It’s been the best part of a decade since I last played Prince’s for I’d previously always regarded it as the poor sibling of nearby world top 100 layouts at Royal St George’s and Royal Cinque Ports, but there’s a lot that’s been happening at Prince’s in recent years to rectify that. Admittedly, the starkest changes have taken place on the Himalayas nine, so much so that there’s now a strong argument to be had as to which nine hole loops should comprise Prince’s best eighteen, but whilst the work on the Shore/Dunes eighteen has been more subtle, the impact has still been powerful.
Having the flattest terrain of the three neighbouring clubs, Prince’s will never be blessed with the extreme undulations that grace parts of Royal Cinque Ports or the high dunes that adorn sections of Royal St George’s, but it’s the details at Prince’s that stand out. Other than the Old Course at St Andrews, the run-offs that have been created around the greens are as good as I’ve seen. Closely mown shoulders and contours have been widely used to protect the greens, something I’m a big fan of and something I look for in a quality links course. The sides of the greens have been closely shaven meaning a slight miss can slide into a revetted bunker or a gnarly hollow. Such are the quality of some of the green surrounds that there are several holes where I can imagine myself as a junior golfer wanting to sneak onto the course to play crafty chip shots, flops and bump and runs with a bucket of balls around the greens. Raised tees and new teeing sites now also provide improved angles and visuals for the driving holes whilst the clean, flowing transitions from green to tee are sublime.
One critique that I’ve had for Prince’s previously is on a single visitor play, some of the holes had been difficult to distinguish from one another when trying to reminisce after playing the round, primarily due to that lack of land movement, but along with those new tees, newly built dunes have been created providing an enhanced sense of isolation to the holes. These dunes have the combined effect of providing framing to the greens as well as opening up a combination of open sandy wasteland as well as ecologically friendly wetland areas. These efforts have now delivered some of that previously needed identity. Furthermore, a new 5th hole has been constructed on the Shore nine, creating a much needed mid-round interval to break up the parallel holes and provide a short tester of a sea-facing par three.
Whilst my previous ramblings have all been about the superb changes to the layout, there are some elements and features that Prince’s has always been blessed with, but the cleaning up of the areas around the fairways and greens has now accentuated these characteristics. On the Dunes, the upturned green on the 1st hole and the crazily rumpled fairway on the 3rd, along with the crooked spine that goes through the fairway of the 9th of the Shore are examples of exactly what you want delivered from a links course. The tucked green that plays peak-a-boo on the 7th on the Shore nine that’s hidden behind a newly created bearded bunker is a lovely hole; whilst on the Dunes, still my favourite of the three nines, we have a gorgeous sandy wasteland area with a sleepered walkway in front of the delicate short 2nd. The consecutive holes on the Dunes at the raised green 5th with its beautiful entrance and contrasting bunkering, and the doglegging par five 6th that follows, with its elongated tiered green, also stand out.
Prince’s has now really gone up in my estimation due to the vision that the club’s management have shown in making some brave improvements, all of which have been a resounding success. As a consequence, it should no longer be considered the poor relation amongst this stretch of Kent seaside coast, for the gap to the big boys has started to close. Its contrasting style to the other two clubs also now means that it provides something architecturally different, worth seeking out even in isolation of a visit to its near neighbours.
Date: June 15, 2020