As the only Club to have hosted an Open Championship just once, Prince’s has seen many changes since it was established in 1906. It was the first course to be designed to counter the longer-flying Haskell ball, and when Gene Sarazen set a new score record when winning the 67th Open here in 1932, he also introduced the world of golf to his newly-invented sand wedge. The course’s proximity to Sandwich was, by all accounts, coincidental.
The Battle of Britain was fought high above the course, an area referred to as Hellfire Corner due to the defending of nearby Dover and Ramsgate ports. Such was the level of wartime damage caused to the original links that it was redesigned in the 1950s, creating an innovative 27-hole layout and incorporating 17 of the original greens into the new Shore, Dunes and Himalayas courses. Gone were the blind tee and approach shots, replaced by a very fair but challenging three nines where large greens are skirted by sweeping, manicured run-offs. Today’s presentation is immaculate, with a great degree of care being taken by the greenkeepers to enhance the golfer’s experience.
Each course begins and ends at the Clubhouse and whilst it’s possible to play all three in one day, it’s better to stay over locally and split the 27 up. The clockwise loop of the Shore initially follows the shoreline south, back towards the Club’s impressive Lodge and its dining and accommodation facilities. Long, linear ridges frame the fairways, many set in parallel shallow valleys and exceptionally large sand scrapes are dotted around, framed by billowing fescue and marram. These sandy acres are more often used as an architectural highlight between tees and fairways, and are particularly scenic at each of the par-3s, of which the redan-styled fifth is significantly more challenging because of its steep run-off, plus the change in wind direction from the previous four. Long carries help to avoid the quintessential pot bunkers, cleverly natural undulating fairways and sloping lies. The last green played down at the shoreline, and for those who love history, is the sixth and the same one where Gene Sarazen won the Championship.
In contrast, the Dunes’ nine form an anticlockwise loop, brushing the edge of Royal St George’s on their way and sitting slightly further inland. The fairways again are in pristine condition with a few pine trees to frame them, and feature multiple changes in elevation off the tee, on approach and around the greens. Walking off the tee at the par-3 second takes you across a weathered boardwalk through one of those huge architectural sand traps, momentarily taking you to a different country. From the high tee on the sixth, above one of the large ponds on the links, Ramsgate and Deal can clearly be seen reminding you that this linksland is generally flat, but gloriously awkward to play across its hills and hummocks. The Dunes’ memorable hole is the par-3 eighth, a smidgeon less than 200 yards and a full drive across another Sahara-esque bunker to reach a tricky green, with another bunker set deep in its front left face. You’ll know by the end of 18 holes and just under 7,000 yards that you have walked the walk.
Reported to be the members' favourite nine, the Himalayas has undergone a major upgrade by renowned architects Mackenzie & Ebert. A tiny pot bunker in the dead centre of the first fairway welcomes you to the course. Bunkers abound on the following par-5, a sweeping and dramatic 575-yards through and around wetlands and massive sand scrapes, to a green which cunningly slopes away from you. Passing the Spitfire propeller beyond the second green, commemorating a previous Club member who found safe landing for his aircraft here during the Battle of Britain, you’ll play out to the fifth, a par-3 named 'Bloody Point'. Located at the course’s far end, it has become the Himalayas’ signature hole. It’s only 135-yards, set against the backdrop of the sea, and features a raised green defended by steep run-off areas on all sides, as well as a deep pot bunker. Wind and bravado each play their part. Interestingly, the fourth and eight holes share one of the few Championship double greens outside of the Old Course at St. Andrews, so getting your yardage wrong here can seriously affect your score. When finally heading down the slightly dog-leg ninth, all that’s required to finish off your visit to Prince’s is a floating shot to the right of the timbered face of Sarazen’s bunker, tucked perfectly into the banking left of the green. Draw it too far left however, and you’re staring at Gene’s 1932 commemorative plaque. Right, and there’s a rollercoaster drop down off the green. It’s a risk-and-reward course: there’s only one option.
You’ll be ever so glad that Gene helped to invent the sand wedge.
Words - Murray Bothwell
Photography - Stuart Currie
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