The Crown Jewel of Golf in Kent
As you tune-in to watch the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s Golf Club this month (July 15-18), there are 16 ‘Fast Facts’ about the Royal St. George’s Golf Club which are worth reading and remembering:
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION: This championship links course is located in the southeast of England at Sandwich Bay with stunning views of the 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.
THE GRAND OPENING: 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, ‘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.’
HISTORY LESSON: 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. 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.
PAST CHAMPS @ RSG: As an amateur, Jack Nicklaus won the 36-hole Grand Challenge Cup at Royal St. George’s in 1959. His scorecards, with rounds of 73 and 76, are on display inside the clubhouse. Sir Nick Faldo and the late, great Seve Ballesteros each won the British PGA Championship at Royal St. George’s. A strong group of international golfers such as 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.
CANDID CAMERA: In 1964, Royal St. George’s was immortalized, forever, by one of its most famous members, Ian Fleming, when he used Royal St. George’s 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 at Royal St. George’s.
ACE IN THE HOLE: In 1967, future U.S. Open and Open Championship winner 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 at Royal St. George’s.
PLACES OF DISTINCTION: Royal St. George’s is characterized by its unusual thatched roof shelters dotted around the course, by the red cross of St. George on its pin flags, and 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. It’s worth noting the origin of Duncan’s Hollow. At the 1922 Open at Royal St. George’s, George Duncan, the winner of The Open in 1920 when it was held at nearby Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club in Deal, was closing fast on American Walter Hagen – the leader in the clubhouse and eventual winner – who had a 72-hole score of 300. Needing a par four at the 72nd hole to tie Hagen, Duncan’s approach to the 18th green was left of the green, eventually settling in a small depression-like hollow. Duncan’s chip to the pin was weak, resulting in a bogey five, and a total score of 301.
SAND TRAP: 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.
DOG DAYS @ RSG: Members of Royal St. George’s 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 unique to ‘Sandwich.’
SNACK SITE: 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.
STRATEGIC TACTICS: 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.
PLAYING TRADITIONS: 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.
GETTING THERE: Here’s a vital piece of advice to share with you when you drive down Sandown Road on your way to Royal St. George’s. 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 parking lot. Visitors park to the left and members park to the right. There’s no valet for visitors. Find a spot and park your car!
TEE TIMES: 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.
USE A CADDY: I would strongly recommend that you take one of the club’s caddies in order to add to your experience of this revered course. Throughout your round, the caddies will give you advice on where to hit your tee shots, approaches and pitches. The caddies will also line up your putts on the tricky greens. And, they will share anecdotes about the club and tell you the history of the course which is fascinating for avid golfers.
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. During the round, he shared anecdotes about Royal St. George’s and told me the history of the course which I found to be fascinating.
While standing on the 18th tee that day, 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, by two-putting for par from 45 feet. But, sadly, there was no Claret Jug for me in the clubhouse, but I did feel like the Champion Golfer of the Year!
DINING @ RSG: After playing 18 holes at Royal St. George’s, you should definitely stay for lunch and 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. While there, simply soak up the atmosphere and tradition of Royal St. George’s. There is no better location and atmosphere for golf and lunch than Royal St. George’s, the crown jewel of Golf in Kent.