The picturesque, rolling countryside, dramatic white cliffs and sandy coastline of Kent combine to make an ideal setting for almost 100 golf courses.
However the glittering jewel in the crown amongst a host of heralded courses is undoubtedly the championship links of Royal St George’s at Sandwich on the east Kent coast. It is regarded by many aficionados as one of the top five courses in England and by some as the top course in the country.
Founded in 1887, this wild and windy links is one of England’s most picturesque, offering stunning views over Pegwell Bay and Kent’s iconic white cliffs.
The story goes that the site was discovered by Dr Laidlaw Purves on a visit to the medieval town of Sandwich with his brother. Purves saw the untamed dune land stretching from the mouth of the River Stour south to Deal from the tower of St Clements Church and apparently exclaimed “by George what a place for a golf course” and so the idea of the course was conceived.
Soon after its inception the course soon gained recognition and was selected to hold the 1892 Amateur Championship which was won by John Ball Jnr. Testament to the quality of the course, this started a long tradition at St George’s of hosting important championships, both amateur and professional.
Today it is the only course in southern England to feature on the venue roster for The Open Championship. Indeed the prestigious major will return to Sandwich in 2020 for the 15th time. When it was first awarded the tournament in 1894, it marked the first time that the Major had been played outside Scotland. On this occasion it was won by the legendary JH Taylor and since then has had many famous champions including Greg Norman and Darren Clarke.
It is one of the game’s most beguiling layouts. It is deceptively challenging thanks to its severely undulating fairways, tricky greens and a smattering of blind tee shots. In true links style, there is not a tree in sight whilst the rugged terrain, stiff rough and deep, pot bunkers demand careful course management. To further enhance this testy links, the course was laid out so that no two holes play in exactly the same direction, so judging the effect of the wind is a constant challenge.
The distinct personality and charm of this links gem is characterized by its unusual thatched roof shelters, the red cross of St George on its pin flags and the existence of the UK’s tallest and deepest bunker that looms over you at the 4th tee.
After the challenges of the course, golfers retire to the gentility of the clubhouse where the corridors are lined with photographs of past captains and old memorabilia from the club’s rich history.
In its more recent history, the club was immortalized forever by one of its most famous members, Ian Fleming, when he used it as the setting for that classic match between James Bond and his rival Auric Goldfinger in the novel of the same name. Fleming was about to become Captain of his beloved club when he sadly died. As a tribute to one of its most famous members, the club has the full set of Bond paperbacks on display in The Writing Room.
The talented amateur and well-known golf writer, Bernard Darwin, once wrote that “Sandwich simply has a charm that belongs to itself, this is as nearly my idea of Heaven as is to be attained on any earthly links”.
Fifty years later and Royal St George’s remains the glittering jewel in the crown of Golf in Kent.
For more on Royal St George’s and the other fine golf courses in Kent, go to www.golfinkent.co.uk