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1 mile E of Sandwich
Contact in advance - not at the weekend
In 1885, Dr William Laidlaw Purves of Royal Wimbledon Golf Club, spotted from the vantage point of St Clement’s church a spectacular piece of undulating land with expansive sand dunes. Being a Scot and a keen scratch golfer, he decided that there was only one thing to do with this links land; create a golf course. In 1887, the course opened for play and was named 'St George’s' after the English patron saint.
"For a course that is still comparatively young," wrote Bernard Darwin in his 1910 book, The Golf Courses of the British Isles, "Sandwich has had more than its share of ups and downs. It was heralded with much blowing of trumpets and without undergoing any period of probation, burst full-fledged into fame."
After only seven years of play, in 1894, Sandwich hosted its first of fourteen Open Championships. This was the first Open to be played outside Scotland.
Royal patronage was granted in 1902 and the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VIII) became club captain. Many celebrated people have been affiliated with the club; the great golf writer Bernard Darwin was president of Royal St George’s between 1952 and 1961.
The course is not a traditional out and back layout. In a similar style to Muirfield, each nine is broadly circular, a loose figure of eight. There is nothing artificial about Royal St George’s; there is a natural look and feel to the course that blends beautifully into the surroundings, with wild flowers, dune grasses and the sweet song of the lark. Commanding views over Pegwell Bay and the white cliffs of Dover ensure an engaging experience.
All the holes are very different and memorable, a true sign of a great golf course. Royal St George’s also has some unique features; thatched roof shelters, the red cross of St George on the flags, and that bunker on the 4th hole cut into a huge dune, the UK’s tallest and deepest bunker. If you can carry that famous bunker on this 470-yard par four, then you can enjoy the peace of the fairway beyond, called the 'Elysian Fields'.
The par three 6th is called the 'Maiden'. We’ll let Bernard Darwin explain why: “There stands the ‘Maiden’ steep, sandy and terrible, with her face scarred and seamed with black timbers, but alas! we no longer have to drive over her crown: we hardly do more than skirt the fringe of her garment.” 'Suez Canal' is the 14th, so called according to Darwin because; “many a second shot has found a watery grave”. The 15th is considered architecturally to be one of the most impressive in golf because the fairway bunkers are virtually symmetrical.
"After the strategic school of golf architecture started to dominate thinking in the early 20th century, it became fashionable to criticize Sandwich as a big hitter's paradise, with too many blind shots," wrote Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses. "After the First World War, some of the most famous holes were changed – the Maiden hole was re-oriented so one did not have to play up and over the famous dune, and greens like the 9th and 17th were moved from blind hollows to their present locations on grand plateaus, perhaps by Dr. MacKenzie himself."
In the mid 1970s, Frank Pennink was brought in to eliminate further blindness. Three new holes were built and tee changes were made to two other holes. Many, except for devout traditionalists, believe that these changes further improved the layout.
"Whatever petty criticisms have been leveled over the lack of visibility on some holes, or the need for good fortune to master its difficulties, Sandwich has the four prerequisites of great architecture, and it has them in spades," continues Tom Doak. "Challenging golf holes, beautifully crafted greens and bunkers, a character of its own, and stunning scenery."
Royal St George’s certainly represents one of the most difficult tests of golf, requiring courage, confidence and solid ball striking. Severely undulating fairways make good scoring very tough indeed. Often the tee shot will come to rest on an upslope or a down slope, then one needs to hit a long iron or fairway wood into the green from an uneven lie.
Ian Fleming, the author of the James Bond books, was a member here at Royal St George’s. The golf scenes from the film Goldfinger were filmed at Stoke Park, but Fleming called the course “Royal St Marks” in the film, no doubt inspired by his home club.
Sandwich is a classic links course, summed up nicely by Bernard Darwin: “My idea of heaven as is to be attained on an earthly links”. Darwin went on to become president of the club between 1952 and 1961.
As you would expect for a course to host the Open many times, Royal St George’s is a fantastic yet tough links course on the rich golfing stretch of Kent coastline near Sandwich.
A modest and slightly stuffy clubhouse does not detract from what is a beautifully mature and classic links setup. The quality of fairways and greens are unrivalled, and there is interest and challenges on all but a couple of holes, making this a fantastic experience for the purist golfer.
Highlights have to be the 4th, with its towering bunker facing your drive and the snaking fairway beyond, and the par-5 14th which runs back towards the clubhouse with OB and a road running up the right. If you do manage to keep your ball in the middle of a fairly generous fairway, it’s a rare chance to outdo Dustin Johnson who stuffed his drive (OB right) and therefore his chances of gaining the claret jug in 2011!
I would want to compare with reputable neighbouring courses Royal Cinque Ports and Princes to gain a full picture of how good RSG is, but golf in England surely doesn’t get much better.
I can completely understand why many view this as the top golf course in England. Golf World rates RSG No.3 in the Top 100 Golf Courses in England and No.10 in the Top 100 Golf Courses in UK & Ireland. Golf Digest even rates it as No.28 in The World’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses. Quite the accolade.
I am very familiar with Royal St George’s Open Rota sister, Royal Cinque Ports. I adore Deal, as it’s known locally, and therefore had very high expectations for the Old Radleian Golf Society’s October trip down the toll road to RSG.
I was accompanied on my 2 hour journey by my best mate and fellow ORGS member, Robin, who had received some conditioning intel, stating that due to the designation and re-designation of the Open 2021, the greens may fall short of the usual standards. However, I just wanted to get out there, experience the wind, the architecture and history, walking in the footsteps of our game’s pioneers and champions.
The reputation of the club precedes itself. However, the clubhouse, facilities and pro-shop are modest in proportion. Which, to be honest is the way with Links courses in the UK. I, of course, had to pick up some merch and continue my ‘Barry Bag Tag/Humphry Head Cover’ philosophy. I now have a lovely little collection going, as you can see …
The format of the day was two-ball strokeplay in the morning, lunch and then foursomes in the afternoon. However, due to the utter joke that is COVID-19 restrictions, we missed out on the famous carvery lunch. I won’t pretend I wasn’t upset, but the sausage and mash was quite the substitute.
My game has been trending in the right direction since lockdown and I was looking forward to posting a competing score in the strokeplay competition. A bomb, straight down the middle of the first fairway set me off in the right direction, literally.
WOW. Every hole is on a stage. Bunkering is devilish but delightful. Blind shots are ingenious and intricate. Greens were undulating but unfortunate … Robin’s intel was regrettably correct. The greens must have been running snail-like 6 on the stimpmeter. This lead to three 3-putts in the morning which knocked me out of contention. The greens, although painfully slow, were true and pure. They will certainly be in tip top condition come July next year. I should, actually, add some meteorological perspective here. The three days previous were laden with lashings of rain from my storm namesake, Storm Alex. This probably resulted in obtuse growing conditions, and adverse greenkeeping conditions. As you will see from the pictures below, we received perfect conditions with a comfortable 15-20mph wind.
Despite the three 3-putts I shot a 79, the first time round a Major venue. Can’t be too disappointed I suppose. A couple of Links aficionados shot a 71 and 73 and that was that. Unfortunately my Foursomes partner didn’t turn up, so I was playing my own ball. So after a morning 18, a ‘healthy’ lunch and playing twice the amount of shots as normal, I was pretty knackered and a 79 turned pretty quickly into an 84.
But what a day. What a course. What fun. Every hole was truly memorable. I can remember every hole and that doesn’t normally happen to me. The red cross of the St George’s flags adds that touch of sparkle. Undulating fairways make good scoring very tough and test even the best of golfers. Blind shots and tight lies require courage, faith is obligatory on the greens.
RSG is the best. Bossman Bernard Darwin summed it up by saying “this is as nearly my idea of Heaven as is to be attained on any earthly links”. Darwin went on to become Club President between 1952 and 1961.
I am already looking forward to ORGS’s 2021 Autumn Meeting
RSG is a course which grows on me every time I visit. At first I was a little underwhelmed, however, after taking the trip down to the Kent coast multiple times this year, I am starting to appreciate what a great course this is. Whilst you might not get the spectacular lighthouse views you get at Turnberry, I feel it offers more variation in terms of strategy, with undulating fairways, complex greens and different wind directions on almost every hole! I would probably rank this JUST.. top of all the links courses I have played this year which include Birkdale, Turnberry and Saunton to name a few!
An amazing experience and more deserving of a Top 20 ranking than several courses such as Pebble and Portrush in my view. The holes have great variation and it has the feel of a special place to golf. Not a single hole is just 'good'. They are all excellent and the views are excellent even now (I understand pre-construction of a necessary beach wall, they were even better). A reasonable train ride out from London and a great place to play, stay and then play again.
I have not been back to Royal S. George’s recently enough to write a “current review” as it has added length and new bunkering in advance of hosting the Open Championship, now postponed a year. I will try to play it sometime in the next two years…..so much golf, so little time. Upon my return, I want to again climb up the stairs to the tower of St. Clement’s church to take in the view of the small town of Sandwich with a wonderful panoramic, unobstructed view of Royal St George’s. I hope it is still open and there hasn’t been too much development as it is a fabulous view on a good weather day.
William Laidlaw Purves, a Scottish doctor, and his friend, Henry Lamb, were searching for land along the sea as a means to escape the over-crowded London courses. They began their search in the Bournemouth area, going eastwards. How they did not see the land that became Rye is a mystery. In Sandwich, they climbed to this tower and spied the land that would become Royal St George’s as they gazed at the vast, empty windswept dunes. I have read that Purves’ brother, an archaeologist, accompanied them as he wanted to see the area where Emperor Claudius landed in Britain in 43 AD.
The land was leased from the Earl of Guilford with a farmhouse serving as the first “clubhouse.” Mr. Lamb and William Robert Anderson joined Mr. Purves in recruiting members and building the course, essentially designed by Mr. Purves. An inaugural meeting was held at the Metropole Hotel, London in 1887 and a week later another meeting was held at the course which now had 130 members. In 1888, one of the new members, Tommy Mills, booked into The Bell hotel for a weekend and fell in love with the club and links so much that he stayed there until his death some 44 years later.
Mr. Purves was convinced his links could become the equivalent of the Old course at St. Andrews. In 1894, just seven years after its founding, it held the first Open championship conducted outside of Scotland, won by J.H. Taylor. Patronage was given in 1902 by King Edward VII, with aristocracy being a key to being the Captain/President of the club including Edward VIII. Later, Bernard Darwin became a captain.
Through all of the championships held here, equally impressive is the number of Walker Cup players from the club. Perhaps the most interesting story from an Open concerns Harry Bradshaw, who in 1949 on the fifth hole found his ball laying half in a bottle. Rather than wait for a ruling he played his ball and dropped two shots, resulting in a playoff with Bobby Locke, which he then lost.
With this review, I wanted to lend my voice to those singing the praises of Royal St. George’s as I know the routing is essentially unchanged as are the essential parts of the green complexes. I consider it to be the finest course in England consistent with the ranking of top100golfcourses. During the years I lived in England, Royal St. George’s was often listed out of the top fifteen courses in the British Isles. I could never understand that. Was it because it was less accessible for play? Was it because it was considered too difficult? Did some think it to be too unfair with its bunkering and quirky fairways? Was it because there are several out-of-bounds and the grass is kept high?
I first saw it as I attended the Sunday of Greg Norman’s victory in the Open in 1993. I was so taken with the course that I scarcely noticed that the drive back to Beaconsfield took nearly five hours due to traffic (should be less than two and a half hours). It was a beautiful sunny day when Greg Norman captured the Open championship when Bernard Langer finally hit an errant shot out-of-bounds on fourteen. Mr. Norman played splendidly and held it together to shoot 64 becoming the second person to break 70 in all four rounds of the Open after Ernie Els finished earlier having done the same. I witnessed Mr. Norman missing the 12” putt on seventeen but I don’t think he cared about not scoring a 63. I was captivated by the rolling fairways, the bunker on four, the approach shot through the high dunes on five, the splendid par 3 sixth hole, eight, ten, fourteen, and the three finishing holes. Adding to this are the near perfect placement of bunkers and how the holes constantly changed direction (once I finally got off the hill on the left side of the sixth green).
The greens are excellent. Ben Crenshaw has said that they are the finest greens of the courses hosting the Open. I would agree although Trump Turnberry’s greens are also very good.
I have played it four times. After the first day spent there, I remember saying to my playing partner on the drive back to London, “I could play this course every day and never tire of it.” I agree with what Bernard Darwin wrote years ago, “Sandwich has a charm that belongs to itself, and I frankly own myself under the spell. The long strip of turf on the way to the seventh hole, that stretches between the sandhills and the sea; a fine spring day, with the larks singing as they seem to sing nowhere else; the sun shining on the waters of Pegwell Bay and lighting up the white cliffs in the distance: this is as nearly my idea of heaven as it is to be attained on any earthly links.” To think Mr. Darwin wrote this when Royal St. George’s had a large number of blind shots!
While I like Royal Cinque Ports and Rye Old a lot and give them praise, for me Royal St George’s has everything.
I have been fortunate to only have good weather on my trips there. Like Bernard Darwin, I have seen the sun on the waves at Pegwell Bay, the white cliffs of Ramsgate shimmering far away, and have been there both with a first tee time and a late afternoon tee time with the only sounds being the birds chirping hidden in the tall grass, the clubs striking the ball, and our conversation. I have experienced the nice sea breeze keeping everything fresh. There is a sense of vastness here, other than in the corner of holes four and five. You feel golf has connected you with the land and the sea. On no other course in Ireland or the UK do I walk with such joy and spirit. At St. Andrews you feel the town and hotel and there are eyes on you on the first, seventeenth and eighteenth. At Old head you are often aware of the cliffs. At Ballybunion Old you start with a cemetery and the road for a while. At many other courses you feel as though you do not escape the view from the clubhouse or holes run too closely together. But at Royal St. George’s I feel as I am at Ballyneal or Sand Hills in near-perfect solitude.
While it does have several blind shots, they are much less than how the course played for many years. New holes were built to replace blind shots and holes too influenced by the dunes resulting in long forced carries. These “new’ holes are the third, eighth and eleventh. Numerous blind shots remained until the 1970’s’s when many of them were removed by Frank Pennink. However, I am thankful several blind shots remain as they add character to the golf course. I sort of wish there was one more.
The routing goes in all directions with a nice flow and vast views, with only holes four and five feeling a bit squeezed into the corner of the property. The holes constantly change direction. One has to “stretch’ it a bit to say that holes eleven to thirteen are heading the same way. The routing expertly takes advantage of the natural land forms as well as the rises and falls. Many of the fairways are naturally wonderfully undulating, sometimes almost crowned resulting in one’s ball running off the fairway to the edge of the rough. One will often have a stance with the ball either above or below one’s feet. The key to playing well at Royal St. George’s is to drive the ball well. Perhaps no other championship course requires accurate driving and finding the middle of fairways.
The bunkering is superb with most of them now in sight. However, there remain bunkers on the course that are hard to see as some are hidden behind slightly higher ground fronting them or they are almost even buried. There is an extensive use of cross-bunkers as well as the shorter holes have numerous bunkers making tee placement a more important consideration.
The one question I have always had is why more of the golf course is not closer to the sea as there is a sizeable acreage between the boundary of holes fourteen, sixteen and eighteen including the location of the driving range. Is this land too flat or is it too wet? The clubhouse could have easily been built closer to the sea as well. Yet that brings to mind one of the best qualities of Royal St. George’s which is the amount of space between the golf holes. No one would want to give up the final four holes of the course as they are so very splendid. I am also grateful that the clubhouse is at the starting hole and then the end so that its presence is not overwhelming despite its beauty which I find equal to Muirfield’s clubhouse.
In terms of holes I liked…well, all of them. They are all unique. The highlight holes are #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, #13, #15, #16, #17, and #18. The others are good. Some would call out #14 but I think technology has lessened its challenge unless the wind is high.
The first is a near perfect opening hole with steeply faced cross bunkers near the green threatening the approach shot. It looks straight from the tee but it’s a slight dogleg and I seem to always be at the edge of the taller grass on the right if I carry the valley known as “the kitchen.” The approach shot will likely have an uneven stance to a green running slightly away to the back. The bunker in the fairway on the left side can come into play for longer hitters downwind on a dry day.
The second is a nice dogleg left with two bunkers on the left corner 200-250 yards out depending on the tee. This hole has been lengthened since I played it. The good news is that it can be lengthened possibly another two hundred yards. I hope we don’t get to 575-yard par 4’s for championships. The fairway has quite a lot of undulations to it. The two bunkers on the left corner of the second make it a tough driving hole. There is a large swale on the right before the green making it difficult to judge one’s approach to this raised green.
The third is the first par 3 and has no bunkers due to a forced carry over grass to a wonderful shelf for the green that has a decided tilt back to front. One can miss slightly to either side of the green due to the mounding with a good chance of recovery although the bottom half of the green is more difficult.
The fourth is a march up the hill after clearing the mountainous bunker hiding the fairway to perhaps the best contoured green on the course. If you clear the bunker you are left with an approach shot of 200 yards with a likely uneven stance going up having to clear the massive hollow fronting the green which almost resembles a wall. The hollow on the left is followed by a near four feet false front. Out of bounds comes quickly behind the green. I have been in the bunker off the tee and my ball stayed about 70% up the sand in a somewhat plugged line. After my attempt to get out, I lost my balance and down I tumbled. It’s great fun and I did not mind the jokes. This is one of the hardest holes I have ever played.
Five has a drive that must avoid the hidden, deep bunkers down the left with a second having to go through a valley between dunes. The fairway has a ridge that can send balls either left or right. From the tee one must find the correct section of the fairway to have a peak at the green. Out-of-bounds looms near the right side of the raised green which thankfully has not bunkers. This hole was originally a par 3 until equipment was used to create the opening between the dunes.
The sixth is a beautiful uphill par 3 ringed by higher dunes and four bunkers creating another dell green sat at an angle with two tiers. It is called the Maiden because the tee shot once had to go over the high dune on the left facing the green but teeing off from near the bunkers on the left fairway on five. Mr. Purves believed the hole to be a challenge similar to climbing the Jungfrau mountain in Switzerland. Now the green is completely in view and the hole is terrific.
The seventh has a beautiful view of Pegwell Bay and Ramsgate’s cliffs after the blind tee shot. You drive over the dunes and grass to a lovely, hidden expanse of fairway running to the green where one’s approach shot is heavily dependent on what the wind is doing. I recall a lot of bunkers on this par 5 at the right corner for the tee shot and the right side of the green. I believe this hole has also been lengthened since I last played it.
The eighth was previously a par 3 but Mr. Pennick changed it to a 4. It has a drive to a flattish fairway but then a forced carry over tall grass and broken ground to a plateau green that appears narrow. My second time playing the course we were allowed to play through the group ahead as we came down seven. On the eighth tee I hooked my tee shot and the ball whistled over the back left of the seventh green causing two players to duck of the foursome who had just allowed us through.. After the round I found out that it was Steve Wynn, the builder and owner of casinos, that I had come closest to hitting. I love the second shot into this green. I believe bunkers have been added to this hole.
The ninth is strategically bunkered down the length of it with two raised bunkers in a dune left of the green being the ones I have found to be the most difficult. The green is crowned with the wind taking balls to the right side off the green. Yet if one misses to the left of the green it lessens the chance for recovery due to the slope of the green away from you.
The tenth requires a march up the hill high on an exposed plateau with only the sky behind it. The green will send a ball hit too weakly at the front left into the bunkers on the left. There is a good chance of recovery on this hole if one is short in front as the surface is smooth. If one goes long, there is a substantial fall-off and making a bogey is a good score.
Eleven is an excellent long par 3 with bunkers surrounding a green that slopes quite a bit for a hole of this length. The slope is similar to a redan from front right to back left. This hole was previously a par 4 but changed by Mr. Pennink to provide a fourth par 3.
The twelfth goes around a sand ridge on the right to a green that is well protected. The bunkers are expertly placed with all the trouble before the green. Any score is possible on this hole.
Thirteen requires a diagonal drive to this dogleg left with a forced carry over tall grass. There were a lot of bunkers on this hole when I played it but I believe more have been added. The green is excellent with a big spine running through it creating a height difference of perhaps two feet. The lodging for Prince’s at the back of this green and fourteenth tee did not exist when I played the course. The lodging is good for Prince’s, not so good for Royal St George’s.
The fourteenth has perhaps the most nerve-wracking tee shot on the course with dunes to be carried and out-of-bounds hard on the right. Longer hitters have to determine whether to try to bounce it over the Suez Canal burn or lay-up. Prior to the 2011 Open, two small bunkers were added about 60 yards short of the green in the fairway which I did not have to play. But the two bunkers at the left side of the green I think are more of a problem since you do not want to avoid them so much that you go too far right out-of-bounds. Perhaps if I played this hole with a wind I might change my mind and include it as one of the highlight holes.
At the fifteenth there are more cross bunkers to carry and the narrow, elevated green is farther than it looks. Again, from when I played this hole, at least one bunker and length has been added. The green is angled left to right and has a sharp fall-off on the right.
Sixteen is ringed with sand and is a target shot where one must be even more precise than on the sixth. I have hit an 8 iron here as well as a 4 iron. For me this green with all of its run-offs deeper into the green than one realizes makes this the best par 3 on the golf course.
Seventeen has a hollow fronting the green and bunkers surrounding it making it difficult to run a ball onto the green. This is a very undulating fairway and a difficult hole.
The eighteenth has a slightly downhill, rippling, heaving fairway that is mounded sending balls to either side. There are beautifully placed greenside bunkers revealing a finishing hole more compelling than nearly any on the championship rota with perhaps only Carnoustie having a superior hole (if one ignores the fabulous town setting on the Old Course). It has the out-of-bounds to the right and the very tall grass to the left and another undulating green that seems to go in every direction with fall-offs on all sides. At the green on the right is a deep bunker and on the left is Duncan’s hollow, named after George Duncan who took three to get down and missed a playoff by a stroke in the 1922 Open. There is new bunkering to when I played the course.
Of the 725 courses I have played, I have Royal St George’s as the number one golf course in England, number six in UK & Ireland and number 16 overall. It is absolutely splendid. Now that Royal Portrush has eliminated their two weak holes, it has become the best course on the Open rota. For years I debated whether I preferred Muirfield or Royal St Georges as the number one course. It is very close between them. Although I visited long ago, every time I was at Royal St George’s we struck up a fun and informative conversation with members over lunch. The hospitality is welcoming, the clubhouse is fantastic, the grill room is a bonus, and the setting, location and golf course are magnificent.
I cannot speak highly enough of Royal St George's.
The clubhouse is one of the best in England, and the club oozes history and tradition. They are strict, but don't let that put you off.
The course is simply brilliant. Every hole is different, holes face different directions so you get every wind, and the holes work beautifully with the land. The biggest compliment i can give is that there is not a bad hole on the course. I really struggle to think of one. I would say the worst hole is still an 8/10, which is unbelievable.
The best holes are 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 12, 14, 16. And yes, I realise I've just named over half of the holes.
4 has to be one of the greatest par 4s in the world, with a classic risk reward tee shot over a huge blowout bunker, and one of the best green complexes in the world.
5 is also a brilliant par 4 with an elevated tee shot towards the ocean. The hole weaves through dunes, just like the 6th. 6 is a world class par 3 to a green sat beneath 3 dunes.
8 is another fantastic par 4, hitting your drive to the top of a hill, and then your approach down to a sunken green. 9 is one of my favourite approach shots in golf. You can make 2 or 6 from the middle of the fairway.
14 is up there with 6 at Carnoustie as one of the most architecturally sound par 5s in golf, with OB running the whole length of its right side. This is followed by one of the hardest par 4s I've ever played at 15.
RSG is fully deserved of its spot in the world top 25. Amazing club, the best course I've ever played, and one of the best days in golf.
It is no doubt a massive shame that due to the current circumstances the course also known as Sandwich won’t be hosting this years Open Championship, but it’s time will hopefully come next year.
This is quite unique for an Open rota course in that there are many blind shots. The first major one of these is the 4th, in which players have to play over the massive Sahara bunker. There are some good opening short par 4s, especially the 2nd and 5th, that dog leg left and offer the player many different options. The 6th, Maiden, is a great par 3.
The 10th has a great ‘infinity green’ and going long here is simply not an option. I would also strongly recommend the halfway house for a sausage just to the left of the 12th green. There is a particularly tough run of holes from 14-16 but nothing you wouldn’t expect from an rota course, and it’s fun to take on the challenge here.
All in all Royal St Georges has an incredibly strong character, made by its blind shots and also its great green complexes. I had a great day here last year- 36 holes of foursomes with a hell of a lunch in-between, just try not to spill gravy down yourself like I did! A brilliant golfing experience.
I have been fortunate to have played Royal St George’s on a number of occasions and every time I visit I have learnt a little more about how to play the course. For some reason it is not a favourite of the top professionals and has thrown up a couple of random Open Champions over the years but for me it’s a course that you need to play a number of times to appreciate how good it is.
The 1st hole is a straightway par 4 which aims the player down the right side of the fairway although I prefer to attack the green from left. This green runs away from the player and the temptation is to land the ball just over the bunker guarding the front portion but in reality this green is quite deep and there is plenty of room to hold the ball. The 2nd is a cracking short par 4 that doglegs severely from right to left. The big hitter maybe able to reach the green in favourable conditions but the more sensible route is to aim just to the right of the fairway bunkers which leaves a short iron approach to the green set slightly above the player. Hole 3 is a long par three with a tier in the middle of the green. Club selection and accuracy are key here as getting up and down from short, left or right is very difficult. Hole 4 is one of the standout holes at RSG with its huge “Himalaya” bunker ready to snap up the weak tee shot and its unique green complex with huge run offs makes it a truly brilliant hole! The tee shot challenges the player to drive down the left skirting the bunker hidden from the tee. The further right the player goes the longer the second shot which adds to the difficulty as the player is approaching across the green rather than head on.
The 5th requires the player to pick a club that will land them onto the plateau set about 220 yards away from where you should be able to get a partial view of the green. This again is a great green with a ridge running from front to back guarding the left side and a number of little swales guarding the right side. The 6th known as ‘The Maiden’ is one of the best places to watch the action during The Open. This undulating green is surrounded by huge dunes and a series of pot bunkers that if found can cause trouble for even the best bunker players. Hole 7 has one of the best tee shots on the course with two bunkers on the horizon providing some semblance of which direction you need to hit the tee shot. I always try and skirt the left trap as you can get a good shoot off the downslope which leaves an iron to the green. The 8th is probably my favourite hole with a drive which requires a slight fade to hold the fairway which is perched up onto another plateau that runs slightly from left to right. The approach shot to the green set below you has a ridge running through the middle with bunkers guarding both left and right. The green is relatively long and narrows from front to back so accuracy and club selection are key to finding the putting surface. Hole 9 is one of the shorter par 4 holes at RSG. The player tees off from a raised tee before approaching this excellent green with a short iron.
The 10th has a relatively straight forward tee shot to a fairway which rises slightly uphill to a green which is the most exposed on the course. The approach shot requires perfect club selection otherwise the ball will fall away in all directions…the bunkers are particularly perilous around this green. Hole 11 is probably my least favourite hole as I feel its a little too long but it again has a great green complex. The 12th is another stellar par 4 although its relatively short the fairway has a couple of spines that run down the middle which throw the ball off in all directions. To get anywhere near the hole you need to find this fairway as the green runs slightly from front to back and is struggle to hold when approaching from the rough. The tee shot on hole 13 is blind so I tend to aim at the middle of the Prince’s lodges in the distance. Once the fairway has been found the approach shot requires both accuracy and distance control to find the right spot on this green which has a long spine running from front to back. Hole 14 has cost a number of players The Open and is all about the tee shot. The aim point is the thatched hut in the distance which gives the player a little leeway if you push your shot. The second shot is pretty straight forward before you reach the green which has a number of ledges and low areas for pin positions.
The run home is one of the toughest in golf starting with hole 15 a brute of a par 4 which normally plays into the wind. Finding the fairway is very important as the player will need to negotiate the string of bunkers set around 20 yards short of the green therefor hindering any chance of running shot up onto the green. The green again is brilliant with humps and bumps all over it and nice run off on the right. 16 which again plays back into the prevailing wind which quarters slightly from the left is protected at the front, left and right by cavernous pot bunkers…one of which cost Thomas Bjorn the 2003 Open. Hole 17 which alongside the 8th is a favourite of mine. The tee shot which again plays back into the prevailing wind pushes the player to the right when the shortest line is down the left. The fairway is bonkers with huge undulations running through it and these undulations have an impact on what ball flight you can choose for the approach. The green set upon a ridge has huge false front so tends to play one more club than the yardage. The 18th has a pretty straight forward tee shot with bunkers covering the left side of the fairway which is the best line into the green. The green itself is another belter and has been improved further by mowing out the front area short of the ridge which gives it some interesting pin positions. A deep pot bunker guards the right entrance and “ Duncans Hollow” named after George Duncan who failed to get up and down to win The Open in 1922 protecting the left portion of the green.
RSG has a number of positives but a couple of things stand out for me. Firstly you rarely play two holes in the same direction which challenges the players concentration and shot making as you are constantly playing into different wind directions. Secondly the mix of elevations with both tee shots and approach shots keeps the player thinking on every shot. I am sure RSG will provide a stern test in 2020 especially if we get a two club wind and I am looking forward to watching the pro’s negotiate this excellent links.
So much fun! I played an a beautiful sunny day, but very very windy, for me that added to the experience. Holes 4,5,6,7 and 8 all brilliant. The back 9 didn't have any breathtaking holes, but all the way round I was tested and really loved it and would love to go again, this is a proper challenge and possibly the hardest course I have played, weather of course is a serious factor.
I feel like St George’s deserves more love. Despite its rating on here it ranks lowly in lists of Open venues, it supposedly has too many unfair bounces and some say it’s only in the rota because of its location. Score-wise there are only a couple tougher.
It also has a reputation of being stuffy and unwelcoming. It had long been a dream of mine to play RSG and I was so nervous I barely slept the night before. Maybe they wouldn’t accept my handicap? Or I’d walk into the wrong area of the clubhouse? I’d start with something like 8-7-6 and they’d ask me to leave?
I was very wrong. Yes there is understandably the old fashioned inner sanctum but I was made to feel 100% welcome on the playing side. A caddie is recommended to ensure you enjoy your day, you score better and you get history lessons included. With little fuss I was out exploring the hallowed links.
So yes, the course. I don’t think I’ve played any better and I’ve certainly not played any harder tracks. It does not ease you in like many traditional layouts – 3 pot bunkers guard the 1st green and I was soon enduring my first impossible stance with my ball on an edge. That’s what we pay for though, right? If you play heathland you’ve got to stick a couple in the heather.
Having visited Deal the day before I’d thankfully learned that it didn’t matter how long the hole was, take an iron and find the fairway. You’re better off making the hole longer than losing a ball 8 yards off the fairway. The summer rough at St George’s is thick, tangled and pretty much a stroke penalty.
4, 5 and 6 are real highlights for me. The 4th is long, has the infamous bunker and perhaps the most crazy green on the course. It also helps I parred it, a bit of a brag but I’ll balance that by saying I lost balls both times I played the blind 5th, one of the most dramatic holes on the course. The par 3 6th is a short delight, framed by the same tall dunes that make the 5th blind. It’s natural and it’s awesome.
There’s no relenting and there are no rest holes. Wind or not you get beaten up. The greens are both subtle and severe, and without caddie knowledge short shorts you hit well will soon disappear 20 yards down a hill. Many greens appear large but only have small playable areas. Gene Sarazen apparently used to only practice on the 10th because if you could hit that hilltop green, you could hold any on the course. 17 stood out too – the right side of the green has a steep false front, the left has more of a run-up area but then you bring a bunker into play. Fly it over either slope and you’re through the back.
All scenery is bleak yet wonderful, lonely but exhilarating and being out there on my own for my second round was a real treat and privilege. With dusk falling it was pretty much just me and the dunes, grinding out double bogeys after my long irons deserted me. It is not a fun course per se – it lacks the quirk and funky greens of say Scottish links but it is meant to test and sometimes torture you. I thought it was all fair though, if you can control your ball then with some local knowledge you’ll score reasonably well. Nothing it asks is impossible to answer.
That does only apply to the accomplished golfer, however. 17 sent one last double bogey my way, then the 18th has sadly had its cross bunkers removed to encourage pros to hit drivers. That does make it easier for us mortals too. So easy in fact, I was able to get up and down for par and experience maybe my favourite moment ever playing golf. It’s pretty much the closest you or I can get to holing out for a major, okay it’s not St Andrew’s but I’d say it offers a more intimate and personal experience. I even forgot about the 4-footer I missed for par there earlier. Almost, anyway.
In conclusion, if you have any doubts about playing RSG, forget them. It’s not cheap but it’s no dearer than some other Open hosts and it’s far less expensive than many US courses. In 10 hours I went from feeling scared and sickly to walking away happy, fulfilled, proud, and wondering when I can next play there. I really can’t wait.
I absolutely adored this review. You put your finger on the joys and double bogeys golfers experience while playing the Top 100 in such an entertaining way. Makes me want to play the course even more now!