This famous corner of Kent can boast no fewer than three Open Championship venues, all within a couple of miles of each other. The most celebrated is Royal St George’s, while neighbouring Royal Cinque Ports also enjoys an international reputation. By far the least celebrated of the trio, in recent times at least, is Prince’s, separated from St George’s by the width of a fence.
Yet it was here in 1932 that Gene Sarazen won his one and only Claret Jug, on his way to becoming the first man to claim the Grand Slam of winning all four of the modern Majors. He did so having invented a club specifically to recover from the punitive Prince’s bunkers – it became known as the sand wedge.
You approach the club on a road that runs between Pegwell Bay and Royal St George’s (the first hole you will see is the 5th green at St George’s), and your first sight of Prince’s comes in the form of the newly-restored Dormy House that now offers guests first-class on-site accommodation.
By the time you have reached the clubhouse you will have seen several holes from the Shore nine and be licking your lips in anticipation.
Originally laid out by Charles Hutchings in 1904, a former amateur champion, the course was used by the military in the Second World War. Lord Brabazon memorably described the German attacks it withstood as akin to “throwing darts at a Rembrandt”.
It fell upon an Australian, Aynsley Bridgland, to restore the links, which is organised into three nines – Shore, Dunes and Himalayas.
It used to be the case that the premier 18 was made up of Shore and Dunes. That is no longer the case.
Mackenzie Ebert recently completed a bold re-imagination that has transformed the Himalayas nine.
The McGuirk family, the long-time owners of the complex, were initially taken aback by the scale of Martin Ebert’s recommendations for the Himalayas nine, regarded as the weakest loop. The results are a testament to their vision and Ebert’s skills. It is unrecognisable, reimagined as a Golden Age playground of links golf, with generous fairways, bunkering on a grand scale and an element of playfulness. In fact, it’s so good that Ebert is now working on the Shore and Dunes nines.
It begins with an opening tee shot to an incredibly wide fairway, complicated by a lone bunker in the middle of the fairway. Play successfully to the left of it and your reward is an approach with a clear view of the green and an easier angle of attack.
The 2nd is a wonderful par 5, the fairway doglegging left as it pitches and rolls through the dunes.
There is a double green at the 3rd before perhaps the highlight of this nine arrives at the short 5th, a gorgeous par 3 played towards the sea. It’s the kind of hole that people choose for composite 18s.
Then again, par 4s don’t come much better than the 9th, which features a wonderfully testing tee shot. It’s a right-to-left dogleg and bunkers await for the leaked drive. Short and left of the green is the cavernous Sarazen bunker, rebuilt and reopened by Padraig Harrington in 2011.
It’s a great finishing hole.
The highlight of the Shore nine is probably the 4th, a shade over 400 yards but usually into the wind.
Here you must find the fairway, and preferably the flatter right half, to attack a green that is both well protected and awkward to putt on.
The Dunes begins with what is surely the toughest hole on the property, which makes it a tough proposition should it be your opener.
It is 439 yards off the regular tees, let alone the backs, and into the prevailing wind. It doglegs left and the narrow, raised green throws off anything that is not struck into its heart to leave a tricky chip-and-run. Very few will be unhappy with a five here.
Things get no less interesting, but certainly more scoreable, as the nine goes on. The 3rd is a par 5 that can be attacked but is highly dangerous with out of bounds down the right, and the 5th features a huge, sleepered bunker and a raised green. The Dunes concludes with a long par 4, mercifully downwind, to a huge flat green that waits at the far end.
Rare indeed are courses that offer 27 holes of genuine links, so make sure you visit, or re-visit, Prince’s soon, preferably taking advantage of the on-site accommodation to make this an overnight trip to savour.