This unpretentious, venerable club was the inspiration for St. Mark’s Golf Club that was featured in the James Bond movie, “Goldfinger”
SANDWICH BAY, Kent, England (Sept. 19, 2018) – If you are searching for an English links golf experience that is royal (but not pretentious) and old (but not ancient), choose the Royal St. George’s Golf Club, which is also a classic and traditional members club that has volumes of history for you to absorb.
This championship links course is located at Sandwich Bay with stunning views of Kent’s iconic White Cliffs just outside the charming medieval coastal town of Sandwich in a county that is 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.
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 of the South.
That mission was accomplished, though, in my opinion, ‘Sandwich’ — as Royal St. George’s is often simply referred to — is a more demanding and visually appealing venue for golf than its Scottish ‘ancestor.’
Not surprisingly, Royal St. George’s was the first golf course outside of Scotland to host The Open Championship when it was held there in 1894, when England’s J. H. Taylor won the title. Over the years, it has also attracted golf’s most prestigious events and many of the game’s great players have walked away triumphant.
To date, the club has hosted 14 (British) Open Championships, 13 British Amateur Championships, five British PGA Championships, two Walker Cups, and one Curtis Cup.
As an amateur, Jack Nicklaus won the Grand Challenge at Royal St. George’s in 1959; Sir Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros each won the British PGA Championship on this course; and a strong group of international golfers like 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.
By the way, The Open Championship will return to Royal St. George’s in 2020. And, you should, too.
Two other interesting moments at Royal St. George’s took place in the 1960s, both involving a camera.
In 1964, 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 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.
And, in 1968, 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.
‘Sandwich’ is characterized by its unusual thatched roof shelters dotted around the course, by the red cross of St. George on its pin flags, and also 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.
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.
There are other interesting aspects of ‘Sandwich’ worth sharing. For instance, members of the club 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 a foreign concept to many visiting golfers from outside England.
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.
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.
On five or six occasions, I successfully used my eight iron to give myself makeable par putts.
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, which keeps the pace of play moving along at a respectable pace.
A vital piece of advice when you drive down Sandown Road on your way to the club, 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.
Despite being a private club, tee times are available for the general public at various times during the week and can be booked online atwww.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.
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.
Personally, I would strongly recommend that you take one of the club’s caddies in order to add to your experience of this revered course. 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. Throughout my round, he gave me advice on where to hit my tee shots, approaches and pitches and lined up my putts on the tricky greens. He also shared anecdotes about the club and locality…..and told me the history of the course which is fascinating for avid golfers.
While standing on the 18th tee, 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, but, sadly, there was no Claret Jug for me in the clubhouse, but I did feel like the Champion Golfer of the Year!
After playing 18 holes at Royal St. George’s, you should definitely stay for lunch, 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 and then simply soak up the atmosphere and tradition. For me, there is no better location and atmosphere for golf and lunch than Royal St. George’s, the jewel in the crown of Golf in Kent.