Kent’s rich tradition of golf dates back over a century and today the ‘Garden of England’ is home to over 100 courses, three of which are British Open Championship venues, all easily accessed from the international airports of London.
While many golfers associate premier links golf with Scotland and Ireland, Kent boasts some of England’s most revered championship links offering panoramas over the English Channel. There are many courses designed by famous architects like James Braid and Harry Colt. And the county offers a host of hidden gems, many, set in the heart of the county’s picturesque landscape.
Testament to the quality of its links, Kent has hosted 17 British Open Championships. The first back in 1894 when Royal St George’s, Sandwich staged the event. It has since returned an incredible 13 times to St George’s (most recently in 2011 when Irishman Darren Clarke lifted the coveted Claret Jug). The historic layout is one of England’s most revered courses and regularly ranked as a top 10 course in the world. It remains the only course in southern England to host golf’s only major outside America.
Designed by William Laidlaw Purves back in 1887, this wild, windy links is deceptively challenging with severely undulating fairways, tricky greens and a number of blind tee shots and pot bunkers. Its thatched roof shelters, the red cross of St George on its pin flags and England’s tallest bunker at the 4th tee, make St George’s both unique and mesmerising.
The club was immortalised 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.
The other two championship links in Kent to hold the British Open are nearby Royal Cinque Ports, which staged the tournament in 1909 and 1920, and Prince’s, which staged the British Open in 1932.
Royal Cinque Ports was first laid out as by Henry Hunter as a 9-hole course in 1892. Before arriving at its current, heady incarnation, it has been through numerous modifications with input from the likes Sir Guy Campbell aided by Henry Cotton, James Braid and most recently by Donal Steel. The club assumed its royal title in 1910 and its royal association continues with Prince Andrew, Duke of York, a member of the club.
Since 1924, the famed club has been home every year to the Halford Hewitt Public Schools Championship, which is the largest amateur tournament in the world.
This tough links in the ‘Cinque Port’ of Deal with its severely undulating fairways can mean tight, hanging lies and awkward stances. Blind shots and deep bunkers abound. The strong winds that whistle through this corner of Kent can make the back nine one of the most testing and tiring stretches in golf.
Prince’s Golf Club provides another great links challenge. Each of its three 9-hole loops—The Shore, The Dunes and The Himalayas—has its own unique characteristics. An impressive selection of 97 revetted bunkers, including the now-famous Sarazen Bunker, rolling greens and seaside breezes make for testy golf.
These magnificent layouts, within three miles of each other, are flanked by Littlestone in the south and North Foreland, which is set on the most north-easterly part of Kent. North Foreland enjoys spectacular views over the English Channel towards France.
Littlestone, founded in 1888, is a veritable gem laid out on naturally undulating land among its own range of sand dunes. Set between Romney Marsh and the English Channel, this stretch of coastline enjoys a unique microclimate making it one of the driest places in England.
The course reflects many years of design input by a host of great course architects including Laidlaw Purves, James Braid and latterly Alister MacKenzie and Donald Steel. Throughout its distinguished history, the course has hosted many major championships and was a Final Qualifying Course for The 2011 Open Championship.
North Foreland was established in 1903. Located in Broadstairs in an elevated position above Kent’s white cliffs, it too is steeped in history. Its broad fairways disguise a difficult track as strategically placed bunkers lie in wait while the layout also demands accurate, solid second shots in order to hold the greens.
Known as the ‘Garden of England’, Kent enjoys miles of luxuriant, rolling countryside that makes for ideal inland and parkland courses.
Not only is the Tudor Park Marriott one of Kent’s premier hotels, but it is also home to a par 70, 5,441-metre golf course designed by noted golf course architect Donald Steel.
Nestled in an ancient, 200-acre deer park in the heart of the county, the Tudor Park Golf Club is conveniently located close to Maidstone just off the M20. The hotel provides an excellent stopping off point for golfers on their way down to the east coast links of Kent or on their return journey back towards London.
Further inland in the west, Kent offers two relatively new, heralded lowland courses at the London Golf Club, which is conveniently located just 32 kilometres from central London. Opened in 1993, the Club’s International and Heritage Courses set in idyllic Kent countryside were both designed by the legendary Jack Nicklaus. Whilst the Heritage is reserved for members, the International, which hosted the 2014 Volvo World Match Play, is open to visitors. It is pure downland, with quick, undulating fairways that force a links-style approach. This course proves a tough test while providing the chance to shoot a great score with a number of risk-reward holes.
If the testing golf at the London Golf Club is too much, the best idea would be to pop down to nearby Lullingstone Park Golf Course . This is a typical Kent parkland layout. The picturesque 18-hole Castle Course offers panoramic views over the countryside and Lullingstone Castle. A good test off the back tees, the 6,100-metre course features sloping fairways and numerous fairway bunkers that require good course management. The 9-hole Valley Course and ‘Pitch and Putt’ are ideal for those with less time or looking for a less challenging round.
For more relaxed golf in Kent’s rolling countryside, there are the likes of Boughton near Canterbury, Etchinghill near Folkestone and London Beach near Ashford.
Off the course, Kent offers a plethora of fascinating attractions from cathedrals to castles, wildlife walks to medieval towns, gardens to gourmet restaurants. Canterbury Cathedral, Britain’s oldest cathedral, towers over the quaint and ancient city of Canterbury, the religious seat of England. Dover Castle boasts a long and varied history and remained a site of strategic importance right through to the Second World War. Kilometres of coastal paths and bike trails draw regular visitors thanks to dramatic cliffs, the seaside attractions of Margate and Whitstable and medieval towns like Sandwich.
Known for its Dover Sole and Whitstable oysters, Kent is fast becoming a gourmet destination. Check out the Michelin-starred Ambrette Restaurants offering Kentish fare meeting Indian cuisine and the highly-acclaimed Sportsman Pub in Seasalter.
A variety of excellent accommodation is available in Kent. The Lodge at Prince’s was specially designed with golfers in mind. And you’ll find established hotel groups like the Marriott in the area.
Natural clusters of golf courses can be found around Kent’s main towns, all set against a backdrop of rich and varied culture, buildings of historic interest, bustling seaside towns and magnificent, inspiring gardens. Kent’s ‘Garden of Eden’ is truly a golfer’s paradise.