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.
Date: November 01, 2017