Golf has long had an association with royal families and the aristocracy playing the game. It is, then, no surprise to hear that many courses around the world have “Royal”, or “Real” for those in Spain, in their name. What’s in a name though? Many just accept this term without thinking about the heritage of this title and the honour that it is to receive the majestic moniker. Some of the most famous and revered courses in the history of our great sport are royal clubs, they are interwoven into the fabric of golf’s rich tapestry of history.
So how does a course get the royal stamp of approval? There are a couple of options but ultimately, the reigning monarch decides whether to grant the title or not. Firstly, if a member of the royal family accepts an invitation to be a patron or honorary member then you will be granted the name. The other option is for a club to just apply for the name and hope for royal approval. Either way, there is no doubt that this is a special group of clubs and a special label.
There are 64 clubs in the UK with the “Royal” name and now you know where the title comes from. Today we will take a look at some of the courses around the world with this name and give you some amazing places to go play to tick off your list.
Royal Dornoch is probably golf’s greatest ‘hidden gem’. The funny thing is that it really isn’t hidden at all, other than its location, however, it is one of those courses that doesn’t host a major event although it very much could and should. If you speak to anyone who has played this masterpiece in the highlands of Scotland, they will tell you that it is the best course they have played. This course has a cult-like following, there is no other way to describe it, and a true highland welcome awaits you.
Golf has been played in this area since around 1616 and in 1906 it received royal status from King Edward VII. The course is most famous for the tricky greens which have been replicated frequently around the world. The greens at Royal Dornoch are like up-turned saucers and with the fiery nature of links land, they really go against the grain in modern golf. Royal Dornoch forces you to play the ‘low ball’ to run approach shots up to the green and nestle it close to the cup. Every hole on this course is sublime but the closing two make for a memorable finish. Playing back along the sand of the Dornoch Firth. Donald Ross, the famous architect, learned his trade on this course as a greenkeeper. Look for features of Royal Dornoch on his works around the world.
Much like Royal Dornoch above, this is a course that only discerning golfers know about and a real treat for those that have the good fortune to play it. From 1909, Royal Porthcawl Golf Club became the second course in Wales to be given the “Royal” treatment. This wonderful links course has changed a lot through the years and the list of course architects that have played a part in the course is a who’s who of some true greats. The course actually has a mix of links and heathland-type holes as you make your way around it. Royal Porthcawl was added to the R&A’s Championship Rota in 1939 and, since then, has hosted some of the world’s most prestigious golf events including Amateur Championships, Senior Open Championships and The Walker Cup.
Being the first course in Wales to host a major championship, the Senior Open in 2014 and 2017, this is a course that Wales is rightly proud of. The course measures just over 7,000 yards from the back tees but, in proper links tradition, positioning the ball well from the tee is far more important than distance here. There are few sand dunes protecting this course and the local geography means that wind will almost always play a considerable role in your round. This course will challenge your spin control so keep the high balls low. The finishing hole at Royal Porthcawl leaves a lasting impression as you hit your tee shot straight towards the Bristol Channel. The dramatic tee shot leads to a great par four and the site of many a victory for some of the great names in our sport.
Founded in 1888, this course was given patronage by the Prince of Wales in its very first year. The course began life as a nine-hole affair until, in 1891, Old Tom Morris came along and helped them design a full championship course. His design brief was simple, he was to make the “finest course in the land” and no-one can deny he did a bad job. Coastal erosion has meant that this course has changed a lot through the years as many architects have been brought in to keep eighteen holes in play despite the changing land. This is a stunning cliff-top links in Norfolk and the quality of the course along with the views you get during your round, there are few golfing experiences better than Royal Cromer.
One of the best features of the course is the old lighthouse. The 14th hole, arguably the highlight of the round, features this building as you aim toward it from the tee. You can’t miss this fairway right as a large water hazard, the North Sea, awaits. This hole is tricky until the end as anything long of the green on approach is out of bounds too. Royal Cromer cemented its place in golfing history when it used to host a match between ladies from Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales. These matches were to become The Curtis Cup, the prestigious amateur match that still thrives to this day. Royal Cromer is a unique place to play golf and is a round fit for a king.
The history of Britain and Central Europe is intertwined, this is especially so because of the great wars of the early 20th century. The history of Royal Zoute Golf Club is truly fascinating and is a great example of international relations creating a wonderful place to play golf. Golf has been played here since 1809 and, given the proximity to Britain, it is no surprise that even from the early days there has been great influence from the British. In fact, since 1909, every club president of Royal Zoute has been British. This course has been rebuilt multiple times due to war and was given royal status in 1925. After the Second World War, the course was reinstated as the wonderful championship par-72 that it is today. The course is mainly the design of Harry S. Colt and has that quintessential feel of a Colt course with regards to the bunkering and the general playing experience.
The Belgian Open has been held here many times and some of the European Tour’s greatest golfers have won at Royal Zoute. This is a proper links course on the continent and an absolute gem for all golfers to enjoy. It is a relentlessly good golf course with a particularly strong stretch of holes from the 5th to the 16th. This course is highly reminiscent of Sunningdale with a nice side-helping of Carnoustie. The 16th is a great tree-lined par three with some treacherous trouble sitting all too close to the green. Two infamous pot bunkers lay in wait for anything short and left whilst a large and long bunker awaits those bailing out the right. Beware, the green falls away on this side and balls have a magnetic attraction to that trap.
Of course, the UK isn’t the only country in the world with a standing monarchy and a long history of the royals playing golf. Another great example of a nation that bestows this honour upon its courses is Spain. The only difference here is that thanks to the language difference, the equivalent courses in Spain are given the name “Real” which translates directly. One of the finest examples of a Real golf course is Real Club de Sotogrande, designed by the incredible Robert Trent Jones Snr. This was the World Golf Hall of Fame designer’s first course in Europe and it opened in 1964. There is, without doubt, no greater compliment to the design of a course that Real Club de Sotogrande is as fine and challenging a course now as it was over five decades ago. In its 30th year and after building a global reputation, Sotogrande was awarded royal status.
One thing that RTJ is known for is making his golf courses blend in with their natural surroundings seamlessly. He achieved this here at Sotogrande as well as he did anywhere. This course was used for European Tour Qualifying and one thing you will notice quickly is that it is a thinker’s course. You can’t just mindlessly rip your driver here, you must carefully plot your way around the sumptuous tree-lined track. The 7th hole is one of the standout holes of the round. This beautifully crafted risk versus reward short par four is protected by a large pond down the right side and exquisite bunkering around the green. This hole just sums up the genius of RTJ perfectly, it is a round of golf you will love.
Like many of the historic links courses of England, Royal Cinque Ports has a nickname that locals affectionately know the club as. Deal, as it is known, was founded in 1892 and many golf course architects have been involved in the rich heritage of the club. The great wars took their toll and James Braid helped to restore the course in 1919, however a segment on the BBC really helped to bring Royal Cinque Ports back to its prime. Unbeknown to many, Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club was once on The Open Championship Rota and has held the great event twice. It was actually scheduled to host the 1915 Open however, it was cancelled due to the First World War.
King Edward VII played this course many times when he visited the area and was, in fact, president of the club from 1905-1907. It wasn’t actually until 1910 that George V accepted the Royal patronage of the course and it took on the name. When Deal was awarded The Open, it was the longest links course on the rota and it is still seen as one of the hardest links challenges out, especially the closing holes into the prevailing wind. The 16th hole is widely, and rightly, regarded as one of the finest holes in links golf. This year it was lengthened and turned into a par five which has made it a fairer test and it has achieved this without losing any of its charm. The split fairway has wonderful bunkering to keep you honest from the tee. You are then faced with the choice of laying-up and making it a three-shotter or hitting something big and bold toward the small, raised and undulating green. This is a vintage links hole and the new version is sure to be a great hit. Royal Cinque Ports is a course that continues to improve itself and is certainly one of the UKs finest golf experiences.
In this, its 45th year since opening, La Manga was given an incredible birthday treat, a new name. Yes, this is the newest club on this list to be granted the royal seal of approval and this year the club became Real Golf La Manga. With three courses to choose from, this is a well-known golfers paradise and for good reason. Robert Dean Putman, Arnold Palmer and Dave Thomas have each created unique courses which have given the club a deserved global reputation. The North Course, by Putman, is the easiest of all of the championship courses on the property. It is also the one most likely to lull you into a false sense of security though. Large green complexes and fairways make for a forgiving round of golf but if the wind gets up, which it probably will, it’s not as easy as it looks. The par-five 15th hole sums up the course well. It’s a long slog, especially into the seemingly ever-present prevailing wind, however, the wide fairway lets you open up your shoulders and give it a good hit from the tee.
The South Course was also designed by Putman and then remodelled by Arnold Palmer. This course held the Spanish Open in the mid-seventies but is almost unrecognisable now due to many refurbishment projects. This course is protected mainly by plentiful bunkers and will put your ball striking to the test. The 18th hole is the signature hole on the South Course at Real Golf La Manga. This hole is packed with hazards to avoid, every rose has it’s thorns after all. The green is protected by copious bunkers, this course certainly keeps you honest until the last shot.
Finally, The West Course at Real Golf La Manga, the pièce de résistance of this wonderful resort. Not only is the course a truly great golfing experience, the surroundings and the immaculate presentation of the holes are unsurpassed. Each hole on the course provides a unique challenge making this one of the most interesting rounds you will play. The 17th hole on the course is as mad as it is fantastic. In just 479 yards, Dave Thomas manages to fit in so many features in this action-packed hole. A tee shot avoiding the trees and the bunkers takes you to the corner of the dogleg. From here you go over a burn to the final portion of the hole which is water-lined, yes missing at either side will be wet. The hole turns once more to the green and the water on the right will also catch anything short on approach. The best tip for this hole is to make sure you have enough club on every single shot.
As you can see, royal golf courses are all over the world and a collection worth making your way through. We have only begun to scratch the surface today and give you a few to play. If you enjoy the history of golf as much as you do the sport itself, then royal golf courses are great places to visit. These clubs are steeped in the history and heritage of golf and they are immensely proud of it too.
There are few better experiences in golf than going to a royal golf club, finding an old long-standing member and asking him to talk you through the history of the place. Watch as they light up and beam from ear to ear telling you about the past and the wonderful moments they have had at the club. You will gain a connection, learn some great stories and that’s what golf is all about.
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