Rob Smith returns to the Sir Nick Faldo design which is being lovingly restored back to life…

Chart Hills – The Revival of a Sleeping Giant

Living just a few miles from the first course in the UK&I designed by 6-time Major winner, Sir Nick Faldo, I have played Chart Hills in Kent several times since it opened for play back in 1994.

It was among the first of a new breed of modern course and was soon in high demand.

It hosted the Ladies English Open on the Ladies’ European Tour for four years from 2004.

An aerial view of the beautiful, lush parkland course

I had always enjoyed it for its variety, originality and beautiful parkland setting.

But sadly, over recent years there was a steady decline in investment on conditioning that saw the club and course fall from favour.

It was therefore great news to hear that ownership had changed hands in late 2019 following the club’s purchase by Ramac Holdings and the McGuirk family who have owned Prince’s on the Kent coast for many years and improved it hugely over the last few years.

Looking back from beyond the green on the par-5 twelfth

They took the bold decision to close the course for a year in order to relay the almost grassless fairways with dwarf ryegrass,

They also installed proper drainage for the first time, and worked hard on restoring and upgrading every element on the course and in the clubhouse.

According to director of golf, Ant Tarchetti, “The design was really good on top of the venue, but below the surface it struggled. The drainage underneath wasn’t designed for this country and the moisture was eaten up by leatherjackets.”

The original plan was for a March 2022 re-opening, but Covid and lockdowns offered the chance to accelerate plans and the course reopened for play this Summer.

Faldo’s design remains so strong that no architectural changes were required, and I was lucky enough to be in the first group of visitors to play from the new fairways in the first half of July.

The 200-metre Anaconda bunker crosses the fairway on the par-5 fifth hole

Chart Hills – The Revival of a Sleeping Giant

Having remembered it as a distinct and original design with plenty of characterful features, I had forgotten just how very good and varied it really is.

There are plenty of holes that would be the signature or stand-out hole at most other courses.

This starts at the very beginning with a par 5 that calls for a well-placed drive over a sea of sand before you swerve right to a green with a lake beyond.

Streams and ponds are a major feature throughout, the bunkering is bold and extremely inventive, and every hole offers a new challenge.

Personal favourites include the right to left dogleg par 4s at the 2nd, 4th and 13th.

A stream needs to be crossed on the approach to the well-protected green at the fourth hole

I also very much like the two uncharacteristically bunkerless holes; the par-4 8th with a beautiful stream crossing it, and the island green that awaits on the short 17th.

The penultimate hole is fraught with danger with the green surrounded by water

Ant Tarchetti is delighted with the way things are going and says, “We’ve had such positive feedback since the re-opening on the 1st of June, and it’s so nice to have some life about the club. People are playing again and really enjoying the experience and there is just so much more we can offer and do in the future.”

A revitalisation on this scale takes time and there is still work to do, but course manager Neil Lowther and his team deserve huge credit.

Unlike my tee shot on the closing hole, everything looks to be heading very much in the right direction.

I look forward to seeing the club’s ambitious and substantial but very well executed investment come to fruition.

Happily, visitor tee times can be booked on selected days after 11:00, and you can contact the club by calling 01580 292222.

In uncertain times but with the benefit of golf’s current boom, I see a very exciting and healthy future for Chart Hills.