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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.
I first visited Royal St. George’s on a damp and dreary day on the Saturday of the 2011 Open Championship. I was soaked to the bone and must admit that as a spectator I didn’t think that Royal St. George’s was particularly remarkable. It goes to show the difference between viewing a course from outside the ropes and getting to play a course first hand. Having now taken my own clubs around Royal St. George’s earlier this year, I can say that I’m a genuine convert.
Host venue to the 2020 Open Championship and the first course to host the Open outside of Scotland, this place has first class pedigree. There’s a real aura to Royal St. George’s and it’s an experience that is best enjoyed if you make a day of it. Play 36 holes if you can, but as a minimum take in the hearty members’ breakfast before your round and take your jacket and tie to enjoy the carvery post or between rounds and you’ll enjoy a much fuller experience.
It’s plain to see why this course is now a mainstay of the Open rota. The greens are crazy in parts and your short game will be need to be on song as it’s guaranteed to be relentlessly challenged. For what looks like a fairly flat piece of land on the opening tee, there are some surprisingly extreme contours. The moguls on some of the fairways means a flat lie is unlikely, the most evident being the 12th where a clean struck shot down the fairway will be jettisoned to a position completely different from where your ball landed, something the pros find unjust, but tour professionals rarely make the best judges of golf course architecture.
One of Royal St. George’s attributes is the sheer quality of the holes 1-18. There’s not a weak hole on the course but it’s the stretch from 4 to 8 which is the most eye-catching and one of my favourite hole sequences in all of golf. Whilst the 4th hole bunker has lost a little bit of its identity now that they’ve removed the railway sleepers, the intimidation factor of knocking your drive over a chasm of a bunker to reach the fairway still remains. The 5th hole is maybe my favourite with the 2nd semi-blind approach shot played between two modest sized dunes. The amphitheatre 6th is always a highlight of Open week and surrounded by towering dunes means that it offers the highest vantage point across the course. The 7th forces you to play towards the sea and out of bounds to an angled fairway and this is where I found my first fairway bunker. Avoid the fairway bunkers at all costs as all you can do in many cases is get the ball back in play. Any sign of greed will likely end up with you being punished and having to attempt the shot again from the same spot. The 8th is a horribly demanding hole, I understand that this hole usually plays toughest during Open week and again plays into a dune framed undulating green but this time presents the challenge of carrying over 50-100 yards of scrubby rough to reach the putting surface. This stretch represents Championship links golf at its best and whilst I could go on to describe the rest of the holes with similar fondness, I hope I’ve provided a short narrative of the quality of golf on offer to paint enough of a picture without me needing to drone on.
As your round culminates on the 18th green, a piece of land that appears quite sparse without the surrounding grandstands, grab a shower and don your jacket to take in the members’ lounge where you’ll be met with a beautifully old school smoking room with fine wooden panelling and leather seating. And I mustn’t forget to mention the glass cabinet before you enter that’s like a condensed history lesson on golf equipment and includes, amongst others, an anti-shank niblick from 1892. It’s comforting to see that people have suffered from the dreaded shank affliction for well over a century!
Royal St. George’s, a club that delivers in spades on and off the course. A 6-ball no brainer.
I am fortunate enough to be a member, and I thought this review was very fair. What even the top pros sometimes fail to get about courses like ours is that control of flight is so much more important than it is inland. The ability to shape shots allows one to use the slopes rather than be punished by them.
I would add that, with the exception of the Old Course, local knowledge is arguably more beneficial at St George's than on any of the other Open rota courses. There are fewer blind shots than most articles would have one believe - certainly fewer than at County Down, for example, and possibly St Andrew's - provided one drives on the right line. The review above mentions the 5th, where only a second played from the plateau known as Campbell's Table (named after Bill Campbell reached it into a Force 8 in the 1967 Walker Cup) gives one a clear view of the green. If one can manage it, take one of the excellent caddies who will show visitors all the right lines.
On our annual GBI trip in June, we returned to RSG after only 3 years. We were very impressed in 2014, but one of our 4some had hurt himself and didn’t get to play. The rest of us enjoyed our two days there so much, we played there 3 days this time. Having played more than 80 of your top 100, I’m more convinced than ever RSG is one of my very favorite venues. Like Muirfield, virtually every hole is distinct, and never are there 2 holes with the same wind direction. Last time, we stayed in the dormy, but this year, we stayed in Sandwich and enjoyed the town. While we were introduced by a member, the welcome was very warm indeed! If you’ve missed this course, plan a visit soon. It’s fabulous.
It was long awaited. The only Royal missing. And the chance of playing it with 3 Top 100 friends in a real golf match made it a perfect round of golf in maybe the best links golf course in England. Some say Birkdale, some would put Hoylake and other even Cinque Ports, but after some days of having played it y comparing to what I saw in the other I will say that RSG is correctly and fairly put in the first spot for England, it is a hell of a golf course and a great challenge.
And it gives me a better tool of analysis having played it in a "serious" match game and having striked the ball as best as ever, making just one bad contact with 18th tee shot (and penalty was big!). In my home course hitting the ball like this I would have scored 6 shots better, but not knowing the course plus the toughness of the green complexes made me lose some shots I usually do not miss. And I believe this will also happen to every golfer playing RSG for the first time.
There are many feature that make it great and challenging, but the first one is a good amount of blind shots where you need to know where to go and of course where not to miss. For example on 5th hole I hit what I though was a perfect tee shot and found it in a cross bunker with only a lay up shot as my only choice. I was not punished, it is just not being familiar with it. and the second shot here is extremely tough with 2 big mounds showing the path for the correct shot. Before this 4th hole again demands a very good tee shot, just missed the fairway by 1 yard and both lie and stand were very uncomfortable. 7th is a clear example of when greediness will collect one or two shots from you: a good tee shot made it possible to reach green in two but the incorrect club and not knowing that crossbunker was in the way made a birdie into a silly bogey. The same happened in 8th after being on the right side of the fairway where the view of the green is not possible, I hit what I thought was a good shot and missed way right the green but it is fair to say wind was supposed to bring back the ball and it did not.
The course was playing the opposite usual wind and on 10th I was close to driving the green, putting from 40yds short of the green which looked weird but gave me my birdie. With that wind and an uphill shot there was no way to hold the ball on the green.
11th played tough with cross wind and 210yds, again wind didn't behave as how it looked it was going to be. This is one of the things that once you get familiar with a course won't happen again to you.
I was really looking forward to "birdie the hole DJ doubled to lose The Open", but despite 2 good shots I bogeyd it! A thin and tight lie punished me for going too close of the green in 2, totally unnecessary as getting home was not possible.
On 15th again a great iron shot but just 1m off the correct line and missed the green just to the right, for the fifth time I was not able to two putt from 4 yds outside the green.
What I am trying to show with this? The demand of precision the course demands on every shot. That is the main and real challenge on Royal St George's.
It is fair to say that with Andy we lost to Mark and Simon 2&1, the just played better and made less mistakes, but it was a great game of golf, one of those worth to be repeated in the future at this one or any other Major Venue.
A paragraph for the greens: again, faster than Scotland and very true, but not as fast as locals say they can be. And greens design is very creative, ondulated, sloped and where you will for sure have a couple of real long putts during your round.
Lunch at the Club completed our day before I headed to Cinque Ports and just a big thank you for being part of Top 100 which usually gets us to experiences like this.
Finally, is it the best? Maybe. Pros don't like the ondulated fairways, but it is the same for all golfers so go and play, it is a great golf course.
In my mind Royal St. George’s at Sandwich is a championship links golf course with few, if any, superiors.
Back in 2014 a trip to compete (I use that term very loosely) in the South-East of England Links Championship presented an opportunity for me to complete the playing of every Open Championship course in England.
I’m very sorry Hoylake, Birkdale and Lytham, you have wonderful golf courses, but personally Royal St. George’s is more than a cut above.
I have found over the years that whenever you go into a course with extremely high expectations there is always a chance that you will be left slightly underwhelmed after playing it. Not because the course is poor but simply because you were expecting so much. For me one sign of a truly great course is when you go in with a high expectancy and the course over-delivers. Royal St. George’s did just that and it continues to grow on me with every subsequent play, the most recent in May 2017.
Three years ago my two rounds consisted of completely contrasting weather conditions. An evening practice round in benign, almost dreamy, conditions was utter bliss. The tournament round in a howling wind and a 45 minute period that was probably the most difficult conditions I’ve ever experienced on a golf course, hail stones et al, showed what a brute the course can be. Again bliss! My two rounds were certainly a case of beauty and the beast. And that is perhaps a good analogy for this fascinating course.
In 2017 the weather played ball for both rounds but with two contrasting wind directions and this showcased just how special, memorable and phenomenal England's number one links is. It really is King of Links.
The reason why I think I like Royal St. George’s so much is that it captures everything I love about links golf. Yes, it is a demanding course, especially from the Open tees at 7,200, which requires drives and approaches to be executed almost perfectly for just a glimpse of a birdie putt. However, whilst it certainly has that aura of ‘championship’ links golf there is more than a hint of eccentricity and quirkiness, which for me is the perfect combination.
Ed is the founder of Golf Empire – click the link to read his full review.
Played Royal St George's for the second time on the 16th of June. Not impressed at all. In my opinion the less interesting course among the Open rota courses. Do not understand why is so high in the rankings as other links in England such as Birkdale, but also Royal Cinque Ports and Rye, are definitely more challenging and fun to play. Course was not in great conditions, even though starting from this week it will host the Amateur Championship. Probably for this reason pin position were absolute non sense (but green fee was still full...). Staff was absolutely unfriendly and seemed annoyed by the presence of visitor at the course. Will not go again.
I respect your opinion and disappointment in setup, but cannot understand how Sandwich can be a 4 ball course.
A day of two ball, lunch then foursomes here would in my experience be hard to better.
I expect you had a poor round hence the criticism and the joke-like 4 ball rating. RSG reeks class from the moment one turns down the lane that leads to the clubhouse. The Snug bar was unstuffy and the pro-shop and caddymaster could not have been more welcoming and let's face it those guys must have to endure the full gamut of GCW's on a regular basis. The course is beyond compare: more interesting than Muirfield and St Andrew's Old Course yet more challenging than Lytham, Birkdale and Hoylake rolled in to one. As a test possibly only Royal Troon and a brutish Carnoustie in a three-club wind can come close. RSG gets a six ball rating every time.
Leaving aside our different taste in links golf, I fully understand your frustration with the pin positions of the day and the lack of understanding from the club when you let them know you were not happy (I am only guessing here). I have played Sandwich close to 20 times over a period of over 15 years and only once had less than satisfactory conditions (slow greens full of sand gave me opportunity to score under 80 for the first time, so I chose not to complain). However, I do remember the "the course is full, you have to start from the 10th"-attitude when there were a couple of members on the first tee, but thought that was a thing of the past as they now welcome 4-balls some days and have made other similar concessions to modern times.
Patronising review responses that begin "I expect you had a poor round hence the criticism" should be banned from this site. Golf is difficult enough without smug responses like this!
A reviewer who doesn't share your view of a beloved course is still very much entitled to their opinion - even if in this case a ball was likely knocked off their rating due to a bad experience.
And no course is beyond compare (so I expect you had a very good round hence the 6 ball rating).
I recently played at Royal St George's or as its locally known Sandwich. The first time i played there must have been well over 15 years ago as a junior and the weather was less than favourable with rain coming in sideways. We also received a less than hospitable welcome on that occasion as we tried to order breakfast without having pre ordered or dressed in the appropriate jacket and tie.
I must say that i'd left the course at the back of the pile of places to visit again, however, on my most recent visit i'm delighted to say that i saw the course in all of its majestic glory.
I played it as part of a society with 18 holes in the morning, lunch (wearing the appropriate attire on this occasion) and a round of foursomes in the afternoon.
The weather could not have been better, clear skies, touch of wind to keep us cool and a very chirpy caddy who offered valued insights into how to master this great beast.
Each hole seems to be set on its own individual plot, there is no criss crossing of fairways here and the feeling of space between the holes is vast. You can really feel how the course lends itself to holding The Open. It officially plays as a 70 although there are 2 very long par 4's on each 9 which they also put down on the scorecard as bogey 5's, allowing you to play them as par 5's and taking the course to 72 if you wish, which for most amateur golfers would seem fairer than playing it as a 70 in my opinion. Those 2 holes i fell short of each day even with good drives and second shots.
I wouldn't say there are any weak holes on the course although the closing stretch of 3 or 4 manage to stand out even amongst such esteemed company.
The green fee price is high but i highly recommend taking the plunge and making it a full day of pure indulgence and enjoying the lunch if you can, a spectacular affair. You will have to wear jacket and tie but i treated it as an occasion to dress up rather than a chore. If its your first time i recommend getting a caddy as there are still a few blind shots even after the alterations at the end of the 70's which brought it back onto the Open rota.
I must say i am a convert to Royal St George's traditionally British charms.
Played here in 2016, just getting round to an update. A wonderful course and I would rate as the hardest (but fair) I have ever played. Great fun with two rather eccentric caddies. Only denied the 6 balls due to my previously described lack of 'wow' factor also noted at Royal Birkdale. My reviews are harsh, reserving the 6 for truly unforgettable experiences. I can only remember two holes well here one year on. I can remember 14 at Pebble Beach and a similar number at St Andrews. This is a terrific course and highly recommended.
We played here on the 21st March and were lucky to have a nice sunny day. That was only half of it though as we had 15 to 20 mph winds, but isn't that what links golf is all about.
The whole experience was great, we found the place to be friendly and welcoming and while they have areas at times with dress code and for members only I have no problem with that, just enjoyed the beer at the end.
Of course this place is all about the course and I loved it 2 through 9 was a great stretch with 8 standing out to me, this maybe because we played it into the 20 mph wind which made it really hard. On the back nine 15 and the par3 16th were my favourites again because on 16 we were playing into that wind that meant you just had to hit and keep your fingers crossed.
I cannot compare to Royal Birkdale (yet) but have played a number of links around the country and this is easily the best.
The best course in England (although ive only played 45 of top 50). The first hole is the weakest (a shame as weak holes should be tucked away mid round) but there are some quite brilliant holes. Just above Birkdale for me which has 2 "ordinary" holes, perhaps
I rate it overall as one of the best golf courses in England, and a better links course than both Royal Lytham and Royal Birkdale. I have never been a fan of the out and back layout and Sandwich is not one; it provides a superior routing of holes. There are no parallel holes and a constant change in hole direction, which is very important when the wind is up, which it often is.
The day I played at Royal St. George's, the wind was up. The temperature was roughly 50 degrees and the wind was blowing at a sustained 25 mph with higher gusts.
I found three holes at Royal St. George's to be particularly good. The par five 14th hole, "Suez Canal" has out of bounds down the entire right side and a burn/swale in play off the tee. You can't just wail at your second shot, since short of the green there are bunkers on the left side of the fairway and the fairway narrows to about 25 yards. Yet, if you can thread the needle and land in that area you will likely be rewarded with a birdie; otherwise you will pay the price. The fairway bunkers 80 yards short of the green will penalize you if you try to get the ball to the green. Even this close to the hole, you have to just get the ball out as your first priority. It is a hole you really have to use your head to play well.
The #1 handicap hole, the eighth, is a dogleg right and has a very interesting and challenging green complex that is artfully bunkered. Your second shot to the green plays downhill and usually downwind. Very tricky.
The fourth hole, Sahara, has an enormously large bunker on the right side of the hole. You hit from an elevated tee to a fairway that is wildly undulating and the green is even wilder. If you hit long past the green you are in the backyard of a local resident. Definitely a unique hole.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs