Lost Links: The Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club

The first article in a series looking at the lost links location we selected to photograph our Signature Shirt. Available here.

Founded in 1882, The Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club is one of only two 'Royal' courses that has failed to survive the test of time. Located on a site of enviable quality, the natural links land provided the base for one of England’s leading golf courses just as the game was emanating from Scotland.

Surrounded on both sides by water, the limited area lead the course to become a 2900 yard, quality focused 9 hole course. Praised by Braid and Vardon for the challenging and tight nature of the course, the layout was also declared to be one of the most dangerous courses in existence due to the number of fairway crossings. One early image of the original course layout shows that, when playing the 7th hole, you’ll find yourself crossing the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 9th. Not bad for a hole that, by my calculation, couldn’t have been much more than 300 yards! The course matured through the years, settling on the following layout:

 

Drawing of the golf course layout for The Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club

 

Whilst drawing attention for the quality of the golf, the club also made a name for itself through its founder’s outspoken opinions on the rules of golf. Captain Jack Eaton R.N. was an early advocate of creating a unified set of rules for all clubs to use at a time when clubs set their own rules and stroke play was in it’s infancy. The R&A’s rules at the time were focused on match play; for example, if you lost your ball, you simply lost the hole. A pioneer of the slow play debate that’s still a hot topic to this current day, Eaton opposed rules that could slow down the pace of play.  It is golf’s loss that he passed away in 1888, before the unified rules came into place, limiting his eventual impact on the game as we know it today.

For all the members of The Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club (few of which actually lived on the island) it was the locally born caddie Horace Rawlins who was able to leave the biggest mark on the game when, in 1895, he became the inaugural winner of the US Open championship.

Golfer walking across the links dunes at the former site of The Royal Isle of Wight Golf Club

The club thrived during the early 1900s; however, the passing of club president and Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Beatrice in the early 1940s, followed by World War 2, turned out to be too much for the club to recover from. The club’s membership grew gradually through the 1950’s but to no avail, as the club eventually closed for good in 1962 (although unofficially, golf is believed to have continued to be played there until around 1965). The decision was taken at closure to pass the land onto the National Trust for preservation and is still used actively by locals today.

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