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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.
Having grown up in Thanet and still never played it I finally made it - and it was even better than I hoped it would be.
LOVED the layout of the course, and the condition was superb.
The greens looked as if they had been painted green so vivid was the colour and they ran perfectly true and good speed.
I dont take all the moans I have heard over the years about the blind holes as this was mine and my playing partners first visit and we got round to handicap (cat 2) with only skycaddie and common sense.
Pro shop and starter very helpful and friendly.
Loved the day and the course and hope to return.
Unsure why - having already relieved us of a chunk of green fee - the Club was so reluctant to let us near a bar after though ???
played here on 25-7-2016. I know when I have had the pleasure of playing a good course as I immediately want to go back out there. Royal St George's falls into that category. This place is special and is golf in the "raw", how it was meant to be played. You stand on several tees and wonder how someone dreamed up the hole from the land in front of you, thankfully they did and what a great job they made of it. In truth the greens were not in the greatest condition on the day we played but still ran true and nicely paced so all is forgiven. This is a thinkers course of the highest order and I have played some good ones before, but none better than this.
I can't imagine what it is that you expect that is better than RSG. I played here for the first time in early August 2016 with my 16year-old, 3 handicap daughter. We had the services of a very obliging young caddy and we pretty much had the course to ourselves. I was struck by the unstuffy nature of the staff at RSG. From the professional to the lady behind the counter in the gloriously modest Snack Bar: modest in name but not in its surroundings, patrons nor its proper hearty fare.
And I think this is an important point to make: the experience at such a fine club starts before setting foot on the course and in this respect RSG far exceeds all lofty expectations that one may arrive armed with.
The course was in tip-top condition; greens cut with a manicure scissors had I not known otherwise. The routing of the course is almost without rival. Muirfield twists and turns in much the same way and I'd go so far as to say that RSG and Muirfield stand head and shoulders above anywhere else in the UK.
My daughter and I both played from the gents' daily tees and she coped admirably with the c 6,500 yards distance on the day registering among other scores a fine birdie 3 on the famous Himalayas 4th hole. A wonderful day's golf and somewhere that will remain firmly on the 'bucket-list venues that must be revisited.' A genuine 6-star golf course with staff to match. John H
The 4th is one of the best and most famous holes in British golf. Your drive needs to be a slight draw over the Maiden bunker or a slight fade left of the bunker. The fairway then doglegs left to an elevated green protected by a mound on the left side and out of bounds immediately behind.
Index 2 is the long par five 14th hole. There are three dangers here. Out of bounds runs close by the fairway for the whole length of the right side. There is a burn running across the fairway 330 yards from the tee. There are also two small bunkers in the centre of the fairway about sixty yards before the green.
Both the 17th and 18th are good long par fours where strong driving is the key. The large open spaces on the right of the last hole make it an ideal area for grandstands virtually from tee to green. The 18th green falls away on either side, with the hollow on the right known as “Duncan’s Hollow,” after George Duncan took three to get down from there when a par four on the last would have put him in a playoff with Hagen in the 1922 Open.
This review is an edited extract from Another Journey through the Links, which has been reproduced with David Worley’s kind permission. The author has exclusively rated for us every English course featured in his book. Another Journey through the Links is available for Australian buyers via www.golfbooks.com.au and through Amazon for buyers from other countries.
It was then, I resolved to return with my clubs and walk the other side of the fence. Has ever an ephemeral day of golf lasted so long in the memory and so vividly as this? We arrived at dawn and were warmly welcomed into the heart of the club. Eyebrows were raised at my ten-year-old daughter accompanying as “caddy” due to childcare issues. Nevertheless a sympathetic ear acquiesced to my pleading eyes.
Take a while in the clubhouse. It is rich in history and atmosphere. On the terrace golfers gathered for a simple lunch and conversation spilled easily between the tables of guests, visitors and members.
There is enough land here for three golf courses. What impresses me is the scale of the course, the variety of the holes and the titanic challenge of besting any of them. It’s easy to become disorientated as the course twists and turns. Take a caddy if it is your first time. You will need one. JCB Lay