GOLF IN KENT: A CROWN JEWEL OF ENGLISH GOLF

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World-class golf, classic cathedrals, historic castles, and wonderful food at quaint pubs.  That’s what you’ll find when you visit England’s county of Kent, located southeast of London.

While in Kent, you will have access to three 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 – Littlestone Golf Club – is also a championship links course and has served as a qualifier for The Open.

“Kent has 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!”

During a recent visit to Kent, I started my journey at the Hever Castle Golf Club in Edenbridge which is just down the road from the historic Hever Castle, built in 1270.  Hever Castle was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII.  Golf at the Hever Castle Golf Club did not start until the 1920s.  It was created for the personal enjoyment of the then American owners, the Astor family, their friends and business contacts.

You can actually spend the night at Hever Castle, as I did.  I slept in the Pippin Room of the Anne Boleyn Wing of Hever Castle.  Every room at Hever Castle is different.  Many rooms overlook the castle gardens and the apple orchard.

The general public can tour Hever Castle and its majestic gardens.  Both were magnificent displays of historic preservation (Hever Castle) and artistic agronomy (the gardens).  Upon leaving Hever Castle, I then traveled to Maidestone where I played the nine-hole Leeds Castle Golf Club  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.  The view of Leeds Castle from the 5th tee provides one of the most stunning backdrops in golf.  For dinner, I highly recommend the Castle View Restaurant, which is on-site.  It provides spectacular views of the adjacent Leeds Castle at night.  The food is delicious and the selection of wines is diverse.

The day after the Leeds Castle experience, I headed south to the coast of Kent – alongside the English Channel.   There, you will find four true championship links courses — the Littlestone Golf Club near Romney Marsh; Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club, which is just up the coastal road near Deal; and two side-by-side courses in Sandwich, Royal St. George’s Golf Club and Prince’s Golf Club.

A strong coastal breeze off the nearby English Channel regularly adds to the challenge of all four courses.

Littlestone, a qualifying venues for the Open Championship on more than five occasions, has pot bunkers in the fairway and many multi-tiered greens.

Royal St. George’s, the site of The Open Championship 2020 and 14 other Open Championships, 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.

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, “Mike, you need a four (par) to win The Open.”  I did as I was told, but, sadly, there was no Claret Jug for me at the end, 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, stay at 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 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.

During your stay at the Lodge’s, drive into the nearby town of Sandwich and visit one of Kent’s top pubs, the George & Dragon.  This ancient pub first opened for business in 1446, 46 years before Christopher Columbus sailed to America in 1492.  The George & Dragon – a traditional pub with an open fireplace, low beams, and a many local ales – has great food.

Before departing The Lodge at Prince’s, reserve a personal guided tour through The Gallery, located at The Lodge.  The Gallery is a small museum which contains old letters, pictures, trophies, clubs, and memorabilia 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.

While in Kent, make a point of visiting the Canterbury Cathedral, one of the oldest Christian structures in England, in the medieval city of Canterbury that oozes charm and quaintness.

After leaving Sandwich, head north to 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.

On a non-golfing day, take a tour of the Shepherd Neame Brewery in Faversham, home to Britain’s oldest brewer.  The complimentary samples at the end of the tour are a bonus.

As you conclude your visit through Kent, make a tee time at the 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.  Both courses are true treats and provide wonderful views of the Kent countryside.

In addition to staying in a castle (Hever Castle) and adjacent to another (Leeds Castle), spend an evening in seaside town like Whitstable and sleep in an old-style seaside hotel such as The Marine Hotel in Whitstable.  It was clean, comfortable, and quiet.  The views out to sea, while enjoying a delicious Full English Breakfast, are nothing short of jaw dropping.

Now that you know where to go and where to say in Kent, what more incentive do you need to visit Kent for golf and more (golfinkent.co.uk)?

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About Author

Mike May

Mike May is a freelance golf writer based in Wellington, Florida. Mike, an avid golfer, is also a member of the Golf Writers Association of America. He traces his roots as a golf writer to the 1983 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale -- which he attended for all four days -- and then voluntarily wrote his own account of that major championship event. In addition to being a golf writer, Mike coaches girls high school basketball, officiates high school soccer, and works with a cause (PHIT America) that is focused on bringing daily P.E. back to all U.S. schools. Mike is a 1985 graduate of the University of Florida where he earned a degree in broadcasting. Mike can be reached on email at: mmaymarketing@gmail.com

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