GOLF IN KENT:
A CROWN JEWEL OF ENGLISH GOLF
By Mike May
World-class golf and tourism opportunities abound in England's county of Kent. That's the best way to summarize my recent six-day trip to play Golf in Kent - located southeast of London. While in England in mid June, I played eight rounds of golf, visited two castles, saw one cathedral, toured Britain's oldest brewery, and dined in an old pub. It was an amazing trip that got better by the day.
While in Kent, three of the rounds were on championship links courses, which have all hosted past (British) Open Championships - Royal St. George's (the site of The Open in 2020); Royal Cinque Ports (hosted The Open in 1909 and 1920); and Prince's Golf Club (venue for The Open in 1932). A fourth course that I played - Littlestone Golf Club - is also a championship links course and has served as a qualifier for The Open.
I was welcomed with open arms in all parts of Kent during my visit.
"Golf in Kent was delighted to host Mike May on his foray into Kent to experience some of the finest golf courses that the county has to offer," said Helen Heady, project director for Golf in Kent. "Kent, known as the Garden of England, also has a growing reputation for its local gastronomic fare and its fine wines whilst it is also home to Britain's oldest brewer - all good for the 19th hole!"
My trip through Kent began on June 10 at the Hever Castle Golf Club in Edenbridge. Built in 1270, Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII. Golf was first introduced at Hever in the 1920s. It was created for the personal enjoyment of the then American owners, the Astor family, and to entertain friends and business contacts.
I spent my first night in Kent in the Pippin Room of the Anne Boleyn Wing of Hever Castle.
The next day, I was given a personal tour of Hever Castle and its majestic gardens and then played nine holes at the nearby Leeds Castle Golf Club near Maidstone. I spent the night at the Stable Courtyard Bed & Breakfast at Leeds Castle, located next to the 900-year-old Leeds Castle, known as "the loveliest castle in the world." The castle and its vast moat sit adjacent to the 5th, 6th, and 7th holes of the Leeds Castle Golf Club. That evening, I dined in the Castle View Restaurant which provides spectacular views of the adjacent Leeds Castle.
On day three, I played 18 holes in the morning at Littlestone Golf Club near Romney Marsh and 18 holes in the afternoon at Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club, close to Deal. Littlestone, which overlooks the nearby English Channel, was one of the final qualifying venues for the 2011 Open Championship. Royal Cinque Ports hosted The Open Championship in 1909 and 1920. A strong coastal breeze off the nearby English Channel regularly adds to the challenge of this course, something which I experienced many times during my round.
On day four, I experienced another 36-hole day, starting with Royal St. George's Golf Club in the morning followed by 18 holes that afternoon at Prince's Golf Club.
Royal St. George's, the site of The Open Championship 2020, was founded in 1887. It is a mesmerizing golf course, as it offers stunning views over Pegwell Bay and the adjacent English Channel. The tallest and deepest bunker in Great Britain is located on the 4th hole at Royal St. George's, which has hosted more Open Championships (14 Opens to date) than any other golf course in England. I'm delighted to report that I avoided that massive trap on the 4th hole.
Playing Royal St. George's with a caddie was an unforgettable experience. Before the 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. He was right.
Throughout the round, my caddie, Gary, who has been affiliated with Royal St. George's for 50 years, shared his advice and stories about the course, which made it one of the most memorable rounds of golf that I have ever played. While standing on the 18th tee, Gary delivered the following message to me, "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 felt like the Champion Golfer of the Year!
Prince's, which hosted the British Amateur in 2013, boasts 27 holes of championship links golf in three nine-hole loops: The Shore, The Dunes and The Himalayas. Each loop has its own unique characteristics. The most famous of Prince's many revetted bunkers is the now-famous Sarazen Bunker, which sits next to the 9th hole of The Himalayas.
While in Sandwich, I stayed in The Lodge at Prince's - the ideal base for golfers playing Prince's, Royal St. George's, and Royal Cinque Ports. The Lodge, which overlooks both Prince's and Royal St George's, is also just a few miles from Royal Cinque Ports. The well-appointed Lodge has unobstructed views over the adjacent English Channel and offers a fine dining restaurant, The Brasserie on the Bay, on site.
Before departing The Lodge at Prince's, I received a personal guided tour through The Gallery, located at The Lodge. The Gallery is a small museum which contains old letters, pictures, trophies, old clubs, and memorabilia that are connected to golf at Prince's. The focal point of The Gallery is the original sand wedge which was created by Gene Sarazen, who won the '32 Open at Prince's. I was privileged to hold that sand wedge, but did not swing it.
While in Kent, I saw the Canterbury Cathedral, one of the oldest Christian structures in England, in the medieval city that oozes charm and quaintness.
On day five, I played 18 holes at the North Foreland Golf Club near Broadstairs. Founded in 1903, this clifftop gem, with its many views over the English Channel, is another course that has hosted final qualifying for The Open.
Breathtaking is the best way to describe the views of the Channel from the majority of the holes at North Foreland.
Prior to golf on my final day in Kent, I took a tour of the Shepherd Neame Brewery in Faversham, home to Britain's oldest brewer. I then headed for the exclusive London Golf Club, located in northern Kent, which has the look and feel of an American country club. The club has two 18-hole golf courses - the Heritage and the International courses. The Heritage was designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus whilst the International was created by Ron Kirby, under the Jack Nicklaus Design banner. The London Golf Club has hosted numerous tournaments on the European PGA Tour.
I played the International course which was a true treat and provided wonderful views of the Kent countryside. Ron Kirby designed a jewel.
During this trip, I dined at one of Kent's top pubs, the George & Dragon in Sandwich. This ancient pub first opened for business in 1446, 46 years before Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492. The George & Dragon - a traditional pub with an open fireplace, low beams, and a range of local ales - has great food.
In addition to staying in one castle (Hever Castle) and adjacent to another (Leeds Castle), I spent one night in an old-style seaside hotel, The Marine Hotel in Whitstable. It was clean, comfortable, and quiet. The views out to sea, while enjoying a delicious Full English Breakfast, were nothing short of jawdropping.
Once American golfers get to experience Golf in Kent (golfinkent.co.uk), the word will spread about the golf opportunities in this part of England. Of course, don't forget to finish your round at Royal St. George's with a par at the last.
Revised: 12/28/2018 - Article Viewed 172 Times
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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