Golf in the Channel Islands
Although geographically adjacent, in some
crucial ways Guernsey is very different
from mainland UK. The usual comment
is that it feels like it’s a few decades
behind, which is meant as a
compliment. Old fashioned
values such as good manners
are evident everywhere, cars are
driven less aggressively and the
nostalgic presence of pound notes
reinforces the time-warp effect.
It’s such a hospitable place that it treats
visitors much better than it does its own folk.
For example, if you live on this delightful Channel Island you can’t pay a green fee at the glorious Royal Guernsey Golf Club. You can wait a few years and try and join but not simply turn up and play. Societies are not wanted either. Visitors, on the other hand, are warmly welcomed. This somewhat strange situation is a consequence of the course’s enormous popularity and the need to restrict numbers.
Indeed, the course is so popular it even has two clubs attached to it, the Royal Guernsey and the L'Ancresse, each with its own clubhouse. Although one might expect that sharing a course with another club is a recipe for war, this is Guernsey where courtesy rules and the two enjoy a friendly rivalry. Although from time to time there’s talk of a merger,
at present it seems about as likely as Guernsey and Jersey themselves uniting under a common flag.
The professional shop belongs to the Royal Guernsey and is worth a visit if only to shake hands with the professional, Norman Wood, a Ryder Cup veteran who famously beat Lee Trevino in the singles in 1975 and now plays on the Seniors Tour.
Out on the course, with the wind inevitably whipping in from the Channel, the last traces of the mainland are blown away and the therapeutic benefits of a golfing holiday start to kick in. The sea views and broad fairways encourage you to breathe deeply and swing sweetly. Nothing about golf being a good walk spoiled at Royal Guernsey.But although links golf is undeniably magical, there are undoubted dangers lurking among the bumps and hollows at Royal Guernsey. Some, for example, conceal human remains. Neolithic man, burdened with cumbersome clubs and granite balls – and without the benefit of electric trolleys – evidently didn’t always make it back to the clubhouse. Clusters of large stones indicate ancient burial grounds from which you can take relief without penalty.
Although the greens on links courses are frequently well-guarded, here their defences are formidable. Several Martello Towers and a scattering of pill boxes offer a level of protection rarely encountered on the mainland. Clearly, Guernsey has borne witness to several fiercely contested confrontations, not all which have been fought with woods, irons, putters and good humour.
There are one or two other hazards you should be aware of when playing Royal Guernsey. A couple of tee shots are hit across public roads. The secret of golf is timing and the trick here is to wait for a suitable gap in the traffic. In truth, the roads are not very busy so you shouldn’t be delayed too long. The other slight problem is people. As the course is laid out on common land, walkers are entitled to wander about. In some parts of the world this might be a recipe for trouble, but in Guernsey it doesn’t appear to worry anyone.
If Gatwick to Guernsey is a par-three then Guernsey to Alderney is a chip and a putt. With just enough room for four fourballs (assuming the pilot plays), the three-engined Trislander looks like aviation’s answer to the Deux Cheveux. With no in-flight entertainment or stewardesses, the flight recaptures the romance that has largely disappeared from modern air travel. Give the pilot goggles and a sheepskin coat and this 15-minute hop could be re-branded ‘The Biggles Experience’.
Alderney exudes charm, is uniquely different and provides an attractive alternative for anyone who finds Guernsey too hectic. Although it measures only three miles by one-and-a-half miles, because it’s home to fewer than 2500 inhabitants, there’s plenty of room for a nine-hole golf course.
To be honest, there are plenty of finer courses about but few that can provide a warmer welcome or more unforgettable round. Conditions were fairly benign the day I played, with just a modest force five howling over the clifftops. A stricken yacht was towed into harbour as I three-putted the 6th to confirm my suspicion that a good round here would more likely get a mention in the shipping forecast than on the sports’ pages. The Normandy coast is only eight miles away and can be seen clearly from about half of the holes. Among other things to look out for are black rabbits and blonde (yes, blonde), pink-nosed hedgehogs. With a litre of duty-free whisky only costing a fiver, pubs staying open from 10am until 12.30am and the aforementioned spiky creatures only normally seen at night, it’s easy to be sceptical. Puffins, guillemots and kittiwakes, however, provide a more plausible distraction. Whether or not you’re lucky enough to spot a pink-nosed hedgehog, you’re unlikely to forget Alderney, the flight over or the golf course. All provide a refreshing holiday experience that will live in the memory long after the final putt has been sunk. Visit - www.alderney.net
However good your memory is it’s unlikely that you’ll remember one of Jersey’s favourite sons, the legendary Harry Vardon. It was a century ago that he was clinching the fourth of his record six Open titles. He was also the first Englishman to win the US Open (the most recent is also a former resident of Jersey, Tony Jacklin). Sunset over the opening hole at Royal JerseySandwiched between them is yet another Jerseyman, Ted Ray, who won the US Open in 1920.
It could be the air, the cream or possibly the tomatoes that have helped the largest of the Channel Islands to produce such brilliant golfers, to which must be added the great Tommy Horton, who has been such a dominant force on the Seniors Tour recently. Another explanation is that Jersey is blessed, not only with enviably low income tax but with some outstanding golf courses. Royal Jersey, where Horton was head professional, is one such magnificent links. With a statue of Vardon at the entrance and a stone commemorating Ted Ray on the 15th tee, the place is as steeped in history as the air is laden with the invigorating smell of the sea.
For most tee shots the recommended line is often a fort or mediaeval castle. Lower-handicappers take precise aim on a turret or keep, while higher handicappers are generally less specific about their intended target. Even if your drive is somewhat wayward, there’s a reasonable chance that a benign breeze will blow it back on line.
The green at the par-four 16th at La Moye, looking out across St Ouen BayLa Moye, perched 250 feet above beautiful St Ouen Bay, also benefits from a more or less constant wind that ensures that the course presents a new challenge each day. Perhaps the biggest challenge is to concentrate on your shot and not be too distracted by the spectacular views and pounding surf. Corbierre Lighthouse, La Rocco Tower and the tiny isles of Sark, Herm and Jethou are the landmarks to note on those rare moments you’re not worrying about which club to choose or what line to take.
This is natural seaside golf at its absolute best with well-contoured greens, a generous sprinkling of strategically placed bunkers and gloriously springy turf. As you stroll up the 18th fairway towards the vast bowl that is the final green, it’s easy to imagine past winners of the Jersey Open like Sandy Lyle, Tony Jacklin and Ian Woosnam, acknowledging the applause. Woosie, by the way, is another who has made his home on this delightful island and is now a regular at La Moye. Find time before you go to enjoy the clubhouse and the splendid views from the lounge over the course and out across the Channel.
Back down to see level, and almost directly below La Moye, is Les Mielles Golf and Country Club. A little more than a decade old, this proprietary club may not be quite so steeped in history as its more illustrious neighbour but it has already witnessed some remarkable golf. Playing the 252-yard par-four 3rd hole in last year’s Channel Islands Players Championship, Paul Simpson scored a two in the first round, a two in the second round and had a hole-in-one in the third and final round, leaving him seven under par for the hole. Your correspondent took precisely the same number of shots (five) when playing the hole just once.
More believable, perhaps, is the story of another professional playing in the same competition who walked in halfway through his opening round having run out of balls, for water is an ever-present danger. Somewhat less threatening are the flocks of geese, ducks, swans and other wildfowl that wander about the fairways.
If this tight and demanding course leaves you somewhat stressed by the end of your round, then be sure to unwind on the adjacent miniature course. Called Breakers, it’s crazy golf without the windmills. Instead, there are subtle borrows, fiendish hazards and nightmarish slopes that create an experience as agreeable as the Channel Islands themselves.
They’re not very far away; they’re like being in Britain and abroad at the same time. They’re fabulous.
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE CHANNEL ISLANDS
Fly Be fly from Belfast,
Exeter and Gatwick
Tel: 08705 676 676
British Airways fly from Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Plymouth and Gatwick
Tel: 0845 773 3377
Aurigny Air Services fly from
East Midlands, Stanstead and Manchester.
Tel: 01481 822886
Islanders fly from
Tel: 01202 578422
Condor run ferries from Poole, Portsmouth and Weymouth
Tel: 01305 761551
Royal Guernsey Golf Club
Tel: 01481 245070
Green fees: £38 per round. There are weekend restriction on visitors.
Alderney Golf Club
Tel: 01481 822835
Green fees: £20 (weekdays) and £25 (weekends/public holidays) for a full day
Royal Jersey Golf Club
Green fees: £50
La Moye Golf Club
Tel: 01534 743401
Green fees: £45 (weekdays) and £50 (weekends)
Les Mielles Golf and Country Club
Green fees: £23 weekdays and £26 (weekends)
Other Channel Islands Courses
The States of Guernsey