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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 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.
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 !!!
Is there any other sport in which you can play on the same turf as champions and even play a better shot?
Thankfully, there were no off-putting ‘farting noises’ when I struck my six-iron to within ten feet of the 18th hole at wonderful Royal St George’s.
Well, not that I was aware of… we had partaken in arguably the finest lunch in golf and my playing partners were on the opposite side of the fairway.
Three months previously, sounds akin to breaking wind had startled Collin Morikawa on his way to winning the Claret Jug. It transpired a small speaker had been left in the rough by a prankster on the final hole.
This prompted tut-tutting from the establishment but the schoolboy humour somehow fits the impish fun of a round at one of golf’s greatest links.
In July, tens of thousands of people enjoyed the Open but only one welcome sign and a few clubhouse photos give a clue that the golfing circus was in town.
Otherwise, RSG has returned to the unassuming members’ club that has an unmistakable sense of place but refrains from shouting about it.
I had driven more than four hours for a game of foursomes but, boy, it was worth it.
Tradition and established standards are important at RSG - thus, the lunch matches the quality of the course and kummel (a sweet, but refreshing liqueur flavoured with caraway seed, cumin and fennel) with ice must be imbibed before play can begin (anyway, this is what our opponents insisted).
This was literally an aperitif before the main event.
Royal St George’s is carved as if nature has been uninterrupted - it is tough but does yield reward for accuracy and bravery on its greens.
Fortunately, my driver was behaving itself so carried the daunting rough every time. But, while precise tee shots are important, the need for course management trumps them.
Overly ambitious second shots could mean the loss of a hole or even a ball and approaches to the green need to be pinpoint to avoid roll-offs or putts across tiers or undulations.
My favourite holes?
As a devotee of the quirky, I must select the fourth – partially because of the Himalayan bunker (I reckon St Enodoc’s is taller?) but also the rolling fairway, sloping green and even the little summerhouse which has been built on an adjoining property to overlook one of golf’s great holes.
The fifth is also stunning. I just about made safety off the tee and appealed to my partner to follow it with a lay-up.
Perhaps he thought he was James Bond whose favourite shot, according to Ian Fleming, was the approach over bunkers and dune. Inevitably, I found myself playing an impossible third from a tuft of grass halfway up a sandy gradient.
The views across the sea from that section of the course add to the wow factor - even distant Margate looks good enough to paint.
The quirkiness of RSG is less present in the second nine and the bunkers are more strategically placed.
I found this to my cost when I thought I had struck what I thought had been a bob-on blind approach to the beautiful 12th only to find the trap which guards it front left.
The 14th is a wonderful hole with its perilous out-of-bounds on the right and a canal veering bisecting the fairway, lying in wait for overly ambitious drives.
I witnessed that both can be avoided but disaster may still strike in the shape of the bunkers lurking to the left of the green.
The 16th is a gorgeous short hole where I had the ‘opportunity’ to play a ball at chin height while standing in a sand trap. I was thrilled to find the heart of the green.
That encapsulated one of the many take-homes from Royal St George’s – bad shots will be played (a thinned chip to the 8th gives me nightmares) but will be redeemed by unexpected moments of great satisfaction.
These snapshots and so much more justified my eight-hour round trip. Indeed, I would happily do it all over again.
I’m afraid it’s Ramsgate in the distance. But otherwise lovely review.
What a fabulous course. A tough test when the wind gets up, but fair. The course was in perfect condition. Only bettered by Birkdale as the best links in England for me. Go play it if you get the chance.
If you had never heard of RSG and walked along the road that runs parallel to it or peered across the fence while playing the more inviting princes next door, you would be forgiven for thinking it wasn’t much more than a decent enough, if slightly scraggy and tired English links course. While not ugly by any stretch, this expanse of Kent coastline is no Turnberry or Pebble Beach, nor does it have the aura of the Old Course, towering dunes punctuating it’s fairways like Birkdale or even the simple charm of a Brancaster or North Berwick. The conditioning on the grey November day we played it would also be average for a public course, let alone one that would hold the open in two (or three, as it turned out) years. Such shortcomings at such a venerated venue I think speak volumes about the place, because between the rugged, heavily undulating terrain on which it is routed, you have a seriously brilliant golf course.
I’m stealing a line from the description here but it is so true - there is absolutely nothing artificial about the place. It blends in so well to Pelgrim bay you feel the course has been here for a thousand years. It starts quite low key, but from the drive on 4 onwards, you are met with a succession of inspired holes with meteriote bunkers, heroic carries, split fairways and some wonderful green complexes. No two holes are the same, yet the whole course flows immaculately. It manages to be both “fun golf” and a major calibre test of championship golf in a way no other course I have come across pulls off.
Like basically any course in the world, RSG does have its detractors. Some say the back nine loses its personality a little, becoming too unforgiving and out of character with the first. While I would probably love it more if the front continued through the full 18, the back is also almost certainly the better championship test of the two and has its share of world class holes, notably the make or break “suez canal” 14th and iconic 18th. There are also those that say it isn’t the best test on the rota, serving up a handful of “random” winners, from Ben Curtis to Darren Clarke. I think there is some truth here, with its blind tee shots and odd bounces, though no course in the world has no chink in its armour. Muirfield is probably the greatest in this respect, but Muirfield also never reaches the breathtaking highs that RSG delivers in spades.
I think it’s fair to say I liked Sandwich. England has fantastic (and underrated) strength in depth of excellent golf courses, but for me RSG is the only one in its arsenal that can be called one of the worlds truly great courses.
I've played here quite a bit over the years and despite my familiarity with the course I'm a little torn, mainly because of the position in the rankings. In my view this certainly isn't this course is the premier course in England (and no, I don't know which course I'd choose for that but its not St. George's). I'm not actually even sure I think its the best on the south coast (Deal perhaps pips it as a fairer test of golf). That said it is a great course, and the famous 'moonscape' (around the turn of 4, 5 and 6 in particular) is spectacular. The 6th is probably one of my favourite par 3s. I particularly like 8, 9 through the dunes 10's challenging approach, 12 through the dunes again and 16 too. There are some holes, which for me fail to hit the heights - such as 7 (a rather bland par 5), 11, 14 (a hole that seems somehow out of place, but with a good green complex). Where it falls down I think is the familiar criticism of blind shots and hogsback fairways which can render a good shot dead. The clubhouse is great, and Sunday lunch the best you can find at any golf club in the UK. Certainly the place has an atmosphere. I do think the positioning as number 1 is misplaced, but certainly a top ten, maybe/probably a top 5 course in England.
Now this is a championship golf course! When I first played Sandwich in mid 2010, it was in preparation for the 2011 Open Championship. The course was in great shape with the rough starting to look dangerous, and all playing surfaces in great shape .
It is a course built on a grand scale, and I cannot imagine a better site for an Open. The R & A were on their way to inspect as we played, with preparations well advanced for the year ahead.
My impression was that there was a lot more movement in the fairways than many links courses- the fairways really buck and roll, and the ball skittles about- you can get some ripper lies!
And it was quite a challenge to find a fairway to hit to when on the tee- with semi blind tee shots- there were glimpses but you could never be sure!
Did I mention I really liked this course? It has- some magnificent short 4's- tight and tricky - wonderful par 3- all lengths, and very good green complexes - lots of bunkers- very, very deep bunkers, and long rough if you miss. We played off the members competition tees, and I played really well
While I was hitting fairways, and following up with decent shots to the green it was all very playable- I was 2 under through 8.....but as the game progressed it was the inevitable misses that became more memorable- I played career golf to make bogey, bogey, par on 9, 10, & 11 when I missed my approaches, and was deflected into very difficult territory .
Sandwich does that- hit to the right spot and apparently there are not even too many blind shots- but hit to the wrong position, or miss a green and you are in serious trouble!
Royal St George's tests your game in all respects- your driving has to be accurate, and you have to plot your way around the course, hitting greens- for you will be penalised if you miss in the wrong spots
I thought it was fantastic But it was too tough for me- I played one of my better games, but a double on 15 had me settling for 73. Over the years since, I have had the chance to play Sandwich a number of times. I have played it in indifferent weather, and seen the course in different conditions, but I will never forget that first visit.
If you ever get the chance, you must play Royal St George's
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
This is a pre lockdown review I realised I had not uploaded. I had a most enjoyable 36 holes of golf here late winter played on a crisp day. This was my second visit to the great club and I have to say I enjoyed and appreciated it more this visit than the last. I love the subtle changes made in advance of the pending open championship.
Not for the faint hearted though, the course certainly is a brute and very tough especially in linksy conditions. The pace of play as a 2 ball was exceptional both rounds taking a shade under 3 hours with the course virtually to ourselves. A must play for any links enthusiast.
That’s all I could really say as we strolled around the links of Royal St George’s; I was quite simply speechless.
So I think I need to start this review with a disclaimer. I played RSG about a month before The Open championship. All the grandstands were up and the course was major championship ready. I use this as a disclaimer as I do believe that playing in these conditions and with the grandstands up does boost the whole experience of playing at such a venue and possibly camouflages any of the courses architectural flaws with the scale of everything else around you (TV stands, grandstands and hospitality tents). Nevertheless, I still played the course so I hope my review will reflect the quality of the course and not the whole experience.
So I’ll start with the actual club (members, pro shop, clubhouse ect). Now an individuals opinion on a club such as RSG really depends on how you look at the sport in general. Strict dress codes on course, jacket and tie inside the clubhouse and very old fashioned politics probably gives you a good indication of what this place is all about as a club. It really is a typical gentleman’s club that you would find in London with its smoking rooms, wiskey bars and strict no phones or casual clothing policy on site. However, in my personal opinion, I actually liked the feel of the club. In-fact, I loved it. It was different, old school, warm and a world that I have never been a part of before. Casual in presence but strict and sharp when it comes to the reputation of the club. However, as a visitor, you are welcomed with open arms. When walking through the clubhouse and changing rooms, all the members (who can be identified with their red and green ties and socks) greet you with a hello and are more than happy to talk about the club. It’s posh, but not intimidating. I would very happily become a member of the club alone- it’s just a slight added bonus that they have a rather nice golf course as well!
So now onto the course. I won’t do a hole by hole guide because you don’t need to read though all of that but I think it’s easiest to break the review down into the two 9’s because they are drastically different in design. The front nine is fun golf. Huge bunkers, blind tee-shots, and extremely undulating fairways. The par 3’s all class holes here at RSG but the 6th and 3rd are standout holes and really personify links golf.
The 4th needs a quick mention because it really is as good as people say it is and possibly the hardest par 4 I’ve ever played in all my life. It isn’t just a drive over the huge bunker, there’s still 200 yards of rough and bunkers to carry if you have any hope of making par.
All the holes are so diverse and not a single hole on the front nine really plays in the same direction, making wind direction a key factor is strategy. The front nine really did surprise me as I did wonder a few times how major championship golf could be played on such a diverse set of holes. Not complaining though, the front 9 at royal St. George’s is easliy up there as some of the finest cluster of holes anywhere in the world.
The back 9 changes a bit in architectural style. It’s as if two different people designed the front and back 9’s at RSG as they are so different in style. The back 9 isn’t as fun to play, but the quality of pure golf architecture is better. The holes are harder, the punishment much greater and it quickly becomes a proper major championship venue. Much flatter land but littered with bunkers and undulating greens. Brilliantly designed and possibly the true reason why The Open has been held at RSG 13 times.
And finally onto the condition of the course. It was absolutely outstanding, best I’ve ever played on! The fairways were so beautiful that it felt like a sin to take a divot out of them. The bunkers were also perfect. Not a weed or grass bald in sight- just pure revetted faces and fluffy sand. I really hope they keep the course in good shape after the Open. I did notice pictures online where all the bunker faces have green walls where the grass has taken over. I can definitely imagine how this would damage the aesthetic of the course so fingers crossed the high quality continues because it really was perfect.
Overall, I was quite simply blown away by RSG. The course is unbelievable. Very fair in terms of difficulty but free choice when it comes to tee’s can make play a lot easier/ harder. Everything about the place is beautiful, classic and classy. I urge you, if you ever get the opportunity to play at RSG, do it. Book it. We travelled 4.5 hours to play and it was worth every second. It really is that good. I hope that I will get the opportunity to play here again one-day because it was an experience that I’ll never forget.
It was a long wait to finally play Royal St Georges having originally booked to play in between lockdowns and having our dates pushed back. Maybe it was the growing anticipation of playing it that resulted in slight disappointment when we finally did play. The course was in amazing condition and is a real challenge. We decided against caddies which was a mistake as there are so many blind tee shots it makes navigating your way round tricky especially if the wind is up.
I agree with you comment re caddies, there are plenty of shots where the best line isn’t obvious. Ask the caddiemaster for a forecaddie, circa £25 each for a fourball is well worth it.