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Links Golf Courses

Kent's unique coastal golf courses are a major landmark across an area designated for its outstanding natural beauty

When The Open returns to Royal St George’s in 2011, it will be the 14th time the venerable Sandwich links has played host to golf's oldest and most famous championship.

Prince's Golf ClubWith Royal Cinque Ports at Deal and Prince’s (picture left) at Sandwich Bay also having hosted the event three times between them, it means a small area of east Kent boasts a marvellously rich history where staging the Open Championship is concerned – thanks to the fact they are all links courses.

The Open Championship is always held on a links, whether in Scotland or on one of the classic courses in the north-west of England such as Royal Birkdale or Royal Lytham, but what exactly is a links golf course? It’s one of those questions capable of leaving the keenest club golfer scratching his head for a concise answer, but generally a links course has the following characteristics:

• The course is built along the seaside
• The soil is sandy and drains easily
• The course is laid out naturally, so that unusual humps and bumps in the fairways and greens remain, rather than being smoothed over
• Bunkers are numerous, very small and very deep (to keep the seaside breezes from blowing the sand away)
• The fairways are rarely watered and play firm and fast
• Links courses usually have few, if any, trees
• The course routes out and back, with the front nine playing straight out so that the 9th hole is the farthest away from the clubhouse, and the direction then turns back towards the clubhouse on the back nine.

Links courses are often a source of frustration for golfers, even top American professionals who find it a million miles away from their flat, true courses in the States.

Yet, legends of the game, such as Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson, grew to love links golf because of the very fact it does offer different challenges to the ‘target golf’ they were used to playing back home.

Just a few miles down the road, between Sandwich and Deal is Royal Cinque Ports. The popular Deal course, which hosted The Open in 1909 and 1920, with its abundance of large sand dunes, represents a challenge for all golfers. The undulating fairways, which makes a completely flat stance almost impossible, is combined with the traditional feature of a links course – wind and blind tee positions.

Andrew Reynolds, a long-time professional at Royal Cinque Ports, is another devotee of links golf, especially of the east Kent variety.

Roayl Cinque Ports

He said: “A lot of first-time visitors to this area, particularly Americans when they come over for The Open at Sandwich, aren’t aware that east Kent is such a great golfing area, but in a five-mile stretch we have got three links courses that have all hosted The Open and are as good as any in the world.”

There is a growing feeling that, if the sport’s governing body, Royal & Ancient, decide to add another course to their Open Championship rota, then Royal Cinque Ports could be at the head of the queue, following improvements to both the course and the clubhouse in recent years.

Reynolds, the course’s professional since 1978, said: “With a lot of links courses you have got to be able to either drive it well or play your second shots well. But here, because of the character of the course, with all its humps and bumps, you have got to be able to do both.

“That’s why the course is so highly rated by golf purists because you have to be spot on with every shot, and it makes for a wonderful test of golf.”

Over at Prince’s, chief executive Michael Lovett is certain the trio of east Kent courses will benefit from the return of The Open summer of 2011.

Prince's Golf Club

“East Kent is a great area for golf. We have three championship courses sitting right next to each other, plus Open qualifying courses such as Littlestone and previously North Foreland, and as far as I am concerned tourists should be pouring into this area, and one of the keys to achieving that is the 2011 Open,” he said.

“For one week, the area will benefit from nearly a billion people around the world watching the championship on television.

“Here at Prince’s, we have a lovely to see more people playing this beautiful links course.”

Prince’s will be one of the final qualifying courses for next year’s Open along with Littlestone, another superb links which is laid out on the natural undulating land between Romney Marsh and the Channel.

LittlestoneLittlestone has a long and distinguished history dating back to 1888, when it was designed by Dr Purves, who was also responsible for Royal St George’s layout, and a recent report by the Royal & Ancient agronomist stated the greens at Littlestone are “magnificent and some of the best examples of firm, true and well-paced putting greens in the UK.”

The 18-hole Littlestone Warren course lies alongside the Littlestone Championship course and is owned by the members of Littlestone who include Chris Reynolds, last year's English Senior champion.

Kent Garden of England

Reproduced with kind permission of KOS Media Ltd and Visit Kent. For further information, go to www.kentnews.co.uk and www.visitkent.co.uk

 








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