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M25, then M20, turn off at Leeds Castle
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Nick Faldo, Steve Smyers
Chart Hills Golf Club is set in the peaceful rural heart of the Garden of England where old oak trees stand guard and where there is sand, lots and lots of sand.
This is Nick Faldo’s first European design and the discerning American designer, Steve Smyers, supported him, opening for play in 1993. They have created a big and attractive golf course with acres of water and sand to trip up the very best golfers, or as Steve Smyers said: “You feel a great course; it thrills you and sometimes frightens you. But in the end, it will challenge the best in you.”
Despite the English rural location, Chart Hills feels like a commercial American golf and country club complex. The service is first class – they are geared towards corporate and society golf and naturally, it has mandatory buggy paths weaving their way along each of the holes.
The design is bold and uses the natural contours of the land to good effect. The fairways twist and turn in every conceivable direction, heading towards the huge and frighteningly undulating greens. The bunkering is daring in the extreme, extravagant and exceptionally varied, ranging from small deep pot bunkers to the huge serpent-like “Anaconda” bunker on the par five 5th that wiggles along for more than 200 yards. Water hazards feature extensively at Chart Hills. These, too, come in all shapes and sizes and are frequently in play, especially on the short par three 17th where the green is an island.
A round of golf at Chart Hills is a memorable experience and the variety of the holes will keep you thoroughly entertained from your first drive to your last putt.
I have played many times at Chart Hills since the opening in the early 90’s and have actually posted two player reviews on Top 100 before. I gave a 5-ball on 27th March 2006 and then a very different 3-ball (just) rank on August 5th 2014. The time around 2014-2015 saw the course at its poorest, un-recognisable in places and around 70 bunkers out of action – on that day in the summer of 2014 my jaw hit the floor in horror with how it had become. This was all done to lack of investment and also some lack of interest as the club was about to be sold.
New owners have been in place now since 2016, so my recent visit this November was to see how things were doing. I am happy to report that the course is on the mend and is making decent progress to return to one of the stronger inland modern courses in the south-east of England. The focus in the last couple of years looks to have been correct with concentration on the tees, the greens and surrounds and also the many bunkers. The tees look really smart now and the bunkers are looking really good and consistent – around twenty of the original number have been strategically removed too. The green-sites have seen the biggest improvement for me and in time could well be better than at their previous best. What I like now is that the aprons, the approaches and the definition between the grass-cuts is spot on – originally there was not really the run-up option to the greens – there is now.
Not too sure where the course will end up in the rankings over the next few years but previously when it was in top notch condition, I would have had this ahead of both courses at The London Club and I imagine that is the first goal in terms of being judged – whether we have a re-entry into the country top 100, that remains to be seen but well done to the new owners and the current team for starting the turnaround.
Is the same amount of crazy bunkering on the 9th still there? It looked like Faldo just spewed up sand all over the fairway when I played there some years ago.
Yes some may say crazy bunkering and the 9th is an example of this, just a sea of sand from the tee! In all honesty if the course was being built today the idea of 128 bunkers just would not happen. The new look brings this number down to 100 - not everyone's cup of tea I know but pleased to see a decent course on the way back.
Chart Hills is a flamboyant Sir Nick Faldo designed layout located in tranquil Kent countryside that contains some excellent holes amongst its bold and lavish bunkering.
During 2017 the course has undergone some major course refurbishments. The striking bunkering in particular has essentially been redone and looks very smart. Most of the sizeable sand traps are back in play now and they undoubtedly help give Chart Hills a unique character.
Admittedly, the condition of the fairways wasn’t great but I suspect this is more to do with them being neglected whilst man hours are spent on the mammoth task of returning all of the bunkers into play. The greens, however, were excellent and ran nicely. The course was more than playable on my visit and I expect everything will be back to top spec for the 2018 season.
We are immediately drawn to the impressive scale and style of bunkering at the opening hole; a grand par five that dog-legs to the right and allows you to decide how much of the desert you wish to chew off. All of the par fives feature a lot of sand and although it is obviously preferably to avoid the fairway bunkers there is still a good chance of playing out of them with a long enough club to advance the ball a fair distance. The 16th in particular is a sandy feast with traps to avoid at every step of the way.
I also enjoyed most of the par fours where a diverse mix of mature oak trees, water hazards and of course more bunkers help defend the holes.
In my opinion, the weakest aspect of the course is the set of short holes. Not that they are poor but I simply didn’t connect with any of them. The third, seventh and 11th just didn’t grab my attention like the other holes did whilst the island green at the 17th is undeniably charming it’s slightly out of character with the rest of the course.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.