Of the sixty-one courses honored by the British throne, few have received the coveted designation with as much dispatch as Royal Worlington and Newmarket Golf Club. This beguiling nine-holer near the horse-racing hub of Newmarket opened in 1893. The club was anointed two years later.
Location had much to do with it. Beneath Royal Worlington’s verdant fairways lies a bed of sand that runs through this lovely slice of East Anglia, about ninety minutes north of London. That sandy base enabled Tom Dunn, the original architect, to create what is essentially an inland links. The ground is unfailingly firm and full of knobs and hollows, each hole marked by a vexingly contoured putting surface of a kind rarely fashioned at the time on non-seaside courses. The layout occupies only forty acres, and as part of its charm, players must hit directly over the preceding hole on three different tees.
Bernard Darwin proclaimed the club “the sacred nine”; Herbert Warren Wind declared it “the best nine-hole course in the world.” Sentimental favoritism may have been at play: Both were Cambridge men, and Royal Worlington, twenty miles from the campus, is the university’s home course. The names of Cambridge team captains—including H. S. Colt, Darwin, Henry Longhurst and Peter Dawson, the current secretary of the R&A—are prominently displayed.
Wonderfully little has changed over the generations. As in the days of Darwin and Wind, Royal Worlington allows only two-ball matches (unless the club secretary approves otherwise). And visitors still enjoy the modest clubhouse, with its simple hooks above old wooden benches in the changing room, shepherd’s pie at lunch, and the hatch in the lounge through which postround libations are dispensed. The drink of choice is the Pink Jug, the club’s signature cocktail. Originally mixed in a pastel pitcher—hence the name—it consists of champagne, Benedictine, brandy, Pimm’s No. 1, ice cubes and a slice of lemon.
The last time the course underwent a significant makeover was in 1906, when Colt lengthened it by almost four hundred yards and converted the ninth from a run-of-the-mill one-shotter into a memorable par four, a short, modified cape hole. Since then, no major changes have been needed, testament to just how royal a place this is.