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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 fifteen 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 movie 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.
RSG promised so much in terms of history and quality of the golf course and it certainly delivered on both fronts.
I am rather ashamed to admit that RSG was my first taste of links golf! Well, if you are going to start anywhere then you may as well start at the best in England!
Although I played in March, the course was in very fine fettle and after a poor start on the first (bad golf), a birdie on the 2nd was very welcome indeed, especially after I chewed off a little too much of the corner and found myself in the left hand rough. No bother, a 9 iron to 6 feet led to the one and only minus score that day!
It mattered not one bit as I was there for the history and the accolade.
As I was plotting my way around, I could see the areas that previous Open winners had hit their shots from, made their putts from and what other sport can you follow in the worlds best footsteps?
The welcome and the after golf food was very nice indeed and our starter for the day was cheerful and very knowledgeable indeed. We got lucky, the wind was calm and the sun was shining, but I can imagine RSG being very unforgiving if the opposite were true.
A superb experience and a fantastic day out.
Outstanding is the word… played the course just after the open last year so couldn’t get any better condition.
The course is challenging yet if your playing well it is scoreable… one of the best I have played to date… would definitely go back again and again!
A lot has been said about Royal St George's, mostly complimentary, with the occasional reference to a dress code. I'll get that point out of the way at the start. It exists, the rules are clear, and there's a very respectable spike bar round the side at which the dress requirements do not exist.
What has been said less often is that the course is very playable; not, of course easy, but playable in the sense that a very average golfer playing in 40-50 mile an hour winds can go round without losing a ball. I can't score very well, but the sense that the problems which exist are not insurmountable is very welcoming.
It was playable because the hazards (dunes and bunkers) are reasonably well set out and because the carries are not too heroic (a good job too when a well hit driver went about 160 yards into the teeth of the wind). It was also playable because the rough is not designed, at least in late March, to be horribly penal. This is, after all, a member's course, not a place in which people come to pay an expensive green fee and get beaten up and then reminisce about the number of balls lost into the drink on some infernal par three.
My first impression on playing here in 2019 (yes I have waited a while before writing the review, because I understood less about golf then and a review then would not have done it justice) was the size of the playing area. It's a beast - as there's loads of room each hole is individual in nature. As there's room there's never a sense of going out and back, perhaps only 1-4 head in broadly the same direction; otherwise it's right angles and 45 degree changes of direction; thus the wind is never the same. The room, and the greenkeeping (of which a bit more later) means that the course is also a nature reserve - skylarks in abundance and even a couple of Grey Partridges (to accompany my namesake foursomes partner).
This is not target golf; the ball runs, both on the fairway and when landing on the greens. The greens, incidentally, are not shaved (good job too in the wind). So, arguably, they are slow; they are, without doubt, true. The fairways are lovely; a tightly woven carpet of grass draped over rollicking dunes which allow only a few flat lies.
I haven't actually mentioned the holes yet, something of a faux pas on a website the praises architects above humble greenkeepers. It's great; it's perpetually interesting and always challenging; the apparently simple first offers you room left, but a much harder second shot over the bunkers; the second tempts corner cutting even though it's not needed. The third is about distance control to long thin green. The fourth, to me, is less about the vast sand dune and bunker; it's more about the huge multi-level green though the dune does tempt one to go further left than needed, the route is in fact straight over the middle. The fifth was next to impossible (at least to bogey) into the teeth of the gale and on the sixth the pin positioning committee had decided to joke with us by offering a front left position with a 40 mph downwind shot. Seven was a brute into the wind; Eight a relief downwind; though there is about enough fairway for a well hit seven iron. Nine was another brute into the wind.
I could repeat this hole by hole description for the back nine but won't - others have done a better job than I can; instead I'll continue being a bit more impressionistic not least because the wind was such that any guidance I can provide will be useless on more than a couple of days each year - it's not often that the best line for a drive on 14 is high out over Prince's to allow the wind to blow the ball back to the middle of the fairway.
I'm not a fully fledged member of the golf course nerd community; hence I've taken the ratings above strictly as written. I'm not sure I'd spend a week anywhere to play one golf course; I would fly in to play Royal St George's and I haven't thought that about anywhere else I've played.
And (nearly) finally; the clubhouse is wonderful; the list of champions overwhelming; and you don't need a jacket and tie to see the scorecards of Morikawa and Clarke.
Very finally shouldn't we all be praising a golf course that can deliver, in Collin Morikawa, a winner who is less from the bomb and gouge school than the artistry school?
If I was able to rate this course higher than 6/6 stars, I would. For me, this course is the definition of exceptional golf and has completely blown my mind when it comes to links style golf courses, which is my favourite type of course. When you drive to the golf course, you get this unbelievable feeling knowing that you’re about to play the highest ranked golf course in the country and a golf course that has hosted the most recent Open. You’re about to walk on the same fairways as Adam Scott, Dustin Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood have walked on. There wasn’t a point where I felt like I spent too much money for this round of golf.
As you walk onto the first tee, it does take you a second to catch your breath, because you know that this is going to be unbelievable and worth the 3 hour journey it took to get there. The fairways were fantastic and the tees were the best I’ve ever teed of on. When it comes to the greens, they are unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. The undulation of the greens are so tricky, yet the enjoyment you get when watching your ball land on them and stay on them, is unbelievable. I did feel like the course layout was a tiny bit hard to understand at times, however this being my first time playing here was justifiable.
Overall, I do believe that this is the best course I’ve ever played and believe any golfer in the world, should have this golf course on their wish list as a simple review isn’t enough to depict how beautiful and outstanding this course is.
Round played on 15 March 2022
Driving to Sandwich, I wasn’t as excited as I should have been going to play my maiden round at an iconic course. I put this down to being full of excitement in advance of playing Sunningdale (Old) in May 2021 for the first time but post-round feeling slightly underwhelmed (I’m aware I’m very much in a minority - of possibly 1 - with this view of Sunningdale).
However, by the time I was playing my second shot into the green on the 2nd at RSG I was already feeling my lukewarm expectations were massively undercooked. I hadn’t expected RSG to have so much variety in the holes. I’d been to The 2003 Open but apart from the hill at the back of the 6th green I realised early on I couldn’t remember any of it.
I somehow 2-putted for par on the not-so-short 3rd despite finding the top level of the green with the pin being at the bottom of the ridge stretching across the midriff of the green.
The 4th is famous because of “the” bunker and the green but the 5th is a truly stunning hole with the tee giving the best views of the course. Bizarrely, our 4-ball managed to all blob the S.I. 18 par-3 6th but it’s a tremendous par-3.
The par-5 7th (with what I thought may be a new bunker in front of the green as it’s not shown on the PGA Tour 2K21 game!) showed how well placed it is by gobbling up my second shot - but to be fair I did deliberately aim at it. The short par-4 8th is another great layout (which reminded me a bit of the 15th at Prestwick) before experiencing the devilish green on the 9th.
My game went AWOL on the 10th and 11th (the 10th would have been a challenge anyway into the teeth of the wind) but I found my swing again on the amazingly fairwayed short par-4 12th before my only birdie of the day on the 13th which came between sips from a bottle of Whitstable Bay Pale Ale I picked up from the refreshments hut next to the 12th green (alcohol does not normally bring me positive results on the course).
Then I had 5 strokes for par on the iconic 14th for which the tee-shot is not as scary as it appears on TV, followed by the S.I. 1 par-4 15th where I found another bunker in front of the green that wasn’t on the computer game (there were actually three there where the game has none). A bogey at 15 was followed by pars at the 16th (where a partner found Bjorn’s bunker but had the luck the Danish bear didn’t when his ball barely got out of the sand but somehow stopped a couple of inches in front of the lip) and 17th - which possesses the most tremendous false front since Pamela Anderson in Baywatch.
I was playing well which meant, after surveying the grandeur of hole 18 on the tee, my disappointment at finishing with two shots in the second left-hand fairway bunker and three putts was more than it would otherwise have been.
Nevertheless, the round was one of my best golfing experiences and two days later I’m still undecided where RSG falls in my personal ranking*. Obviously, the home of golf (West Sussex) is the best course in the world but after that I had Royal Dornoch in first place, Royal Portrush second with Royal County Down third pre-RSG. My current thinking is that RSG definitely ranks above Portrush but where in relation to Dornoch I just can’t say (yet!). Wherever I rank RSG, it’s heartening to know it’s only a smidgen over 100 miles away from me and I can get there in a relative flash to play it again.
(* I still have all other Open venues of the last 30 years to play so my personal ranking is far from complete)
The most enjoyable game of golf ever (despite a 10 on the 14th). I played this course just after the major storms of Feb 2022 and its condition was ridiculously great, there was a lot of GUR on many fairways which was a bit of a shame but lets get real all courses need to be protected at times and it did not detract from the fun. I was lucky the wind stayed away for the first 8 holes before it came with vengeance. I booked a caddie and i an so glad i did or i would have got totally lost Jai Spicer and my word he was amazing really the icing on the cake of a great day. My dream start on 1 the perfect drive and ok the score was not perfect being 7 over my handicap but who cares. Got to 4 and saw the mega bunker and thought that is no real worry only to duff my drive. If you love bovril the the 2/3way hut is your stop :). Not going to describe holes more just say it was my best golfing experience ever despite the crazy winds using a 220yard 3 wood just to get to a short par 3 crazy. Perfection on the course and perfection of Jai Spicer. Thank you
Incredible course, Number 1 in the world for me and i have played some one the best. Words cant do this justice, just perfection from start to finish. Such a beautiful club, each hole is different and everyone if enjoyable. Fantastic greens and fairways, each shot will test your golfing skills and brain. Just go and play it, you need to if you are a serious golfer and you will get so much from it. Would go back in a heartbeat.
Played December 2021. First things first. Prior to my visit to Sandwich Bay I had read elsewhere that the welcome at Royal St. George's is somewhat lacking. I was a little nervous about how this might impact my day. Well, if my experience is anything to go by, then literally all you need to do is to avoid the jacket and tie only area (which is outlined both on the website, and marked by a huge sign in the clubhouse) after 11am without a jacket and tie and you've mastered the rules. From the changing rooms, to the pro shop, to the snack bar and the starter, the welcome couldn't have been better. The starter especially made you feel right at home.
Now to the course. Going to somewhere like this, with such a reputation, and that you're recently seen hosting a major championship, creates a bit of an aura. I felt that the holes weren't quite framed in the way I had expected, but it was December so the rough wasn't at its most fierce. It just didn't quite feel as lofty as the best course in the country. I expect at other times of year the course would feel a bit more as I had been expecting.
But the negatives end there. The conditioning of the course was incredible for the time of year. I don't think I had a bad lie all day, and believe me, given the direction I hit the ball in at times I deserved a few.
The wind on the day was testing, but felt part of the experience.
The bunkering at Royal St. Georges is fantastic. Real shrewd placement that I expect will challenge players of all levels. The greens are also a lot of fun and will test even the best. The greens and bunkers are a real strength of this course.
I feel the course is a mix of good and great holes. I especially enjoyed the run of holes from 4-6. Two challenging par 4s (the best view on the course is from the 5th tee), followed by the par 3 known as 'The Maiden'. Sometimes hyped up holes disappoint, the 6th at Royal St. George's did not. I could play it again and again.
I also enjoyed holes 10-14, which take you back close to the coast, and then alongside the neighbouring property at Prince's.
The high green on the 10th was a joy to hit in 2 (and then 3 putt). The long par 3 11th is a great test into the wind. The short par 4 12th is quirky but fun. My playing partner and myself were both on the fairway, about 10 yards apart, but couldn't see each other such is the size of the ridge running through the fairway. 13 was an enjoyable long par 4 along the coastline with a testing tee shot. And 14, the shorter of the two par 5s, which borders Prince's, offers a different feel to the rest of the course, with water running across the fairway and OB the full length of the hole to the right. (which saw my only lost ball on the day).
Whether the finishing hole was any good I'm not sure, I was too busy taking 4 to get out of a fairway bunker. There are lessons to be leant at this course.
My feeling is that Royal St. George's will be a real grower, a place where you benefit from course knowledge, which will undoubtedly add to the experience and enjoyment. Even on first viewing the course gave enough away to know that this is somewhere pretty special. I've seen enough to want to go back.
A brilliant golf course, enjoyed every minute of the experience. Tees, fairways and greens were superb, layout speaks for itself. This is a must on anyones list!!! Very very good, plenty of history and plenty of room around the course to feel relaxed.
Let me get one thing straight. This is a good golf course, stunningly beautiful and perfectly maintained. The big problem - it's a game of roulette.
There is nothing worse in my opinion than being punished for hitting a good shot. At RSG, even when your ball lands in the middle of the fairway, you aren't guaranteed to find it. This happened twice to my partner who hit a ball down the middle, landed on a slope into the rough never to be found again. This would be understandable if the land generally trended in one direction, or if you could see the landing spot.
A particularly egregious example is the 4th, where you drive over one of the tallest bunkers in England onto a fairway and then play a game of guess which way my ball bounced.
Once (If) you get past the frustration of this, you can appreciate the course, a real tough challenge even in moderate wind and plenty of spots where you absolutely can't leave your ball if you want a chance to be close to the flag.
If you are in the area, it would be rude to not play RSG, but if you make a day out to play it, don't be surprised if you leave disappointed and frustrated.
I’ve played RSG many times and would choose to play it ahead of any other links course in England. Your Sandwich rating is an insult to golf course architecture and your opinion in a minority. To adjudge RSG the same a Welwyn Garden City (4 balls) is laughable.
Niall, that's your opinion and you are welcome to it. I can fully understand why people like this course, but there are also many who share my views - Koepka, Rory & Bernhard Langer being some.
I agree the course is significantly better than Welwyn - I didn't read the ball notes for that and if I could work out how to change it I would edit that down, but I stand by 4 balls for RSG for all the reasons I initially listed.
If you like it, as I say, I don't begrudge that - I can see its appeal, but it isn't the course for me.
Many professional golfers strongly dislike the element of luck. Perhaps understandable from their point of view, but to me that is integral part of links golf and absolutely so at Sandwich. Many who dislike Sandwich (like you seem to do) instead love the flat fairways at Birkdale.
On the more philosophical point of whether good shots should be rewarded (and by analogy, bad shots punished), allow me to tell a little story to illustrate how golfers can change their minds:
I grew up on a parkland course designed at the end of the 1950s, where good shots in the middle of the fairway were rewarded with good, flat lies and bunkers flanked fairways and mainly caught poor shots. (The bunkers were flat and a challenge only for high handicappers, but that is beside this point.)
When this course (Royal Drottningholm in Stockholm, Sweden) was redesigned in 2011 with smaller, but quite deep bunkers placed in the middle of the widest fairways, exactly where a "perfect" drive would land, there were protests from low-handicappers who said exactly what you wrote in your review: "nothing worse than being punished for hitting a good shot"
Post renovation, fairways also play firm and fast, so low trajectory shots will bounce and roll a long way, something especially appreciated by lady golfers. The members enjoy the challenge the renovated course offers and most have come to accept that good shots might end up in bad spots and vice versa. (The members are also much better putters as they are used to firmer surfaces with lots of small, subtle breaks, but that is also beside the point.)
The most interesting thing, however, is to experience how many members react when confronted with a course playing exactly as their own did pre-renovation, i.e. soft and predictable. "Boring", "too easy", "motorway" are three of the most common reactions.
Read your review and scrolled back to my own Sept 16 review to see how I worded my very contrary opinion.
Really cannot understand all the moans about the superb historic and traditional - and maybe slightly quirky in places - courses that make up the fabric of the game we play.
I really enjoy playing the links like the Old Course and Prestwick which also seem to often attract your sort of critical opinion.
Must get along to your (flat parkland I am guessing) club sometime as would love a round one day without an unlucky bounce !!!
To say that it’s a game of roulette is to over state the undulations of the fairways enormously. You get what you hit, and a caddie will be able to tell you where your ball will be before it lands. You need to know the lines off the tee, but that’s no different to many links tracks.