ultimate 18, holes must be positioned according to where they played at the time and can only be included once. If the tee position has changed significantly, however, both versions may be part of my composite course.
To conclude my series, we will evaluate how the 2019 course stacks up against its earlier incarnations.
1st Hole – 418 yards Par 4 (2017)
For the opening hole, there were just two options to consider and the decision was close.
The original opener played away from the clubhouse, which at the time was situated in an area called Happy Valley, below the lighthouse.
In the photo, the figures are in the vicinity of the first tee. The hole played at 315 yards up the hill with the cliff to the left.
The tee and fairway area still exist but the location of the green has been lost to the sea. We can imagine that the green would have been tricky, however, given the record of Open Champion JH Taylor and his opponent Sandy Herd both 3-putting during the opening day exhibition match in 1895.
With its cliffside location and tricky green, this hole was a strong contender for my ultimate 18. For me, however, the hole that replaced it offers the almost perfect opener.
With a wide fairway it offers all golfers the chance to get their round underway with little fuss. The second shot offers a risk/reward option of going for the green, requiring a carry over a deep pit named the ‘Osiers’ after the willow trees that grow within, or a safe lay-up down the left side.
Whilst the low-lying green location creates some drainage issues, this first hole offers a strong beginning to my ultimate RCGC layout. My favourite version is from 2017, when a wet Spring led to some healthy rough and great definition.
2nd Hole – 254 yards Bogey 4 (1905)
For our second hole, we are offered 3 different choices.
For the majority of its existence (1925 to 1978), the 2nd hole at RCGC was a short Par 3, played from beside the current 1st green to a putting surface in the vicinity of the current 17th green.
This uphill short hole would have had relatively little going for it (the fact that there are no quality photos suggest as much!), and was replaced with little heartbreak during the 1978 changes.
Since 1978, the 2nd hole has been a mid-length Par 4.
Whilst the bunkering and green complex are strong, the wet ground and routing away from the sea offer only limited interest.
The second hole for our ultimate 18 then, comes from the Old Tom Morris design.
Played from a teeing area now over the cliff, but seen in the very top left of this aerial photo from 2015, the hole played to the current 14th green in front of the lighthouse.
At the time this would have been a ‘Bogey’ 4, but now it would play as a brutal but beautiful Par 3.
3rd Hole – 370 yards Par 4 (1905)
For the third hole on our course, we are appropriately offered three choices.
From 1925 to 1978, the current 4th hole played as the 3rd. The highlight of this hole is the spectacular downhill tee shot. This tee is currently being re-modelled to offer golfers a better view of the fairway from the tee. Until this change is made, it falls short of the ultimate 18.
Since 1978, the 3rd hole has been an excellent short par 4, with strong bunkering and a fantastic green complex.
Offering a range of options from the tee, narrow green entrance and wickedly sloping putting surface, this hole was a strong contender for the ultimate 18. In the end, it narrowly lost out to a spectacular early hole.
With a tee set further back than the current 15th and in the shadow of the spectacularly grand Royal Links Hotel (sadly lost to a fire in 1949), golfers played down the valley to a green site on a flat bit of land near to the current 14th tee.
Whilst players of the time would not have had to contend with the levels of gorse and vegetation seen in the above photo from 2018, it would have been an exciting journey over rolling terrain and completes an incredible trio of holes to start our ultimate 18.
Next week: We look at holes 4,5 & 6 in our guide to the very best of RCGC.