Royal St. George’s Golf Club
Eighth hole, 455 yards; Pennink’s second major change in 1975 was to convert the eighth from a par three to a formidable par four. Rather than walking to the left of the seventh green after holing out, golfers now walk straight ahead to the eighth tee along the property line. The tee ball finds one of the more level fairways on the course but the second shot is the real highlight as it is played down across broken ground to a green surrounded by dunes. The former eighth known as Hades was a searching par thee but Pennink’s addition is a most handsome one.
Ninth hole, 385 yards; Once played closer to the tenth fairway, the ninth’s playing corridor was shifted to the left prior to the 1911 Open and its green was moved back forty yards, helping to reduce the disparity in length between the two nines.The random landforms throughout the hole help make it an absolutely charming drive and pitch hole. Though the course undoubtedly requires big hitting, holes like the ninth, tenth, and twelfth add a great deal of variety to its overall challenge.
Tenth hole,410 yards; Though the tenth has been stretched some in recent years, the ninth and tenth still represent short par fours of uncommon character. Similar to the seventh and eighth at Sand Hills Golf Club, the two play parallel to each other and run in opposite directions, meaning that the wind can make the holes play wildly different, despite their similar length.In the case of the tenth, its plateau green is the high spot on the back nine and is universally considered one of the game’s great skyline greens. Ian Fleming made the hole famous when he described it in James Bond’s match in Goldfinger as the most dangerous par four in England. Tom Kite would agree as this hole ruined his 1985 Open bid as he clumsily went from side to side.
Eleventh hole, 240 yards; Here is the third and final of Pennink’s major changes. For its first eighty-five years, this was a well regarded drive and pitch hole. However,with Pennink’s change of the eighth from a par three to a par four, the course only had three par threes. Indeed, there was a gap from the sixth to sixteenth without one. Furthermore, the sixth and sixteenth holes play in the same general direction away from Pegwell Bay, an undesirable trait for a windy site.A final consideration was that the back was still significantly longer than the front. Pennink addressed all these issues when he turned the eleventh in to the par three that it is today. Nick Faldo sent the British crowd into hysteria when his tee ball in the fourth round of the epic 1993 Open clanged off the flag, stopping inches away.
Twelfth hole, 380 yards; Royal St. George’s is a big course with lots of interesting playing angles. Some of the best are at the twelfth and thirteenth where an eight foot high dune line that parallels the coast was put to particularly good use.The tee boxes of both holes are set on diagonal lines to the dune line and the golfer is free to make up his own mind as to what the day’s correct line is from each tee. The temptation to be too greedy and cut off too much off these tees needs to be resisted. The sight of the twelfth flag from the tee makes it particularly difficult to make yourself aim well to its left. Courses with fixed, pre-determined playing lines such as tightly wooded parkland courses are infinitely less interesting than courses like Royal St. George’s where the golfer has options to mull over.
Thirteenth hole, 460 yards; A spine runs the length of the thirteenth green with the green’s left half nearly two feet higher than its right half. The hole, and especially the green, has many admirers, including Ben Crenshaw who views it as one of the best greens anywhere. Furthermore, he told the author that, with the exception of The Old Course at St. Andrews, ‘I believe that Royal St. George’s has the finest set of greens of any of the Open courses. The variety found throughout all its greens really is of exception.’
Fourteenth hole, 550 yards; Out of bounds hard down the entire right makes the fourteenth nerve wrecking, especially given the expansiveness of the preceding thirteen holes. Now all of a sudden,one steps to the tee, knowing anything pushed right will require another shot to be played from the same spot. Much to his credit, Greg Norman hit the perfect boring drive in the fourth round in 1993 after watching his fellow competitor Bernard Langer cut it over the boundary fence moments earlier. When Purves first laid out this three shotter, the Suez Canal that crosses the fairway was quite difficult to carry in two with hickories and a gutta-percha ball. In today’s modern game, the tiger golfer is more worried about the canal off the tee. In 2004, the green was moved back forty-three yards and two bunkers were added in the fairway sixty yards from the green, in line with the left edge of the green. Thus, the confident golfer that plays down the hole’s right enjoys clear access to the green. The more timid play is down the left but eventually, the golfer must play back toward the green – and the out of bounds.
Fifteenth hole, 475 yards; The fifteenth is another hole that has been lengthened over the years without changing or undermining the original integrity.The tees were recently pushed thirty-five yards,insuring that golfers still need to hit long or middle irons into the green, which is elevated four feet above the fairway and shrugs off all but the well struck shot. Tom Simpson was a great admirer of this hole.
Sixteenth hole, 160 yards; Though surrounded by eight deep bunkers, mercifully the putting surface is relatively large for a hole of this length. The rub comes when the club places the hole locations around the perimeter of the green, tempting the golfer to get a bit more greedy than just playing safely to the middle. The merits of the sixteenth were showcased in 2003 Open when Thomas Bjorn chased after a right hole location, only to see his tee ball come to rest in the right green side bunker. His first bunker shot climb onto the putting surface but its shoulder returned the ball back to his feet. The same sad event occurred again and after Bjorn holed out for a five, the Open Championship was lost.
Seventeenth hole, 425 yards; Though the front nine has the bigger dunes, the penultimate hole lays claim to perhaps the most convoluted fairway with beautiful random land forms throughout. Importantly, in such situations, plenty of fairway width needs to be maintained; otherwise, it becomes too much hit and hope with balls caroming into the rough with monotonous regularity. The club is aware that the fairway was too narrow for the 2003 Open with less than thirty percent of the field holding it; look for a better presented hole (i.e. the fairway will be wider, especially to the right)in 2011 when the Open returns.Amusingly, in 1990, the author was playing Royal St. George’s as the final course of a ten course swing through England. The match and the trip were all square on the seventeenth tee, or the 179th hole of the trip. Into the wind, a low running two iron was holed for a most unlikely eagle, proving to be the telling blow. When asked by the friendly professional inside how we had fared, we mentioned a highlight being the eagle on seventeen. The professional stared through his window at the flapping flags, and remarked, ‘Yes, in this wind, a two is a good score there today.’
Eighteenth hole, 460 yards; An underrated finishing hole, the eighteenth fairway is made by a pronounced hump found where tee balls like to land. A final string of Purves cross bunkers bisect the fairway 120yards from the green, which is made by a mean pit bunker front-right and Duncan’s Hollow on the left.
Having hosted thirteen Open Championships over a 110 year period, as well as twelve Amateur Championships, two Walker Cups and one Curtis Cup, Royal St. George’s has time and again proven that it represents the ultimate in links golf in particular and in the game of golf in general.With its equal measures of challenge (e.g., the stern two-shotters on the run home from the thirteenth) and charm (e.g., the first nine),Sandwich is the rare links that is both a championship course and a thrilling lay-out for member play.Better than nearly any other course, it proves that championship golf need not be dull and unimaginative and that fun golf need not be easy; rather, there is an attainable ideal that compromises neither set of values.Change has been needed throughout its illustrious past, yet such change occurred without sacrificing the original overall intent of the course.If Darwin were to see today’s course, he would recognize it and, the author believes, his critical eye would approve of how the course’s evolution has it remaining as the United Kingdom’s supreme test south of St. Andrews.