The Open doesn?t come to the south coast very often. Once a decade, the Open pitches up at Royal St.George?s where the players are put through a rigorous natural test that players and pundits alike can?t get enough of. But Royal St. George?s isn?t the only top class track on the stretch between Dungeness and Rams gate.
If you?re travelling down to the coast on either the M20 or M2, it?s easy to shoot straight past a host of good tracks. Or advice would be to stop off and ease yourself into what will be an unforgettable break.
First stop – Canterbury Golf Club. This traditional woodland course was designed by Harry Colt and is a real test despite being relatively short by modern standards. The closing stretch from the 15th onwards is particularly demanding.
If you are driving to the coast on the M2, make time to stop off at Leeds Castle. The course here is just nine-holes but it features its very own Augusta-style ‘Amen Corner’ where the moat that surrounds the castle comes dangerously into play. This testing stretch starts with the 5th, where you drive downhill towards the water. The 6th is a straightforward par-3, but the 7th is a serious test. The moat is in play all the way down the left, with trees up the right to stop you bailing out. So anything other than a solid strike straight down the centre of the fairway simply won?t do. The 8th demands another straight drive to give you a shot at the elevated green.
From Leeds Castle, follow the M2 and then the A2070 and A259 to reach the coast. The first course to head for is Littlestone. A traditional seaside club where two-ball golf rules.
The opening holes are deceptively straightforward and if you can keep your ball out of the heavy rough and deep bunkers you?ll score well. The ninth is the first really tough hole – a long par-three with punishing rough and deep greenside bunkers to avoid. Take it from us a 4 is a good score here so don?t get greedy hunting the flag.
On the second half you turn into the wind. The long dogleg par-four 10th demands two good strikes to reach the putting surface and there are no easy holes from here on in. The long 16th is a beast when the wind is blowing off the sea, and the par-three 17th, played from the high point of the course to a well protected green is equally demanding.
From Littlestone, head east along the coast to Deal and the wonderful links at Royal Cinque Ports . Like Littlestone, this is a final qualifying course when the Open comes to Kent, and the challenge is relentless when the wind blows.
Again like Littlestone, the opening holes can lull you into a false sense of security, as you are playing largely downwind from the second hole through to the 10th. Stand-out holes on the front nine are the third – a par-five with a rollercoaster fairway and basin green hidden behind huge fairway mounding – and the sixth, a short par-four that doglegs sharply to the right. Your approach shot here will be no more than 100 yards but it takes some good work to find the short stuff.
You?re right up against the beach here and the wind is a constant factor in club selection. You?ll frequently find yourself aiming your tee shots at the rough, relying on the wind to push the ball back on to the fairway – great fun when it comes off, but a nightmare when you overdo it. The long grass here isn?t golf ball friendly.
The stretch coming home from the 12th is straight into the wind, and if you play here on a breezy day you?ll need to be hitting it very well to keep a good score going. The 15th and 16th holes are the pick of the bunch, the latter being rated the best hole on the course by the members. This part of the course is where good scores turn acceptable and acceptable scores turn to nightmares.
The final two courses on this trip lie right next to each other on the coast at Sandwich. On the assumption that you ?ll want to save the best to last, drive past Royal St Georges to Princes, another Open qualifying course, and host to the main event back in 1932.
There are 27 holes here, laid in three nine-hole loops (the ?Dunes?, ?Shore? and ?Himalayas?), each loop starting and finishing at the clubhouse. They?re all well worth playing, but our preference is to play the ?Shore?, followed by the ?Dunes?. Played this way, the first five holes are played right along the beach as you head towards the adjoining Royal St George?s Championship course.
At 420-yards, the opening hole is a tough introduction, and the second, a 485-yard par-five isn?t as easy as it looks on the card especially in a stiff breeze. The other hole that will really test you on the front nine is the seventh, a 538-yard beast that demands three good hits to find the putting surface.
The 10th (the first hole on the ?Dunes? loop) is a tough dogleg that leaves you with a very long approach to the green if you don?t take the most direct line. The 13th forces you to make the same choice, though going left here will still leave you with every chance of finding the putting surface. Good holes that both make you think ? you?ll need good strikes to back up a sound gameplan.
Saving the best ?til last, we come to Royal St Georges has hosted best event on planet golf 13 times. The club welcomes visitors (maximum handicap 18) during the week and the course more than justifies the hefty £95 green fee.
As you?d expect finding the fairways is essential but tough. The second is a dogleg left, played to an elevated green ? but the first hole that really stands out is the fourth, where the enormous sand hills and ?Himalaya? bunker wait to snap up a sliced drive. This bunker has to be one of the biggest links bunkers anywhere in the world and if you find it off the tee, don?t expect to make a par. The 5th is another classic dogleg played between the dunes, where a well-placed drive is required to give yourself a sight of the green. The final gem on the front nine is the 8th, where you?re challenged to hit and hold a two-tiered green that will do everything in its power to manouvre your ball off into the humps and hollows that surround it.
On the back nine, the 12th is relatively short but is so well protected by bunkers and fairway undulations that par is a triumph. The 14th is the hole that you ?ll probably fear most here ? a long par-five with out of bounds very close down the right. At the 16th, cast an eye in the direction of the bunker that ended Thomas Bjorn?s Open in 2003, and then prepare yourself for the two tough finishing holes.
Leeds Castle Golf Course
Tel: 01622 880467
Par: 66, 5362 yards
Green Fees: £11 weekdays, £13 weekends
Littlestone Golf Club
Tel: 01797 363355
Par: 71, 6486 yards
Green Fees: £38 weekdays, £55 weekends
Prince’s Golf Club
Tel: 01304 613797
Par: 72, 6,690 yards
Green Fees: £40-60 weekdays, £50-70 weekends
Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club
Tel: 01304 374170
Par: 71, 6,482 yards
Green Fees: £75 weekdays (£55 winter rate), £80 weekends
Royal St George’s Golf Club
Tel: 01304 615236
Par: 70, 6,607 yards
Green Fees: £95 (£65 Nov-Feb). Visitors welcome on weekdays only.
Romney Bay House Hotel
Tel: 01797 364747
(B&B per person per night)
Double rooms £85-£150
Single rooms £60-95
The Bell Hotel, Sandwich
Tel: 01304 613388
(B&B per person per night)
Double rooms £100
Single rooms £75