ROYAL ST GEORGE'S - 19 POINTS
There are some who say that Royal St George's is a little less than a true classic Open course. They say the bounces can be a little random and Ben Curtis' victory cast a bit of a shadow on the course's pedigree. Well, I can safely say that is a load of rubbish. This is links golf at its very very best and for me close to unbeatable.
The welcome, as is almost always the way at these old links courses, was great. Yes, there is a gentleman wearing a blazer and a tie but he was very welcoming and determined to make sure we enjoyed our day. The pro shop was well stocked (no half mile walk to the village a la Muirfield) and the catering spot on.
The course is a brilliant one. It's perfectly playable with pretty wide fairways and many quirks to keep you entertained all the way round. The bunkers are amongst the hardest I have played, on more than one occasion we had to play out sideways or backwards - a real penalty.
A few highlights to look out for if you make it down. The bunker at the 4th (above) is the line for the drive and is said to be the highest in England. When you are over the top the hole demands a long second in to an angles green, a tough hole for sure. The 5th is good fun, a shorter par 4 which takes you down to the bay for the first time and you have really arrived on a links course.
The 7th is a par 5 which plays with the wind and great fun as it gives a real birdie chance. Another fun hole is the short 12th, probably the hole with the most rippled fairway in golf. It's not long but you'll be lucky to have a level lie. The 13th adjoins the Princes course next door and then you make the turn towards home.
14 is the second, and final, par 5. With out of bounds on the right hand side it is a hole to be respectful of but can definitely yield birdies. Dustin Johnson came a cropped here in the 2011 Open as recounted here!
The 17th is a par 3 now made notorious by Thomas Bjorn's experience in the 2003 Open when he took 3 to get out of a bunker and finished runner-up to Curtis -
We played the course twice on the same day (there's a green fee 'deal') and it was well worth it. It really made for a great experience, the anticipation over a very good lunch of doing it all again was brilliant. All-in-all I would recommend making the trip to Kent as you will have a great links golf experience with a warm welcome. If I was going to choose anywhere to play links golf in England Royal St Georges would be right at the top of my list.
BOOKING THE COURSE
Royal St George's is a pretty easy tee time to get. It's open to visitors Monday-Friday and while some times are reserved for members there is plenty of access. However, there is a catch. They really don't like 3 or 4 balls here. You can get out as a single or two ball at the drop of a hat (including four people playing two balls in a foursome) but for a fourball you need to go for a Tuesday. Green fees vary massively - from £125 in the winter to £225 in the summer (although you can play 36 holes in a day for £275). The website has all the info and you can book it online here.
We stayed at Canterbury which is about 40 minutes away in the car and has a very pleasant old town with plenty of pubs, restaurants and good value places to stay. This is not really the kind of area where you can get around easily on public transport so a car is a good idea. We also had a night out in Margate. Now, the Rough Guide series recently hailed Margate as one of the top 10 places in the world to visit (it clocked in at number 7. That looks like some kind of PR clickbait stunt butit may well be in the top 20 in Kent and there will be fun to be had on a Friday night I imagine with plenty of locals' pubs and clubs.
Anyway, back to the golf. It would be criminal to come here and not also play at Royal Cinque Ports. It's a fantastic course and one which would grace any tour. Really friendly and a brilliant challenge. We had tried to play at Princes just next door to RSG and that would be the obvious choice. However, they screwed up our booking and cancelled us a few weeks before we were due to play so I can't comment. Instead though we played at Chart Hills which was a parkland course but a perfect warm up for what was to come.
The Royal St. George's Golf Club
Kent CT13 9PB
Phone: +44 (0) 1304 613090