The county of Kent’s rich tradition and history of golf, dates back to over a century ago. The ‘Garden of England’ is home to over 100 courses which boast magnificent views of the county’s picturesque landscape, whilst its coastal courses offer dramatic, panoramic seascapes over the English Channel and the celebrated white chalk cliffs of Kent. Natural clusters of golf courses can be found around Kent’s main towns, all set against a backdrop of rich and varied culture, buildings of historic interest, bustling seaside towns and magnificent, inspiring gardens.

As the oldest county in England, Kent boasts a plethora of visitor attractions from the magnificent Canterbury Cathedral, founded in AD 597, to Dover Castle where you can experience life from Roman times to World War II. Other historic castles include Hever, Deal, Walmer and Rochester, whilst the stunning gardens at Sissinghurst are world-famous. Kent’s coastline is ideal for walking and cycling. Featuring seaside towns like Broadstairs, Charles Dickens’ favourite resort, and Margate, home to the Turner Contemporary Art Gallery. Testament to the quality of the golf courses in Kent, the county has over the years hosted 17 British Open Championships, 1894 at Royal St George’s, marking the first time that the Major had been played outside Scotland.

Recognised as one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments, The Open Championship has since returned to Royal St George’s 13 times. Now it was time for The County Golfer team, Newby, Spence and the Yorkshire Terrier (who for the benefit of this article will be known as YT) and myself Lefty to stay and play Royal St George’s rated the Number 1 golf course in England. Next stop at Tudor Park Marriot Hotel to play their course, designed by Donald Steel and set in more than 200 acres of ancient deer parkland.

DAY 1:

DERBYSHIRE TO ROYAL St GEORGE

A 5am start on a rainy Tuesday in March for our 4 hour journey from Derbyshire.  Tee off time was 11am so plenty of time to arrive early and have a good look around. You reach RSG by driving through an industrial estate and then majestically into the very picturesque village of Sandwich, down a country road from which a brown sign points you in the direction of a private drive. No big billboards or flags flapping, the whole entrance is very understated. Who needs big signs and flags when you’re the number one golf course in England!

After falling out of our tightly packed car we headed all suited and booted to the clubhouse. At the front door we found a sign saying “Non members please ring for attention”  I rang it twice thinking that it didn’t work, it does, so don’t ring twice! The secretary came and said “You do not need to wear a jacket and tie until after 11am”. I could feel eyes burning in my back as I had made the lads wear them for 4 hours in the car! The first thing that hits you in the clubhouse is the smell of polished mahogany, always a sign of a prestigious clubhouse. As well as the history, golfing memorabilia hangs on the walls and in glass cabinets. Everywhere you look there’s a story to tell. The large changing rooms have some of the best showers I have seen, complete with plenty of towels all neatly stacked.

The clubhouse retains much of its original charm and ambiance, with portraits of past captains lining the corridors, to give you a feeling of stepping back in time.  You could imagine Ian Fleming sitting there while dreaming up the classic match between Goldfinger and James Bond. This is the course where it took place in his book. The Pro shop is as you would expect well stocked, and has plenty of RSG merchandise.  A nice touch, I thought, is that they give away complementary tees.

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Our round.

We were supposed to tee off in front of the Caddy Master Alan but, as there was gale force wind and driving rain, he wasn’t daft, he was in the pro shop keeping warm! He pointed to the first tee and shouted “keep it down the left of the fairway but not too far” I think he said that, or it could have been “You’re  all mad!”

The 1st – Par 4, 399Yrds

With the rain stinging my eyes I thought “just hit it straight and hope for the best” which seemed to work. The fairway gave the illusion of being flat. It wasn’t.  As Spence was taking his second shot all I could see was the top of his head! The bunkers on this hole sweep across the front of the green and, as you know, on links courses most bunkers need a ladder to get in and out of. The greens were running true and in good condition but this didn’t stop us all walking away with a six. Spence and myself were taking on Newby and YT so the banter, like the rain, was relentless.

3rd – Par 3 180Yrds

This is the only par 3 on an Open Championship course without a bunker, but it doesn’t make it any easier, as statistically it’s  one of the most tricky Open holes, the difficulty being the two tiered green which, was fast even on the day we played, so you can imagine it on a hot, dry, summers day. Needless to say no one got a par, the best was a 5, 1 up to Newby and YT.

4th – 415Yrds Par 4

One of the great championship holes, the fourth, is an intimidating prospect.  A towering bunker, perhaps the tallest in Britain, faces you off the tee. The shot is to the left of this and even then it’s a long way to the green, which is a dog leg left, with various pot hole bunkers to catch you out. No wonder it’s stroke index 1. I found every hazard! Spence tried to hold off Newby but the best he could card was a 7 to Newbys 6. Two up to them.

5th – 406Yrds Par 4

This is my favourite hole on the course, as the elevated tee gives the first sight of the sea. It took ages to work out the dogleg left because we couldn’t see the flag.  It’s a straight drive, then a shot between two mounds onto a hidden green. I got a par but unfortunately so did YT.

6th – 142yrd par 3

The Maiden, named after the shape of the towering dunes surrounding it. The long two-tiered green can be a real card wrecker, but first you have to reach it! Not one of us hit the green because the headwind was so strong the ball was almost coming back to where we teed off. Spence managed to land at the front of the green and get a well deserved par, so it was back to one up to them.

At this point we took shelter in a thatched roof hut to check the score and to get out of the wind.  Newby, who was marking the card, had to admit that even the scorecard had given up and was starting to disintegrate in the wet.

More sips of whisky from my hip flask and we were away again. You now find the first of two par fives. “Time to pull one back” said Spence.  For this hole you need a big drive, which gives you a chance of an Eagle, as the hole turns slightly left. If you’re brave you can go for the green. All of the eagles achieved during open championships at RSG are made here. We gave it a go, but the best we could manage was a par. YT did, so three up to them.

YT  for some reason seemed to like the conditions and he went on to win the next hole, 4 up and they were pulling away.

After the 9th you start making your way back to the sea dunes proudly shaping the fairways as you go. The wind and rain started to ease allowing Spence, who is a fair weather golfer, to start playing. He produced the shot of the day on the 13th hole a par 4 420 yards long.

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This fairway is dotted with pot bunkers and you need to be accurate with your driver. Spence’s drive was massive, he still had a shot of about 160 yards to the green with a couple of pot bunkers protecting it, left and right. I was on the edge of the green for 3 and up to this point I had been carrying Spence, which I kept letting him know. This is what probably fueled his second shot, as he hit it as sweet as a nut. It sailed majestically through the air onto the green and in the hole for an Eagle! What a shot, I tried to convince Newby and YT that, that, has to be worth at least three points but they were having none of it. Spence on the other hand, didn’t care what anyone thought, as he had just got an Eagle on the 13th at Royal St Georges. He’s still smiling as you read this article.

14th – 507 yrds par 5

A long straight hole with OOB all the way down the right.  I laughed at the lads and said at last a Lefty hole, then hit my drive straight onto Prince’s adjacent fairway! Needless to say it was OOB.

15th – 435yrd par 4

Stroke index one warning! Standing on the tee you wonder why it’s stroke index 1. Well, it’s the clever placement of the bunkers  – 5 waiting for you midway up the fairway. If you drive over these you still need a long iron to hit the green, which, yes you’ve guessed it, is protected by 3 pothole bunkers that stand guard at the front. I got a bogey on this hole and walked off like I had got a birdie, it was tough.

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Needless to say Newby and YT beat us in the end but, as we made our way down the 18th fairway, the rain stopped and the sun made an appearance. Even though the waterproofs had given up a long time ago a big smile came across our faces. Why? Because we had just played somewhere special. Whilst  the course took a beating that day, at no point did I step in a puddle or on to a squelchy green as it was in excellent condition.  As the sun spread shadows over the course you could see the contours of the fairways and the dunes which stood proudly framing most of the holes.

Back in the clubhouse, sinking a nice pint of Shepherds Neame from a sliver tankard, we all agreed even on a sunny day this course will give you a challenge, it’s a beautiful beast that punishes wayward drives, but rewards a good shot.  It’s a true links course, characterised by humps and swales, dunes and wild rough, fast running fairways and deep bunkers.

This has to be on your “courses to play list,” it’s the number one course in England for a reason.

Our thanks has to go to the club steward David Peregrine for making us feel most welcome, it’s not every day you meet someone in a painting!  Also to the catering staff, who very kindly waited for us to get back into the clubhouse to warm us up with a nice hot beef sandwich.

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DAY 2

TUDOR PARK MARRIOT HOTEL AND COUNTRY CLUB

We chose to stay at Tudor Park Marriott Hotel which was about an hours drive from Royal St George’s as it’s a great central location to reach other courses and takes an hour off your journey back to the East Midlands. Like most Marriott Hotels you have a spa, gym and more importantly a bar called “The Mezzanine” which we found a relaxing place to continue thawing! The hotel is benefiting from a 5 million pound modernisation programme so it’s a good time to pay a visit to the nice new modern rooms.

Nestling in a 200-acre ancestral deer park, deep in the Garden of England, Tudor Park, a Marriott Hotel & Country Club, offers tranquility and invigoration in equal measure. The Tudor Park Course was designed in 1988 by Donald Steel, one of Britain’s finest course architects. 6085 yards of beautifully varied holes, accompanied by delightful views over this picturesque corner of Kent.

As at many of Steel’s courses, there is an enticing mix of long and short holes, many featuring tight fairways bordered by beautiful, mature pines and other woodland areas. The best of the bunch are arguably the par-3 4th, the par-5 8th and the par-4 16th. But every hole at Tudor Park has its own personality – some friendly and relaxing, some that will test your skill and accuracy.

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In recent years, Tudor Park has hosted prestigious events including the EuroPro Tour on three occasions, the Kent PGA Pro-Am and, in 2010, the English PGA Championship (South) qualifier.

After a first class buffet breakfast I put on my wet waterproofs again and headed to the 1st, the rain at least had stopped. We even had a bit of sunshine but this was false hope.

Spence and myself took on Newby and YT trying to seek some revenge.  At the tee a very friendly starter gave us some tips on the 1st hole. We all teed off well. I say teed off, more of a scuff and roll, not one of us got away clean, to which the starter said with a smile on his face “have a good game lads”.  What I’m sure he would have really liked to say was “have you played golf before?!”

The1st and 2nd holes are wide and forgiving. The 1st to get your eye in sweeps downhill and the 2nd comes back up. Newby and YT won both holes as they came flying out of the traps with 2 pars.

Spence and I had a team talk as we couldn’t let them beat us again. We approached the 3rd hole 300yrd par 4 determined not to lose! On this hole you stand on an elevated tee looking down onto the fairway, which then sweeps left up to an elevated green. Spence hit a massive drive which left him with just a wedge onto the green which he did and sunk it for a birdie, I got a par just to make sure we won the hole. Game on Indeed!

The next hole was a par 3 176yrds, again an elevated tee looking down onto a green with water to the right of the green. Newby hit a sweet shot right onto the middle of the green  and then it happened!  – The weather turned on us with a vengeance as the wind picked up to gale force and the heavens opened but this time not rain but hail, all four of us knelt down on the floor, sheltering as best we could behind our umbrellas. Even the bench blew over.(Go to our Facebook page to see the video) 10 minutes later it still hadn’t rescinded  so we headed back to the clubhouse as Newby’s hand was turning blue. Thoughts of Scott and his team came to mind as Newby said “I’m going for a walk I might be some time”. It was unbelievable and, needless to say the storm shut the course, which was a real shame as the course was just starting to come alive.

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We have been invited back which we will do, but in the meantime make sure you book yourself in, the hotel is in a good central position to stay and reach other golf courses in Kent.

Our visit to Kent was most enjoyable. The county boasts a long tradition of golf, three Open venues,  majestic parkland and inland courses, and clifftop gems like North Foreland, excellent accommodation for golfers and a plethora of off-course attractions such as Dover Castle.

We would like to thank Sinead from Visit Kent and Helen from Heady PR for arranging the trip for us and the hospitality of Royal St George’s and Tudor Park Hotel and Country Club for showing us Kent is not only the “Garden of England” but a fantastic golf destination, and now known for the place Spence got his Eagle!      Lefty

www.golfinkent.co.uk

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