It’s the 10th July 2021, and as the eyes of the sporting world wake up and prepare to tune in for a spectacular week of golf, one prestigious course sitting atop Kent’s iconic coastline in historic Sandwich is gearing up to host its biggest event since 2011. As The 149th Open Championship arrives in the Garden of England, we take a closer look at this year’s host course and what it means to welcome one of the world’s most renowned sporting events to Kent’s shoreline.
Easily identifiable by the telling red cross of St George marked on each of the course’s flags, and the thatched roof shelters scattered across its landscape, the course at Royal St George’s flows effortlessly through the imposing high dunes of Sandwich Bay.
Stepping out onto the course, it’s hard for golfers not to pause and enjoy the stunning views of the Channel seascape sweeping from Ramsgate in the north, across Pegwell Bay, and through to Deal in the South. This course is home to a huge variety of rare coastal dune-land flora and fauna, providing a unique, tranquil setting in which to enjoy a testing round of golf.
This beautiful links layout has long been ranked amongst the leading courses in the world, an accolade the on-site team won’t take for granted, and perhaps unsurprisingly one of the main reasons golf's original championship has returned here no less than 15 times in its 149-year history (more than any course outside of Scotland, might we add...)
It was back in 1885 that a man by the name of Dr William Laidlaw Purves was stood at the vantage point of St. Clement’s Church in Sandwich, when he was intrigued by an expanse of undulating land along the nearby coastline. A Scot and a skilled golfer himself, William decided that this land was the perfect place to create a links golf course, and it was here that he designed and supervised the laying out of a course which he called St George's (after the English patron saint) when it opened two years later in 1887.
William’s aim was that the course should be a rival to St Andrew’s in the South of England, and it was just seven years later, in 1894, that Royal St George’s Golf Club became the first course outside of Scotland to host the Open Championship.
Many passionate golfers have been affiliated with Royal St George’s throughout its history, with an impressive line-up of prominent names and faces having teed off at the 1st hole over the years. Wander into the clubhouse, and above a grand fireplace you’ll find a board brandishing the names of all the club’s past captains. Titles including Colonel, General, Earl and Major are not out of place here, and there’s even a future monarch to be found. The Prince of Wales served from 1927 to 1928, before later becoming King Edward VIII.
One particularly noteworthy player from the club’s history books is James Bond author, Ian Fleming. An avid golfer, residing nearby at St. Margaret’s Bay, Fleming was a member of Royal St George's for years. The author was captain-elect of St. George’s at the time of his death, and even lunched at the club the day before he died of a heart attack aged 56 in 1964.
With eyes eagerly focused forward on the forthcoming Championship, it’s worth casting a memory back over the fourteen events that lie before it, each one with a deserving place in The Open Championship’s illustrious biography. Over the years, the historic links at Sandwich have seen some of golf’s greatest players lift the Claret Jug including – but not limited to - Harry Vardon, Walter Hagen, Henry Cotton, Bobby Locke, Sandy Lyle, and Greg Norman.
It was last played at Royal St George’s in 2011, when Darren Clarke showed his mastery of links golf in challenging weather conditions to become Champion Golfer of the Year.
Alongside 14 past Open Championships, St George's has also hosted many more top events throughout the years, including the Walker Cup, Curtis Cup, the Amateur Championship, the PGA Championship, Home Internationals, and the Brabazon Trophy.
Back to today though, where this summer, golfers look to Kent once again as The 149th Open Championship adds another chapter to this golf course’s epic story.
With the Open last held at Royal St George’s a decade ago, demand to be in Sandwich for golf’s oldest and most prestigious event scaled unprecedented heights before the global pandemic struck, with last year’s postponed event being recorded as the fastest selling to date. In fact, excitement for the return of the Claret Jug to the South East was such that the record for the highest selling day of advanced tickets in Open history was smashed in under seven hours. Now, 12 months after the event was originally scheduled to take place, up to 32,000 spectators will flock to Royal St George’s for one of golf’s greatest spectacles.
Much has been made of the efforts in the years leading up to 2019 to get Portrush — the club and the community — updated to hold a modern Open. On the macro level, there was the need for land to build 215,000 square feet of tent space for a spectator village. The club approved using the Dunluce Course’s old 17th and 18th holes for this space, with two replacement holes built by Martin Ebert (the seventh and eighth) on adjoining property. Ebert also added 22 new bunkers and five new greens to get the new Dunluce Course Open ready.
Additionally, there was the installation of more than 40 miles of pipework, 40 miles of control cable and more than three miles of roads created, including an underground tunnel beside the new eighth green and ninth tee for players to use to allow for better spectator flow in that part of the course.
This year at Royal St George’s, preparations have been no less meticulous, and in fact an added layer of planning has had to take place to ensure that all Covid-19 protocols have been strictly adhered to. As late as a month before the tournament, attendance numbers were still up in the air, but event organisers acted swiftly upon Government announcements to ensure that all spectators attending the event could do so in the knowledge that no stone had been left unturned to ensure an enjoyable, exciting and — most importantly — safe Open Championship could take place.
With the world’s greatest players descending on Kent, it will be another man from the island of Ireland who will defend the title of champion in Sandwich after Shane Lowry clinched his first Claret Jug at The 148th Open at Royal Portrush. Lowry’s victory was well received throughout the golfing world, given his universal popularity, but no more so than in his native Ireland where celebrations went on well into the night — and the days that followed!
Such is the prestige associated with the event, many professional golfers eye The Open as the one championship that they dream of winning above all others, and that legacy also lends itself to the host venue. Very rarely are the eyes of the world focused on one place and even more rarely does that particular region happen to be one that is situated on your very doorstep.
With world-class golf, exquisite dining, and a wealth of other attractions available to enjoy, there’s little wonder why the Garden of England is viewed as a jewel in Britain’s tourism crown; a jewel that is sparkling more than ever thanks, in no small part, to one of sport’s greatest events heading to one of its most prestigious venues. That’s why now is the ideal time to immerse yourself in a part of golf’s rich history and, quite literally, follow in the footsteps of the world’s greatest golfers.
To find out more abut playing at Royal St George’s, visit: https://www.royalstgeorges.com/.