Sunday, the day of our third and final round of golf. And we saved the best till last. That’s no disrespect to the other courses we played during our weekend, but we were of to Princes Golf Club. Host of the 1932 Open Championship which was won by Gene Sarazen and located in Sandwich right next door to Royal St Georges where we should have been watching the final day of this years Open.
After negotiating the toll and taking the private road along the seafront, you drive right along the edge of Royal St Georges until you reach The Lodge and Brasserie, Prince’s own accommodation and Restaurant. The drive then meanders down to the clubhouse passing by some of the holes on the Shore and Dunes courses giving first time visitors a little peek as to what is to come during their round.
Princes features 27 holes of Championship golf split into three nines. The Shore, Dunes and Himalayas courses giving golfers three different combinations of 18. Our challenge was the Shore and Dunes, 3419 and 3436 yards off the white tee’s. The club house features a large well stocked pro shop full of a wide selection of clothing and equipment, spike bar, and upstairs dining suite with balcony overlooking the magnificent course. The perfect place to enjoy a cooked breakfast before our tee time. What a delicious breakfast it was too.
The practice facilities gave you the perfect opportunity to warm up ahead of venturing out onto the course. There is a driving range and by the club house, a large putting green and two large chipping greens with practice bunkers. Perfect for honing your bunker play for the tricky, deep bunkers at Princes.
Warm ups complete, it was time to take on the links. Standing on the first tee the black clouds loomed ominously ahead looking to threaten our round, but we weren’t going to let any weather spoil our round. The longest par four opens up the Shore course at 426 yards heading away from the clubhouse following the shore line and with two well placed fairway bunkers on either side, its not an easy start. Thankfully a well struck drive with wind behind saw my ball land center of the fairway and run beyond both bunkers. Following this up with a well struck short iron to the center of the green and two putts on the super greens, meant I was delighted with a par on the opening hole.
The second hole was the first of the par 5’s measuring in at 530 yards. Again, following the coast away from the clubhouse offers a fair birdie opportunity if you can avoid the bunkers from the tee. Probably through luck, more than skill I found the fairway and with the wind behind and plenty of roll offered from the undulating fairways, I had an opportunity to go for the green in two. A less than well struck 4 iron saw me going to left of the green but avoiding the deep greenside bunker on the right. A tough chip and two putts for par here and I was very happy.
A 173 yard par 3 followed and heading back into the wind. Two deep pot bunkers either side of the front of the green await to punish anything short so the center of the green is your best option regardless of pin position. However I missed right leafing a tricky uphill chip but pulled it off and a short putt followed for another par. Four turns back again and heads back out towards the Lodges and with the wind again assisting another good drive, again avoiding the tough looking fairway bunker and also the left hand side of the fairway that slopes away. Bunkers guard the front of the green here and anything long slopes away. I found the green and two putts for par and I couldn’t believe how well I was playing. Maybe Links golf suited my game? Or maybe it was just a bit of luck?
The 5th is the shortest hole on the course at 137yards, but shouldn’t be underestimated. The green is undulating and slopes from front to back and three deep bunkers surround it. Landing my tee shot slightly short and misreading my chip lead to my first dropped shot, but a great par three hole. Six heads up to the far side of the course and the fence dividing Princes with Royal St Georges. The shortest par 4 on the Shore course but still tricky. Again, the fairway bunkers need to be avoided, which I managed but a thinned wedge saw my ball head over the back leaving a long chip back to the pin at the front of the green. Another bogey on the card for me but I was still happy with how I was playing.
The 7th hole heads back to the clubhouse and subsequently back into the wind. Although this made the hole play longer than its 405 yards, it also meant 2 of the 3 tough fairway bunkers were out of reach. An elevated green with a severe runoff to the right means the left hand side of the green is the best play. However I missed right leaving an uphill chip. But I got up and down here for par. By now the grey clouds had reached us and the rain had started.
The longest hole of the course was next. 542 yards and into the wind meant for a really tough challenge. Normally without the wind, the two bunkers left and right would leave you with a narrow target with little room for error. I wasn’t going to reach those in this wind. A well struck 3 wood avoiding the bunker on the left, 80 yards short of the green which cuts into the fairway and a wedge in was followed up by two putts for another par.
By now the rain was falling steadily and the waterproofs were on as we teed off the 9th. Just a small fairway bunker to avoid here, but it is placed in the center of the fairway. Again not reachable for me into the wind and a long iron approach was required to the long green. 51 yards deep to be precise. I missed right and remarkably avoid the greenside bunker that sits on this side of the green, but couldn’t get up and down and accepted my bogey. But I was so happy with shooting a three over 39 on the front nine.
The umbrella was up now and the rain was falling steadily, but I was really enjoying myself as we started the back nine, The Dunes. Ten starts with tough tee shot. Not that any on this course are easy but you need to decide how much of the corner to cut off. A long bunker protects the inside of the corner but not cutting off enough can leave your drive running out and into the rough on the right. Mine ran out but didn’t reach the unforgiving long rough thankfully but I struck what I though was the perfect approach into the green which landed at the front center of the green, ran up towards the hole and just past, then rolled right and subsequently off the green. A chip back up and two putts, left me feeling a little hard done by with a bogey.
The 11th was another tricky par three with a sharp run off to the left and deep bunkers guarding the front and right meaning hitting the green is vital and I was certainly glad for my par here. The third for the four par fives followed. A good birdie opportunity here if you can avoid the two bunkers in the middle of the fairway and the out of bounds to the right, and the greenside bunker front left as the green is relatively flat here. A bit of a duff 3 wood off the fairway ruined my chances of a first birdie of the day but I was happy to take a par and keep my good score going.
13 was the hardest hole on the card. With eight treacherous bunkers littering the hole it was easy to see why. Thankfully I managed to avoid the fairway bunkers off the tee and the remaining bunkers on my approach. I also managed to avoid the green leaving me a tough chip back up to the green and two putts for bogey. Yet more bunkers to avoid off the tee on the 14th an you definitely don’t want to find the deep sleepered bunker 100 yards short of the green. If you find yourself in that, then good luck! No greenside bunkers here but everything surrounding the green slopes from left to right, so playing left and letting the ball feed into the green isn’t a bad option. I was happy to hit 9 iron to the center of the green and card another par. Was I going to get that elusive birdie?
Well, in answer to that question, I was. And it came at the 15th. The shortest par at 495 yards, but playing into the wind for us, needing two good shots to get near the green. Managing to hit the center of the fairway and a well struck 3 wood left me just short of the elevated green. A good chip up the long green left me a shot birdie putt. Happy days!
By now the rain had been falling quit heavily for some time and we were getting very wet. But despite the slippery grips and damp boxer shorts, we were still enjoying the course. Although the 16th I was to finally experience how brutal the long rough really was. Going left of the tee mean after actually finding my ball, I had to take my medicine and hack out to safety. Although that was the plan, the execution didn’t follow. With the deep rough grabbing the club head, instead of the ball heading back out towards the center of the fairway, it was heading towards one of the treacherous bunkers. The ball however nestled on the bank of the bunker in yet more deep rough. But I’m not sure what would have been worse. In the deep bunker or in the deep rough? Time to hack out again and accept that a double bogey was likely to happen. Especially as my wedge into the green was left about 25ft short of the pin. But putting on the smooth true, pristine greens was a joy and I made the but leaving my bogey feel like a birdie.
The penultimate hole was a long par 3 into the wind with lots of trouble to carry and a bunker to avoid front left. My 4 iron was left wanting and chip from the edge of the rough on the right made the undulating green but 2 putts were needed to finish. The final hole back to the club house and dry clothes was left and it was a long par 4 at 462 yards. Make that a very long par 4 into the wind. At least the first fairway bunker on the right was unreachable, but actually reaching the fairway was going to be an achievement with the long carry. What I though was a good drive was still just short of the front of the fairway but sitting up in the cut rough. No chance for a final birdie here barring some miracle and still being 250 yards from the green, par was unlikely to here, but sensible play meant I could still break 80. So, a steady 4 iron up the left of the fairway avoiding the bunker on the right left wedge into the center of the final green avoiding the run off to the right.
Two putts for bogey and I had done it. I had carded a 79 and broken 80 on this unforgiving but fantastic course in poor conditions. I had had a great time here and the good score made it even better. Time to head back to the clubhouse and a dry set of clothes. It made me realize that had it been the final day of the Open, a really tough test would have faced the worlds elite on the Kent coast and a dramatic final day probably would have ensued. But also, had it been the final day of the Open, I wouldn’t have been playing Princes and enjoying my experience playing my first ‘Open’ venue.
So many thanks to Princes Golf Club for their hospitality and I look forward to hopefully visiting again sometime in the future. In the meantime, where to go for my next golfing weekend?