Sitting 30 miles off the coast of Normandy, Guernsey lies closer to France than the UK – Weymouth is some 75 miles away – but it remains, like the Isle of Man, a British Crown Dependency with the Royal Guernsey Golf Club affiliated to the English Golf Union.
Royal Guernsey Golf Club was established in 1890 but the present course is a more recent creation, laid out on common land between the bays of L’Ancresse and Grand Havre (to the north of the island) by Philip Mackenzie Ross in 1949.
The esteemed Scottish architect could never be described as prolific, choosing his projects carefully, but he obviously knew a thing or two about reconstructing war damaged links courses as he went on to resurrect the Ailsa at Turnberry two years later.
A mere quarter of the twelve par four holes on the scorecard are more than 400 yards in length so the course measures up to a modest 6,200 yards. The layout includes only two three-shot holes (at 6 and 14) for a par total of 70, with the last of the four par threes played at the 18th hole.
The links at Royal Guernsey/L’Ancresse are a gem, positioned out on the north east tip of the Bailiwick it makes great use of a relatively small area without feeling compromised. Tougher than the course index suggests holes are routed in a number of different directions which means when the wind blows (which is pretty regularly) careful consideration of club and line is needed. Much of the front nine runs through corridors of thick gorse, while the holes aren’t narrow anything wide will be swallowed up by the green spiky stuff and a reload required, there’s very little first cut rough to slow errant shots. The course opens with relatively gentle par 4, the fairway slopes left to right and the gorse will take anything off line, easy to drop an early shot with a careless swing of the driver. The next 2 holes then work their way along the beach (which is OOB on the right) before heading inland, although the front 9 sees limited land movement the fairways have plenty of hollows and ripples to give a variety of stances. The greens are on the small side and demand precision approaches, inaccurate shots will be swallowed up the deep pot bunkers or swales, the course is fair in the fact a bit off line will probably be OK but anything more wayward will probably be gone forever in the gorse. The front 9 is the longest and toughest, 3 par 4’s in excess of 400 yards prove a stern test, don’t drop too many shots on those and you’re well set up to score on the easier holes.
The back 9 is more open with the gorse and bracken only in play on couple holes, there’s also a lot more movement in the land, some fairways and green complexes are reminiscent of RCP/North Berwick in their extreme character. 10 is a fun hole, requiring a straight long drive avoiding the OOB right to approach green hidden in a depression, anything short will roll back leaving a challenging pitch. 11 is a SI2 par 4 generally played into the wind, it requires a big draw from the tee to leave mid/long iron into an elevated green, anything short or off line will leave a tough pitch to rescue par. My favourite run of holes is when the course reaches its furthest point from the clubhouse after the par 5 14th , holes run close to the sea once again. 15 is a fun shot from a raised tee, you need to avoid the tower on the right (apparently there’s a big hole in the roof which has claimed a few balls over the years), land your ball in the ideal spot you’ll get a terrific kick forward onto a flat lie leaving only a mid/short iron into the raised bowl of a green. Then follows short par 4 which long hitters will fancy driving if the wind is favourable, a stream which crosses the hole will collect anything not straight and deep pot bunkers lining the fairway add further pressure on the tee, a classic risk reward hole. 17 is a short uphill dog leg right par 4, be brave with your line and the reward will leave you with nothing more than a wedge in your hand, too straight or left from the tee will most likely disappear into the gorse. Some might say the closing hole is something of an anti-climax being a 160 yard downhill par 3 with a big green, nonetheless depending on how the wind blows it can a 9 iron or 3 iron! Turf conditions are links like even with the fairways well irrigated, bunkering is used sparingly on the fairways but a proper punishment if you find one, around the greens they’re deep enough to challenge the best. Greens a generally kept firm but not especially fast which is reflection that the wind often blows and they have some serious undulation in places. Whilst the course doesn’t have dramatic towering dunes and only has 2 rather weak par 5’s it is a good course with plenty of character, certainly well worth the visit if you’re in the channel islands. I am a member at L’Ancress and have tried to remain objective!
I thoroughly enjoyed my round at Royal Guernsey. The professionals was extremely welcoming and gave me plenty of pointers on how to play this tricky course. I played on a reasonably windy day although given its location there are probably few days where the wind doesn't influence the course. I particularly enjoyed the par 4s running along the sea front, the blind tee shot on the uphill 17th and the fantastic downhill par 3 18th which if you were a member could definitely be a bit of a card wrecker if it was playing into the wind.
I've played Royal Guernsey/L'Ancresse (two clubs play on the same links) several times including the Trophy off the back tees and really like it. There is a mixture of styles giving real variety, the holes nearest the club house being more common land in style with blind shots and hogs backs on links terrain with the middle and closing holes including some elevated tee shots into complex greens with the aforementioned "dolmens" (menhirs) coming into play, albeit with relief in some cases. The wonderful closing stretch is classic seaside golf with Martello Towers feel very much in play from the back tees on the 15th and 16th (from personal experience) with massive depressions in the fairways leading to the very scary uphill par 4 17th flanked by gorse on both sides followed by the classic drop shot par 3 18th where depending on the wind you will need a mid iron or a wood. In terms of the "best" course in the Channel Islands, it's hard to decide - L'Ancresse is not as consistently "good" as La Moye in Jersey but is in my opinion more fun.
The only down side for me is that you may have to wait a considerable time on a Saturday for shots across the bisecting road while the locals make their weekly trips to drop carrot stalks and chewed up straw hats at the municipal dump !
After a gentle short par four opening hole, the 2nd is a solid par four of 401 yards along the first of two coastlines abutting the course. Clumps of gorse are about the only thing that will stop you admiring the adjacent bay of Grand Havre. The par three 3rd hole continues along the shore.
There are very few fairway bunkers but gorse is a major hazard that will punish inaccuracy, especially on the front nine, which concludes with a demanding par four of 461 yards. With the exception of the par three 7th, most of the outward holes run north-south. By way of complete contrast, all of the inward nine up to the 17th hole run in an east-west direction.
The 15th and 16th are the last of the holes along the beach. Seventeen is a dogleg right and uphill. From the short walk to the 18th tee, there is a wonderful view across the course with the clubhouse to the left of the 18th green and L’Ancresse Bay behind it. This unusual finishing hole is a short par three with the green well below the high tee.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every English course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.