Monday, December 1, 2014

29 (World) Royal St. George's Golf Club

July 24, 2014

After spending a good part of my first week in England in the northern part of the country, and a few days in London, I made the drive to the southern coast for both Royal St. George's and Rye. The drive to the south of England is a pretty neat sightseeing tour and I ended up spending the night in Canterbury, about 20 minutes from Royal St. George's GC. In college, I had written a paper on the Canterbury Tales and was excited to do a little sightseeing of one of the oldest cities in England.  I was not disappointed. My only regret was I didn't build a full day into sightseeing around town. If you find yourself in the area, I highly recommend at least one day of sightseeing.

Here are a few photos from my walk-a-bout:

The Best Western Hotel I stayed in for the night.

A neat clock hanging from the side of a building.

A city street in Canterbury.

An old church still in operation.

The Canterbury Cathedral.

Gate to the Canterbury Cathedral.

The Canterbury Cathedral.

A shop across the street from the Canterbury Cathedral.

The pub where I had several ales!

A shop dedicated to the selling and trade of ales!
After spending the evening in the fantastic and historical town of Canterbury, I made the 20 minute drive to Royal St. George's.  This course was my most anticipated of my trip. It was also the setting, in the guise of Royal St Mark’s, of golf’s most famous fictional match, the contest between James Bond and Goldfinger. Ian Fleming served as captain of the club.

Royal St. George's Golf Club is near the town of Sandwich, which is historically what the club has been known as. In numerous books and autobiographies, Sandwich is referred to often as it has always been a championship quality links course.  I wish the course would have lived up to the (probably unfair) expectations I had set for it.  I know that I am going to get a good deal of disagreement, but I think there are just more interesting courses that should be ranked inside the top 30 of the world.

The course has a ton of history, has hosted more championships than most courses in England, and is ranked highly on the list. However, I didn't find myself enjoying it as much as I thought I should have. Perhaps it was the very windy day or perhaps it was the very unfriendly staff member in the pro shop, but it was a fairly disappointing experience. That isn't to say that the course is not well maintained. It certainly is top notch.  On a positive note, half way through the round, I met Kelly and Scott, two guys from New York. They seemed to have similar impressions of the course. I was able to join Kelly a few months later for some fantastic rounds of golf while on a trip to New York and Long Island.

Before the round, I was able to walk around the clubhouse and take in the rich golf history of the club. Here are some photos in and around the clubhouse.

A view of the clubhouse as seen from the 18th green. 
Not only is the English flag prominently flying above the clubhouse, you will also find it n the flagstick of every hole.
A view of the clubhouse from the parking lot.

The entry foyer of Royal St. George's.

A list of the champions and captains of the club.

A closer look at the top of the board.

Championship golf has been played as early as 1888!

A wall of whose who of the history of the club.

The Smoking Room.

The Writing Room.

The gentlemen's locker room at RSGGC.

Royal St. George's appears numerous times throughout The World's 500 Greatest Golf Holes and receives quite a few accolades. Among them are:

  • Hole 4 is listed as one of the top 100 holes in the world.
  • Holes 4 and 15 are listed as two of the top 20 par 4s in all of the United Kingdom.
  • Holes 15 is listed as two of the top 22 par 5s in all of the United Kingdom.
  • Hole 4 is listed as one of the 18 most strategic holes in the world.
  • Hole 15 is listed as one of the 18 best holes with a bunker in the world.
  • Hole 15 is listed as one of the 18 best links holes in the world.
  • Hole 18 is listed as one of the 18 holes in the world that has produced one of the greatest moments in golf history (With a par in 1993, Greg Norman posted a 267, the lowest 72 hole total ever in a major).
Here are my photos and a break down of the holes as found on the course's website.

A view of the starter's hut located next to the first tee.
A closer look at the starter's hut.

A look down the fairway from the 1st tee box.
The first hole is a 442 yard par 4. It is a difficult opener requiring a well struck drive over a valley known as “The Kitchen” – a carry of over 250 yards from the championship tee – favoring the flatter left side of the fairway. The wide green, sloping away from the player and with bunkers stretching across its front, can only be held with a high, spinning second shot. Those playing safe, Goldfinger among them, often aim for the gulley to the right.
A look towards the first green from 120 yards out.

A look onto the 1st green from 35 yards out.
The flags found on each hole. It is a very neat touch.

A look down the fairway from the 2nd tee box.
The second hole is a 426 yard par 4. Bunkers at the corner of the right to left dog leg draw in any shots within a few yards of them. They can be carried by strong players, but the ball usually finishes further left than one thinks and even playing well right to avoid the sand should leave just a short iron to a raised green. Any approach drifting left or right or falling short will run into hollows and leave a tricky pitch back. Play for the front of the green to leave an uphill putt - there can be a sharp break on anything from above the hole.

A view to the right of the tee box. 
A look at the left fairway bunkers.
A look into the 2nd green from 60 yards out.
A hut located off the 2nd hole.

A look into the green from the 3rd tee box.
The third hole is a 239 yard par 3. Originally played as a blind hole over the hill to the right of the present green, this was lengthened by 30 yards for the 2011 Open Championship. Mounds cradle the green and will often direct balls from the right back onto a two-tiered putting surface.  Putts from the upper level to a pin at the bottom require great touch and judgement of line. Statistically it is one of the most difficult Open holes despite being the only Par 3 on any Open Championship course without a bunker.
A closer look at the 3rd green.

A look down the fairway from the 4th tee box.
 The fourth hole is a monster par 4 at 496 yards. A towering bunker, perhaps the tallest in Britain, and with a long back, faces the driver, and attempts to skirt it by aiming left often run further left into trouble.

A closer look at the two very large bunkers on the 4th hole.
The left "smaller" bunker.
The photo doesn't do the right bunker justice. It is 40 feet high.
Once the fairway has been found, approaches that can range from pitches to a full three wood have to contend with a green cut at an angle. Shots run in from the left, and balls right of centre will fall off on the other side. Accurate clubbing is required – anything short is caught by a Valley of Sin with a six foot climb to the flag that makes two-putting a rarity, but out-of-bounds is only three paces over the back.
A look into the 4th green from 100 yards out.

A look down the fairway from the 5th tee box.
The fifth hole is a 416 yard par 4 and provides the first sight of the sea.  Three bunkers guard the left of the fairway, which is divided by a band of dune-flanked rough dotted with more sand.  Originally the sixth tee, a small plateau known as Campbell’s Table, after a perfect drive into a gale by the American Walker Cupper Bill Campbell in the 1967 match, is the target, leaving a clear line to the green. It is elusive and shrugs off many tee shots to a lower level on the right. It was from the right hand rough, his ball having come to rest inside a broken bottle, that Harry Bradshaw attempted to play without taking relief, a decision that lost him the 1949 Open to Bobby Locke.

A look at the series of bunkers on the right side of the fairway looking to eat your drive with no remorse. 
A look into the 5th green from 80 yards out.
The sixth hole is a par 3 that plays to 176 yards. Affectionately dubbed the Maiden, it is named after the shape of the towering dunes surrounding it. The long two-tiered green, set at an angle to the tee, can be tricky if a shot finds the wrong level. Bunkers surrounding the putting surface await anything pulled, pushed, or under-clubbed.
A look into the green from the 6th tee box.
A look onto the 6th green from just off the side.

A look down the fairway from the 7th tee box.
The par 5 seventh hole plays to 573 yards from the tips. The first of only two par fives, the crest of the hill which hides the fairway from view is almost 280 yards away from the back tee. The ideal line is over its left side, using the left to right slope at driving length and avoiding bunkers on the right. The hole turns slightly left for a second shot that can offer rich rewards: almost all of the eagles achieved during Open Championships at Sandwich are made here.

A look down the fairway from the top of the hill that hid it from the tee box.
A look into the 7th green from 150 yards out.

A look down the fairway from the 8th tee box.
The eighth hole is a par 4 that plays to 457 yards.  Once a Par 3, this is now a tough test requiring an accurate uphill drive. Two bunkers collect anything centre-right, but the best line is left for a clear downhill second over 80 yards of rough to a long, deceptively contoured green nestling in the sand hills. One of the fastest on the course, it is bisected by a ridge and bunkers eat into its front corners. This is always the most difficult Open hole.

A look into the 8th green from 200 yards out.
A look into the 8th green from 100 yards out.

A look down the fairway from the 9th tee box. 
The 410 yard par 4 is a relatively short hole, but with a demanding second shot to a distinctive green. Originally played  along the ridge that extends down its right hand side, the fairway now snakes between dunes which can guide off-line drives back to the short grass.  Approaches will run in from the right but can be carried away by a drop-off and anything left is likely to end in one of two deep bunkers or face the most delicate of pitches. The green is long and undulating, with breaks of up to eight feet.
This is just one of many of the signs warning of the public foot paths that criss cross the course in various locations. 
A look at the bunkers that guard the center of the 9th fairway. 
A look into the 9th green from just off the green.

A look down the fairway from the 10th tee box.
This par 4 plays to 412 yards. Falling away sharply on all sides, the elevated green sits on the horizon, making second shots difficult to judge. Drives should favor the left side of the fairway, which is protected by a solitary bunker. The drop-off behind the green is especially severe and a second shot that is not kept right of center is likely to run into one of the two deep and greedy bunkers left, so a tactical play is often to go for the front apron - Walter Hagen made his par that way in all four rounds of the 1928 Open Championship - but be just a little short and the ball can run down the hill to leave a difficult pitch from a tight lie over sand. There are often more sixes or worse here in championships than on the Par 5 seventh: Tom Kite was one victim, going from bunker to bunker to destroy his Open chances when leading in 1985.

A look onto the 10th green from just off the front left side.

A look into the green from the 11th tee box. 
The 11th is a long par 3 that plays to 242 yards. The green of what was originally played from behind the 10th as a Par 4 looks inviting, but shots have to be precisely targeted with length at a premium – the right to left slope is likely to feed anything a little short into sand; a little too much and a gully with a sticky bank beyond await at the back. Running up a tier with a significant break, putts are notoriously difficult to read.

A look down the fairway from the 12th tee box.
The 379 yard 12th hole is the shortest par 4 on the course, but certainly not the easiest. Drives which cannot crest a ridge that bisects the hole are gathered into two bunkers at the corner of the right angled fairway. Taking a line just right of the bunker on the opposite side may seem too far left, but the shape of the hole is deceptive. More sand catches any short approaches. Second shots played right of the flag will usually run towards the hole.
A look into the 12th green from 75 yards out.

A look down the fairway from the 13th tee box.
The 13th hole is a 457 yard par 4. The finishing holes at Sandwich are some of the hardest anywhere, and they begin with this long Par 4. Four bunkers at driving length can be avoided by a straight or drawn tee shot on the line of the right edge of Prince’s Lodge.  More trouble threatens the second shot, usually with a long club: three bunkers down the left can catch second shots when the wind is against, any under-hit approach left of centre will be swept left into one of the greenside bunkers, and a ridge running the length of the 40-yard green can make for hazardous chipping and putting from the wrong side. It is very difficult to get close if the pin is left of the ridge, which shrugs shots away from the hole and down to the apron. The right half is easier, gathering the ball down a long valley.

The green, with the out-of-bounds fence separating Royal St George’s from Prince’s just beyond, marks the furthest point from the clubhouse.

A look towards the green just past the blind area where the drive was landed.
A look into the 13th green from 100 yards out.

A look down the fairway from the 14th tee box.
This par 5 plays 545 yards from the tips. The wind plays a large part here: the hole can require anything from a rescue club off the tee and a mid iron to three full woods. Safe drives favor the left of the wide, flat fairway and second shots should skirt the narrow strip between out of bounds and two centrally placed bunkers or face an approach from the left over bunkers to a two tier, turbulent green running towards a stream just feet beyond and falling away at the back.

A closer look at the mound that crosses the fairway. 
A look into the 14th green from 60 yards out.

A look down the fairway from the 15th tee box.
The 493 yard par 4 is the number one rated index hole on the course. A classic hole and from the back tees is the longest Par 4 on the course. Even a big drive between five bunkers leaves a challenging carry, often with a long club, over cross bunkers to a relatively small, sharply contoured green that falls away to the right. Shots missing on the left face a difficult pitch over a bank. The other side is safer, but the ball must be run up a steep slope to a flag often only a few feet beyond.

A look onto the 15th green from 75 yards out.

A look onto the green from the 16th tee box.
The 161 yard par 3 was the toughest hole of the day for me. It was also Thomas Bjorn's as his hope of lifting the Claret Jug in 2003 evaporated when he took three to get out of the sand on the right, a magnet even for balls landing several feet from the fringe. It was also here, in the 1967 Dunlop Masters, that Tony Jacklin made the first televised hole in one. The bunker-ringed green, which slopes down from the back, is wide and three clubs deep, and it is easy to leave a 50 foot putt.

A look down the fairway from the 17th tee box.
The 17th is a par 4 that plays to 424 yards from the tips. Although it is littered with swales and humps, a flat draw following the line of the dogleg fairway will produce good results.  The green, often a foot faster than others on the course, is protected by bunkers left and right and sits on a plateau with a false front, so anything under-hit will roll back. Recovering from an over-strong approach is even harder unless the pin is on the front of the green.

A look into the 17th green from 150 yards out.

A look down the fairway from the 18th tee box.
The 18th is a 456 yard par 4. Extensive remodeling has made perhaps the toughest finishing hole on the Open Championship rotation even harder. The fairway has been moved a few yards to flatter ground on the right, but a deep green-side bunker comes into play for shots from that side, and two new bunkers lie in wait for drives seeking to leave the better line in from the left.  The green was originally just beyond the cross bunkers that have to be carried with second shots, but was moved back a full 120 yards in 1908. Fronted by a shallow ridge, it slopes from the right and sweeps anything left of center into a dip from which George Duncan marred a great final round to miss the chance of tying for the 1922 Open Championship. Sixty three years later, Sandy Lyle failed to make it up the hill from Duncan’s Hollow but got down in two more to clinch the Championship.

A look into the 18th green from 120 yards out.
 With the exception of windy conditions, it was an almost perfect golf day weather wise. I did enjoy my round somewhat, just not as much as I had hoped. I think the three or four top notch holes really are world class and those tend to overshadow the other 12-14 holes on the course and is what led to some of my disappointment. I was happy to make some new friends from New York in Kelly and Scott, and joining up to play a few rounds at various courses in New York several months later certainly made the trip to Royal St. George's worth it. I just don't think I would go out of my way again to play the course.

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