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Trains, dogs and caddies at Royal Colombo

Golfers tee off from either side of the railway at Royal Colombo Golf Club.
Tuk-tuks, caddies and trains as moving on-course obstacles were only part of what made Royal Colombo Golf Club one of the strangest yet most fun golf adventures this writer has experienced.

For those wondering where Royal Colombo is, it is in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, a city with four times as many Test cricket grounds as golf courses.

In fact Royal Colombo is the only layout in the city of more than 5 million people; getting a tee time can be challenging.

A golf excursion to Royal Colombo would not be complete without a tuk-tuk ride to the course which is located on prime inner city land beside a large cemetery. 

Sri Lanka was a British colony until 1948 and Royal Colombo was given its regal title in 1928 by King George V but there were no hoops for this writer to jump through to play it, even on a Saturday.

A late morning phone call to the club without mentioning where I was from was enough to get me on after 3:30pm that afternoon as a single for US $97; a fair fee considering the possibility of never returning to the nation formerly known as Ceylon.

Local caddies take a break between holes.

Royal Colombo is not an architectural masterpiece but multiple comparisons exist between it and Royal Adelaide.

Not only does the drive from the entrance to the clubhouse take you directly across a fairway, the sight and sound of passing trains highlight any visit.

Amongst the jam-packed Saturday field, I was paired with two expats, Liz, a Brit who has called Colombo home for more than 35 years, and Peter, a Dane and relative newcomer to Sri Lanka.

With so many golfers already on course, it wasn’t until we reached the second hole that our local caddies joined us.

Mine couldn’t speak English but with 15 years experience navigating the terrain I immediately trusted her reads on the grainy Royal Colombo greens.

The presence of a caddie was a novelty. The sight of stray dogs and locals fetching balls from water hazards and selling them back to members for 40 rupees each (about 30 cents) was a first.

The view from the back tee at Royal Colombo's par-three fourth.

Golfers walk across the train track to get to the third tee but the first sight of a locomotive came on the fourth hole, known as ‘Little Devil’, a par-three that plays up to 190 metres between an extremely narrow chute of trees.

At the par-4 6th - only 263 metres from the back tee - you’re confronted with one of the most bizarre holes imaginable.

The tee shot is played directly over the 5th green, which is little more 50 metres in front of the ladies tee. 

Needless to say, you must wait for the group ahead to tee off the 6th before putting out at the 5th.

And the short pitch onto the sixth green has its own quirks, played over the railway which dissects the hole only 20 metres short of the putting surface.

This writer’s tee shot finished on the train track, from where a free drop was taken, and moments later a full complement of train passengers were ferried across the hole.

The train crossings - three in the first seven holes - appear to occur with far greater regularity than those at Royal Adelaide.

While a simple Google search yields information about trains at Royal Colombo, it was only until experiencing the course that another Australian link revealed itself - the presence of Eucalyptus - or gum - trees.

According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, “Eucalyptus were introduced to Sri Lanka in the latter part of 18th century by planters who had links with Australia.”

Royal Colombo is widely viewed as one of the premier courses in Sri Lanka.

Eucalyptus trees left of Royal Colombo's eighth fairway with the clubhouse beyond the green.

The par-71 layout measures almost exactly 6000 metres from the back tees and you’ve got to stay alert: watch out for trains, stray balls on the overlapping 5th and 6th holes or the 1st and 18th holes which share a fairway, and keep up to avoid a visit from a motorbike-riding course marshal.

Established in 1879, Royal Colombo is one of the world’s oldest golf clubs outside the United Kingdom and its colonial-style clubhouse, while modest from the outside, boasts an exceptionally beautiful interior.

The history alone is reason enough to visit. The rest is a bonus.

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