The Royal St. George's Golf Club Review
The Crown Jewel of Golf In Kent
By Mike May
If you are searching for an English links golf experience that is royal (but not pretentious) and old (but not ancient), choose the Royal St. George's Golf Club -- a classic and traditional members club that has volumes of history for you to absorb. This championship links course is located at Sandwich Bay with stunning views of Kent's iconic White Cliffs, just outside the charming medieval coastal town of Sandwich in the county of Kent - located in the extreme southeast of England. Geographically, Royal St. George's is less than a two-hour drive from London's Heathrow Airport and even closer to London's Gatwick Airport -- making it easily accessible to international golfers.
Opened in 1887, Royal St. George's quickly established itself as not only one of the greatest golf courses in England, but one of the best golf layouts in the world. It has retained that lofty ranking since the day it opened. Believe it or not, the Royal St. George's Golf Club was designed to be the St. Andrews (Scotland) of the South. That mission was accomplished, though, in my opinion, 'Sandwich' -- as Royal St. George's is often referred to -- is a more demanding, more fun, and more visually appealing venue for golf than its Scottish 'ancestor.'
PAST CHAMPIONS @ SANDWICH
Not surprisingly, Royal St. George's was the first golf course outside of Scotland to host The (British) Open Championship when it was held there in 1894, when England's J. H. Taylor won the title. Over the years, it has also attracted golf's most prestigious events and many of the game's great players have walked away triumphant. To date, the club has hosted 14 (British) Open Championships, 13 British Amateur Championships (most recently in 2017), five British PGA Championships, two Walker Cups, and one Curtis Cup. As an amateur, Jack Nicklaus won the 36-hole Grand Challenge Cup at Royal St. George's in 1959 -- see his scorecards, with rounds of 73 and 76, on display inside the clubhouse; Sir Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros each won the British PGA Championship on this course; and a strong group of international golfers like American Walter Hagen, Englishman Henry Cotton, South African Bobby Locke, Scotsman Sandy Lyle, Australian Greg Norman, and Irishman Darren Clarke have departed 'Sandwich' as winners of The Open Championship, with the Claret Jug in their hands. By the way, The Open Championship will return to Royal St. George's in 2020. And, you should, too.
Two other interesting moments at Royal St. George's took place in the 1960s, both involving a camera.
In 1964, 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 Goldfinger novel and movie of the same name. Though the course was referred to as Royal St Mark's, it was very much based on Royal St George's. At that same time, 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.
And, in 1967, Tony Jacklin's ace at the 16th hole during the Dunlop Masters was the first ever hole-in-one seen on live television. Jacklin ended up winning the tournament that year.
PLACES OF DISTINCTION
'Sandwich' is characterized by its unusual thatched roof shelters dotted around the course, by the red cross of St. George on its pin flags, and also by a number of quirky names given to a number of the course features and holes which add to the allure and appeal of this championship links design. It all starts with The Kitchen at the 1st hole, the Valley of Sin on the 4th green, Campbell's Table in the 5th fairway, the Tennis Court on the left-hand side of the 9th fairway, the Suez Canal which crosses the 14th fairway, and Duncan's Hollow on the 18th green. This golf course also has The Maiden, which is the term given to describe the entire 6th hole.
One of the obstacles which you will have to negotiate at Royal St. George's is the massive Himalaya bunker, considered the tallest one in England, which you must attempt to avoid when striking your tee shot on the 4th hole.
There are other interesting aspects of 'Sandwich' worth sharing. For instance, members of the club are allowed to bring their dogs on the course whilst playing. And, golfers must be wary of the right-of-way to walkers on the public footpaths - closed during the staging of The Open - crossing the 1st, 9th, and 18th holes. Can you imagine taking your dog for a walk while playing Pebble Beach or going for a late afternoon stroll through the grounds of Augusta National? This public-private aspect of Royal St. George's is a foreign concept to many visiting golfers from outside England.
Another feature worth experiencing is the 'The Hut,' which sits alongside the 12th green and the 13th tee where a wide variety of snacks and drinks - such as Bovril with chili sherry - are available, as well as hot sausages and water for your dog.
One of the idiosyncrasies of Royal St. George's is you must be willing to use an iron or your putter from off the putting surface in order to reach the pin on many holes. The decision to challenge the pin with a chip-and-run shot is a necessity. On five or six occasions, I successfully used my eight iron to give myself makeable par putts. My greatest success story was the eight-iron chip-and-run from the left side of the 436-yard, par four 15th, which is listed as the most difficult hole at Royal St. George's. After a strong drive followed by a three-wood approach, I was left with roughly 25 yards to get up and down for my par. A well-executed chip-and-run left with me with a three-footer for par, which I successfully converted.
When playing golf at Royal St. George's, having two golf balls in play with either a two-ball or foursomes are required to play this course, except on Tuesday's when you can play a fourball. The emphasis on two balls keeps the pace of play moving along at a respectable pace.
I have a vital piece of advice to share with you when you drive down Sandown Road on your way to the club. Keep your eyes peeled for the small white sign with red lettering for the Royal St. George's Golf Club. If you don't pay attention, you'll miss it! When you make the correct turn onto Guildford Road, that road will take you directly to the club's car park, aka the parking lot.
Despite being a private club, tee times are available for the general public at various times during the week and can be booked online at www.royalstgeorges.com. Yes, getting access to Royal St. George's is that simple. While booking a tee time can be done online, it's important to make a point of getting 'offline' when you arrive on the first tee so that you can soak in the moment.
CADDIES: A DIFFERENCE-MAKER
Personally, I would strongly recommend that you take one of the club's caddies in order to add to your experience of this revered course.
Prior to my round, Sean Meleady, the caddiemaster at Royal St. George's, said our two-ball would play "millionaire's golf" that day. By that, he meant nobody would be in front of us and nobody would be behind us and so it was.
My caddie, Gary, affiliated with Royal St. George's for more than 50 years, hugely enhanced my round at Royal St. George's and gave me an unforgettable experience, indeed one of the most memorable rounds of golf that I have ever played. Throughout my round, he gave me advice on where to hit my tee shots, approaches and pitches. He also lined up my putts on the tricky greens. And, he shared anecdotes about the club and told me the history of the course which is fascinating for avid golfers.
While standing on the 18th tee, Gary delivered the following message, "Mike, you need a (par) four to win The Open." I did as I was told and made my par, but, sadly, there was no Claret Jug for me in the clubhouse, but I did feel like the Champion Golfer of the Year!
After playing 18 holes at Royal St. George's, you should definitely stay for lunch, dine outside on the garden patio, weather permitting, or don your jacket and tie and enjoy a full blown roast lunch in The Dining Room.....and then simply soak up the atmosphere and tradition. For me, there is no better location and atmosphere for golf and lunch than Royal St. George's, the crown jewel of Golf in Kent.
For more information on Royal St. George's, visit www.royalstgeorges.com and for more on Golf in Kent, go to www.golfinkent.co.uk.
Revised: 12/04/2019 - Article Viewed 10,544 Times
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About: Mike May
Mike May is a Wellington, Florida-based freelance golf and sportswriter, who is also a 25+ year public relations and communications executive in the sporting goods industry. He is also a veteran high school soccer official, an experienced high school basketball coach, an avid athlete, a part-time personal trainer, and a passionate golfer who is forever in pursuit of Old Man Par. He is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.
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