The strategic location of Kent, south of London and the county closest to Europe, has meant that the region has been a key to the defense of the realm of England for centuries. As a result Kent is blessed with an abundance of magnificent, ancient castles, many with royal associations spread throughout the county.
So for golfers with an interest in England’s past, Kent is the ideal destination to head for if you’re looking for a little bit of history and culture to explore whilst playing some of the finest golf courses that the country has to offer.
Kent is best known for the string of championship links set on the east coast overlooking the English Channel. The jewel in this particular crown is no doubt Royal St George’s, a classic links with a fine reputation and a distinguished golfing history, having hosted many amateur and professional tournaments since the 1880s.
Testament to its exceptional quality, Royal St George’s has hosted The Open Championship on an impressive 14 occasions, most recently in 2011 when it was won by Irishman and current Ryder Cup captain, Darren Clarke. It remains on the current Open venue roster so we can expect a return to this hallowed turf in the not too distant future.
Founded in 1887 and laid out by William Laidlaw Purves, this wild and windy championship links is considered one of England’s most picturesque, offering stunning views over Pegwell Bay and Kent’s white cliffs.
It is deceptively challenging thanks to its severely undulating fairways, tricky greens and a splattering of blind tee shots and pot bunkers. Its thatched roof shelters, the red cross of St George on its pin flags and the existence of the UK’s tallest and deepest bunker that faces you at the 4th tee make St George’s both unique and mesmerizing.
The club was immortalized forever by one of its most famous members, Ian Fleming, when he used it as the setting for that classic match between James Bond and his rival Auric Goldfinger in the novel of the same name.
Just three miles down the coast another stunning championship course awaits. Royal Cinque Ports, or simply Deal as it is often referred to, is a highly-regarded classic seaside links, the type of which can only be found in the British Isles.
Whilst at first glance Royal Cinque Ports may look flat and unassuming with just a few sand hills and grasses dune grasses to add interest and definition, the very opposite is true. This is by no means an easy course, and should the wind blow, it’s the real deal.
Once out on the course you are faced with wildly undulating, fast fairways that can mean tight, hanging lies and awkward stances, several blind tee shots, lightning greens and pot bunkers with steep, revetted bunkers which together make this course an extremely tough challenge.
With its coastal location, wind – often strong – is a regular feature and if it’s blowing in from the south west, the back nine, and in particular the final seven holes, become one of the longest and most testing stretches in golf.
The club itself is over 100 years old and is steeped in history, tradition and royal connections that all make for a memorable experience. Founded back in 1892, Deal too has had the honour of hosting The Open Championship, for the first time in 1909 when it was won by J H Taylor of the Great Triumvirate and then in 1920. Thanks to the enduring quality of the course, this championship links has also hosted many other premier tournaments over the years such as The Amateur Championship, but perhaps most notably Deal has been home to the Halford Hewitt Public Schools Championship, the largest amateur tournament of its kind anywhere in the world, since 1924.
Prince’s Golf Club in Sandwich Bay, founded in 1906, is the final course to make up this trio of stunning links, conveniently set within three miles of each other. With panoramic views over the Channel, Prince’s is comprised of three 9-hole loops – The Shore, The Dunes and The Himalayas – that all have their own unique characteristics. A redesign of the course following damage during World War II has given it a modern edge with the elimination of any blind tee or approach shots.
Princes’ personality this century comes from an impressive selection of 97 revetted bunkers, including the now-famous Sarazen Bunker, and deceptive, rolling greens whilst regular breezes off the sea ensure challenging play.
It too has staged The Open Championship back in 1932 when it was won by the great Gene Sarazen and it continues to host both professional and amateur competitions today on a regular basis.
In 2011, the club established The Lodge at Prince’s that boasts an array of suites and apartments offering golfers a great base when playing these regal set of courses.
To the north of this cluster lies the cliff top course at North Foreland which also boasts spectacular views of the iconic White Cliffs and English Channel from every hole. This fine championship course’s broad fairways disguise a tricky layout thanks to strategically-placed bunkers that lie in wait.
Located within easy reach of these courses is one of the most famous fortresses in the world – Dover Castle. Founded in the 11th century, Dover Castle is perched on the White Cliffs and has been described as the ‘Key to England’ due to its strategic defensive position over the centuries. The Great Keep and the historic underground wartime tunnels where WWII military Operation Dynamo was masterminded are a fascinating antidote after a few rounds of golf.
Both Walmer and Deal Castles are also close by and form part of the historic Cinque Ports defenses, built by former monarchs to guard the shore of England. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was a regular visitor in her role as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports.
More coastal golf is just around the corner. Littlestone, another of Kent’s championship links gems, may not be as well known as the courses further up the coast but it never disappoints. Set in it own range of undulating dunes in Romney Marsh, its design reflects input from several great course architects including Laidlaw Purves, James Braid and Alister MacKenzie. Thanks to the dry weather in this part of Kent, the course is always in ideal condition and its greens are considered by many to be the finest in England.
Not far away lies Leeds Castle, known as “the loveliest castle in the world”, which is surrounded by a picturesque moat and charming nine-hole golf course that was built in 1924 in the 500 acres of estate woodland.
More golf awaits at the nearby Tudor Park Marriott Hotel & Country Club. This majestic parkland golf course was designed by Donald Steel, one of Britain’s finest course architects. It is an exhilarating showcase of his skills with 6,085 yards of beautifully varied holes set against this picturesque corner of Kent.
Further inland is another of Kent’s famous castles, the romantic and magnificent Hever Castle. Once the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, it now boasts a stunning parkland golf course in the Hever Estate, thanks to a more recent owner, the American William Waldorf Astor. The castle’s stunning 5-star B&B accommodation in the Astor Wing with luxurious furnishings is a must for anyone with an interest in history.
Finally Lullingstone Castle, which dates back to the 15th century and whose former silk farm produced the silk for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation robes, is adjacent to Lullingstone Park. This is another picturesque parkland course that has magnificent views of the castle whilst nearby the London Golf Club has two 18-hole layouts, The International and The Heritage, designed by Jack Nicklaus. Both are pure downland courses that, interestingly, demand a links-style approach.
A few miles down the road, Hand Picked Hotel’s Brandshatch Place Hotel & Spa is the ideal place to enjoy a little bit of R&R before heading home.
For further information about Kent’s golf courses, go to www.golfinkent.co.uk, and for its castles, go to http://www.visitkent.co.uk/things-to-do/heritage-and-gardens/castles-in-kent or to book Castles & Courses golf breaks, email firstname.lastname@example.org.