Tom Irwin revisits Chart Hills after a multimillion pound renovation at the Kent club. So what's new?
Parkland golf. Tricky one to be honest. We have been through this.
The ball doesn’t move on the ground. Water hazards. They are a problem. You can’t get up and down from a pond. Wind is not your friend on a parkland. You can’t work with it, run the ball in, or use the ground. And the grass grows, a lot.
That isn’t to say all parklands are bad. There are lots that are brilliant. When you find a good parkland though, you tend to remember it. I was last at Chart Hills in 2005 and I remember it as an incredibly well bunkered, strategic, and varied test. So, as its reopening following huge renovation coincided with my trip to The Open at Royal St George’s, I couldn’t resist dropping in for a look.
It is definitely in Kent. By which I mean it is absolutely in middle of the Garden of England. Once you drop off the M20 you drive through the opening credits of the Darling Buds of May. Meaning you arrive in a good mood having spent the last 20 minutes thinking about Catherine Zeta Jones.
There is the rarefied air of a grand facility, sweeping drive, turning circle, bag drop, epic range, enormous club house. It has that ‘find a bag tag in your boot 6 months later‘ feel to it.
The golf course is as I remembered – well put together and exceptionally bunkered. It is not enormously long, choose between 5,503 off the reds, 5,891 from the yellows, or right up to 7,132 off the back tees. We played off the blue tees which, at 6,530 yards, is plenty. They are ’90s championship yardages, and with the recent sand topping applied to all 18 fairways we are getting plenty of run out despite a wet summer.
Originally a Faldo design it is still brilliantly bunkered and presents you with lots of options from nearly all the tees. There are very few stop signs and genuinely many ways to approach each hole.
The first a sweeping left to right dogleg par 5 is a great example. You could hit any club off the tee depending on how much you want to try and take off the corner, and you can see it all unfolding in front of you. It is excellent use of the land.
Then there is the cute par-3 17th which is 125 yards to a tiny little island green. Deliciously unexpected.
The new owners, who also own the Prince’s complex on the Kent coast, are taking a step-by-step approach to the reimagining of the golf course.
The fairway work is complete. Next will come all 18 greens and there is certainly some tree removal and rough management to do.
The team from Prince’s are proper golfers and understand the work that is required. Anyone who has played their 27 coastal holes will note the excellent work they have done there over the past three seasons.
When they have finished with Chart Hills, my suspicion is that it will be re-established as one of the very best parklands in England. Pop Larkin would be proud.
For more information, visit the Chart Hills website.