WHAT THE HISTORY BOOKS SAY
This year marks the 15th time the Open Championship has been played at Royal St George’s in Sandwich, Kent. The first was way back in 1894 when it became the first club outside Scotland to host the Championship. It remains the only Open rota golf course to be located in southern England and is the thirdmost used of the current venues, behind St Andrews and Muirfield. Known colloquially as Sandwich, Royal St George’s was founded by Dr William Purves in 1887 to be a rival to St Andrew’s. No successive holes play in the same direction and it is currently ranked sixth in our Golf World Top 100 Links Golf Courses in Great Britain and Ireland. Jack Nicklaus never won as a professional at Royal St George’s. In fact, his worst round as a pro came at Sandwich when he shot a 13-overpar 83 in the first round of the 1981 Open, including a run of 6-5-6-5-7 from the 10th to the 14th. He did, however, win the St George’s Grand Challenge Cup as an amateur in 1959. In addition to The Open Championship, the club has hosted the British Amateur Championship 13 times, the British PGA Championship on five occasions and the Walker Cup twice. Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros both tasted victory in the PGA Championship at Royal St George’s, while Walter Hagen and Bobby Locke won the first of four Claret Jugs here. In 1993, Greg Norman clinched his second Open Championship and set a new record for the lowest round to win the Claret Jug. Gary Player called Norman’s final-round 64 at Royal St George’s “the best golf I ever saw played at the British Open,” while Bernhard Langer told Norman that it was “the greatest golf I’ve ever seen in my life”. The last time Royal St George’s staged The Open in 2011, Darren Clarke became the first British winner since Paul Lawrie in 1999. It remains his most recent victory to date on the PGA or European Tour. Not since Tony Jacklin’s victory in 1969 has an Englishman been crowned Champion Golfer of the Year south of Hadrian’s Wall. In fact, it’s been 29 years since Nick Faldo at Muirfield became the last Englishman to win The Open. No pressure for Tyrrell or Tommy, then.
8 PAR 4 450 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 4.37 (2)
Traditionally the most difficult hole at Royal St George’s, the 8th (above) was originally a par 3 but turned into a dog-leg right par 4 as part of the course changes that preceded the return of The Open in 1981. Club selection off the tee is key to keep out of the bunkers on the right and to avoid running out of fairway at 325 yards, especially as the final 25 yards is all downhill. The approach is just as tricky to judge and plays over 80 yards of rough to a long and slender target nestled between sandhills and bisected by a ridge. It’s not uncommon to see 40 yards of run in the summer, so expect to see balls being chased onto the green.
9 PAR 4 412 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 4.24 (7)
The 9th originally played along the ridge that extends down its right-hand side, but the fairway now snakes between dunes which can guide off-line drives back to the short grass. The drive must stay short of the two traps at 329 yards, and from there it’s a pitch to a slightly plateaued but fiercely undulating green that falls off to the right and is fraught with danger on the left.
10 PAR 4 415 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 4.19 (11)
Often played into wind, this left-hand dog-leg plays much longer than 415 yards because of its steep rise. The bunker is not really in play off the tee, so it’s all about the approach from a sloping lie to an exposed, elevated green. Thick rough at the back is especially severe and a second shot that is not kept right of centre will likely run into one of two deep traps on the left. The best play is to aim for the front apron, but misjudge it slightly and the ball can trickle down the hill, leaving a tough pitch from a tight lie over sand.
11 PAR 3 238 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 3.25 (5)
Played back out towards the ocean, the 11th used to be a par 4 but now represents the longest par 3 on the course. The prevailing wind is south-westerly and shortens the yardage, but a significant right-to-left slope on the green makes putts difficult to read and means any shot turning left will be thrown towards three bunkers. Mounding behind the two-tier green can help slow down a shot coming in hot, though it’s not uncommon to see balls finding a gully with a sticky bank at the back. Most caddies will pick a line just a yard left of the two traps on the right.
12 PAR 4 379 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 4.00 (17)
The shortest par 4 but certainly not the easiest. It could be driveable if The R&A move the tees forward, though the narrow green is heavily protected by hollows either side and five bunkers blocking the entrance. Those who lay-up with a long iron will need to avoid a ridge which runs across the right side, kicking balls towards sand on the corner of the dog-leg. Second shots played right of the flag will usually run towards the hole, but a birdie is never a given on a green which slopes from front to back and has a big drop-off on the left. Tiger Woods even racked up a four-putt here in 2003.
13 PAR 4 456 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 4.11 (13)
‘Prince’s’ is another long par 4, taking its name from the old clubhouse of Prince’s GC, which sits beside the longest green on the course. Likely to be played from the tee on the far right, finding a narrow fairway is not easy, with four bunkers (including one created by a jettisoned WWII bomb) within range. The approach shot is just as tricky and plays to a green with a ridge running down its spine and out of bounds just over the back. A pin on the left shelf is almost impossible to get close to because of how high it sits, while the right side has a narrow valley with a nasty bunker 10 yards short which needs to be carried.
14 PAR 5 547 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 5.07 (15)
A brutal hole which has been responsible for three of the eight highest par-5 scoring averages in The Open since 1982. In 2003 and 2011, the average score was 5.3 and 5.07 respectively. An out-of-bounds fence runs all the way down the right – including just eight paces from the edge of the green – and famously caught out Dustin Johnson when he was chasing down Darren Clarke 10 years ago. Most players bail out to the left off the tee where the hay is pretty thick, though the bigger hitters will need to lay back from ‘Suez Canal’ – St George’s version of the Swilcan Burn – which splits the fairway in two around 330 yards from the tee.
15 PAR 4 496 YDS AVG. SCORE (2011): 4.27 (4)
The longest par 4 on the course and arguably the toughest as well. Even a drive of 300 yards beyond five bunkers leaves a challenging carry over three cross bunkers to a small, saucer-shaped target framed by mounds on the left and a run-off area on the right. Shots that miss on the left face a really challenging pitch over a bank.
‘14 IS ONE OF THOSE HOLES THAT LOOMS IN THE BACK OF YOUR MIND ALL DAY. YOU’RE CHALLENGED WITH ONE OF THE MOST DIFFICULT TEE SHOTS IN CHAMPIONSHIP GOLF’ BILL ROGERS