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With the 2011 Open Championship taking place nearby, quite a few visitors will want to play Rye Golf Club.
With the 2011 Open Championship taking place nearby, quite a few visitors will want to play Rye Golf Club. (Courtesy of David J. Whyte/Linksland.com)

Rye Golf Club in East Sussex, England does it the old fashioned way

Clive AgranBy Clive Agran,

RYE, EAST SUSSEX, England -- Just a mile or so to the east of the pretty seaside town after which it is named, Rye Golf Club is a traditional, delightful, eccentric and, to some extent, rather frustrating club.

With a colorful history that stretches back to the end of the 19th century and a fabulous golf course set among magnificent dunes, Rye is understandably proud of what it is and unashamedly determined to protect what it has for the benefit of its members and their guests.

The fact that it has a bit of a reputation for being rather "sniffy" doesn't bother it in the slightest. It's a great course and a flourishing club. Why should it worry what people think?

Consequently, it behaves rather idiosyncratically and in a fashion that some might describe as a wee bit selfish.

For example, golf clubs ordinarily extend what is known as "courtesy of the course" to visiting journalists intent on reviewing it for publication. In 30 years of golf writing, I had never previously been obliged to pay a green fee when writing about a golf course.

But James Laidler, the charming secretary at Rye Golf Club, explained that since it doesn't seek publicity, the club doesn't feel obliged to adhere to this particular convention.

The fact is that Rye is wealthy enough and doesn't need to generate more income. As a gesture and concession, Mr. Laidler generously signed me in as his guest and allowed me to pay the £40 ($60) guest fee. Although somewhat unhappy at having to open my wallet, the money was very well spent as the Rye course is a cracker.

One thing you need to understand about Rye before you set off is that, although it is tolerated on Mondays and Fridays, the club doesn't especially care for fourballs. Twosomes are OK, but foursomes -- alternate shots -- is the preferred format.

The usual routine is 18 holes of foursomes in the morning, followed by a decent lunch and a couple of swift drinks before another 18 holes of foursomes in the afternoon.

Treacle pudding is the "signature" dessert, and the custom is to knock on the kitchen door if you want ice cream on it. The whole experience is about the nearest thing to P.G. Wodehouse that you'll find in the 21st century.

Before stepping onto the first tee, I sought the advice of Michael Lee, the professional.

"The key thing here is getting up and down around the green," he said. "Although the fourth is rather tight, the fairways are mostly pretty generous and so driving is relatively straightforward.

"The other thing is you can't just hit the greens as the ball will quite likely roll off the back. The pitch-and-run shot is a useful one to have in your armoury."

It is also often said of Rye that the hardest shots are the second shots on the par 3s.

Tricky as it is to get on, the effort is well worthwhile as Rye is a delightful golf course. Although punishing, the rough isn't ridiculous, so you shouldn't lose too many balls.

The generous fairways are blessed with the springy turf that makes links golf such a pleasure. They drain superbly, so play here throughout the year is possible. Every January, for example, it hosts a historic tournament called the President's Putter, where approximately 200 Oxford and Cambridge graduates compete in a week-long, individual, knock-out tournament. On only one or two occasions since it began early in the last century has it been abandoned, snow being the culprit. It is often said of Rye that it is a winter course and only very rarely is play impossible.

There are several blind shots and frequent views of Rye Harbour, huge sandy beaches and the English Channel. Like most seaside golf courses, wind is virtually an ever-present factor.

When your round is over, the Rye clubhouse provides cozy if unpretentious comfort. Destroyed by bombs in World War II, it was faithfully rebuilt after the hostilities were over and is now something of a historic landmark that is unlikely to be enlarged or improved. As with everything else at Rye, it is precisely the way members like it.

Rye Golf Club: The verdict

With the Open Championship taking place at Royal St Georges Golf Club, which is about 40 miles up the coast, in July 2011 there will be quite a few visiting golfers hoping to play Rye. When I asked Mr. Laidler what advice I could offer such people, he said that they should contact him (links@ryegolfclub.co.uk) and the smaller the group the better the chance they would be allowed on. Is it worth the effort? If you want to play on one of the loveliest links and visit one of the most traditional clubs, then, yes, it most certainly is.

Although in his 60s, with a handicap of 15 and lifetime earnings comfortably below $100, Clive Agran nevertheless still believes he can win a major. Arguably England's most gifted golf writer, when not dreaming of glory he's scouring the globe simultaneously searching for lost balls and great golf courses. Follow Clive on Twitter at @cliveagran.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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