The ever-evolving architecture of Prince's Golf Club
5th July 2021
With the start of The 149th Open Championship just days away, final preparations are being made at Royal St George’s as the famous venue gets set to host the world’s greatest golf tournament for the 15th time in its illustrious history. What many people may not know is that Royal St George’s is, in fact, one of three Open Championship venues located within a stone’s throw from one another. Here we take a look at neighbouring Prince’s Golf Club, and the architectural developments that have made it one of Kent’s finest golfing attractions.
While steeped in history, Prince’s Golf Club offers everything that could be desired from a modern championship links destination situated in idyllic coastal surroundings. Prince’s is comprised of three 9-hole loops - The Shore, The Dunes and The Himalayas – that all have their own unique architectural and stylistic characteristics.
Recent redevelopment, under the stewardship of renowned golf course architects McKenzie & Ebert, has given the club a modern edge while returning some of the original charm of the pre-war course that hosted the 1932 Open, won by the legendary Gene Sarazen.
A host of Local Final Qualifying for The Open Championship since 2018, Prince’s also co-hosted The Amateur Championship in 2013 and 2017 and boasts a rich and emotive history since its inception nearly 120 years ago. The story of Prince’s starts at the beginning of the last century when Sir Harry Mallaby-Deeley, a regular golfing visitor to East Kent, took it upon himself to establish a new links at Sandwich that would, in particular, welcome lady, junior and family golfers.
Along with his Cambridge University cohort, Percy Montagu Lucas – who went on to become the club’s first secretary - Sir Harry put up most of the capital for the project, with the land being donated by the Earl of Guilford. Charles Hutchings, the 1902 Amateur Champion, was brought on-board as architect and he and Percy laid out the course in 1904, before final works were completed late in 1906. A.J. Balfour, who served as Prime Minister from 1902 to 1905, drove the first ball as Club Captain in the Founder’s Vase in the following June, and just five years later Prince’s hosted the 1912 English Ladies Open, won by Miss M Gardner.
1914 saw the foreshore and links become a coastal defence and training area with barbed wire entanglements and anti-aircraft batteries, but P.M Lucas kept the greens cut throughout WW1 and once the war had ended the course was soon restored, hosting the 1922 Ladies Open that was won by Joyce Wethered.
A period of great prosperity followed for Prince’s, culminating with the club hosting The Open in 1932, but before long the country was once again at war and the links and club premises were requisitioned by the military, this time as a battle training ground which resulted in the course suffering untold damage before it was finally derequisitioned in 1949.
Australian property developer Sir Aynsley Bridgland took control of the land and, in 1950, Sir Guy Campbell and John Morrison were tasked with redesigning and restoring the course. Despite the damage that occurred during the war, Campbell and Morrison were able to incorporate 17 of the original greens into a new layout of 27 holes, plus two practice holes. The Shore, Dunes and Himalayas courses - each starting and finishing beside the clubhouse - were officially born.
Fast forward to today and vast open sand scrape areas, natural wetlands and feature walkways accentuate the links’ raw, natural aesthetic while sprawling, challenging green complexes, strategic bunkering and elevated tee positions ensure a tough, yet rewarding challenge for any discerning golfer. With stunning panoramas of the English Channel throughout, Prince’s is very much the epitome of a modern, yet historic, golfing masterpiece.
Now owned by Ramac Holdings, in May 2018 Prince’s unveiled its stunning, newly reimagined Himalayas course after nine months of work under the stewardship and design of renowned international golf course architects Mackenzie & Ebert - transforming the Himalayas into one of the finest stretches of links golf in the country.
Officially opened in front of the some of the country’s most influential golf media and personnel, the new nine features two new holes; a short, signature par-3 fifth hole which plays out towards the sea, as well as a long par-5 second hole which combines the second and third holes of the old layout and can be stretched to a whopping 615 yards.
Martin Ebert and Mike Howard, of Mackenzie and Ebert Limited, visited the links on multiple occasions to assess the land and scope for the project prior to undertaking the work, and the company subsequently produced an Historic Report which analysed historic, pre-war and wartime RAF photography and unveiled a variety of interesting features which helped to frame the narrative of the new nine and restore some of the traditional elements of the course.
To recognise the historical significance of the site, a replica spitfire propeller was installed by the third tee, paying tribute to the heroics of fighter pilot, PB ‘Laddie’ Lucas. A previous Walker Cup captain and son of one of the founders of Prince’s, Laddie made a forced landing on the site in July 1943 after his aircraft was badly damaged by enemy fire as he returned to RAF Manston from a mission over northern France.
Another nod to the site’s historical importance saw the new fifth hole named Bloody Point in reference to the great naval battle that took place in Sandwich in AD 851 on the land where Prince’s now sits. This short par-3, with the backdrop of the English Channel, is one of several notable changes that increased the par of the nine to 36, while extensive changes to the bunkering, water hazards, green surrounds, out-of-play areas, tees, and clearance of trees were all included in the project.
The works didn’t stop there, though, and in 2020 Prince’s was celebrating the opening of Smugglers’ Landing, a completely new par-3. Commenting soon after the completion of the redevelopment works, Rob McGuirk, General Manager of Prince’s Golf Club, was understandably thrilled at the outcome of the project. “The last three years have been an important step in the history of Prince’s and the transformation of the courses, under the guidance of Martin Ebert and our Links Superintendent, Sean McLean, has been spectacular,” he said.
“Culminating with the opening of Smugglers’ Landing, the entire project is something for everyone involved with the club to be proud of. We’re thrilled with the outcome and the dramatic improvement in the visual and playing aspects of all 27 holes at Prince’s.”
The new hole plays as the fifth on the Shore nine at Prince’s and, to set the scene for the history of the Sandwich Flats and the fight against smuggling in Sandwich Bay, for which the hole is themed, the club have installed a replica scene by the walkway to the tee.
Commenting on the finalised works, Ebert added: “Following the creation of a new short hole on the Himalayas nine, it was equally exciting to do the same with Smugglers’ Landing on the Shore. The challenge was to create a hole with a different character to Bloody Point and the away-sloping green has achieved that, not to mention the extensive bare sand areas in the carry and to the right of the hole.
“The creation of these sand areas throughout the entire landscape of the Shore and Dunes nines in this phase of work has created so many stunning links vistas but none better and more impressive than for Smugglers’ Landing. “ The wide-ranging improvements made across all three loops directly led to Prince’s breaking back into the Great Britain and Ireland Top 100 rankings for the first time in 35 years with Top100GolfCourses.com, Golf World and National Club Golfer magazines, a trajectory which looks sure to continue as the club goes from strength to strength, steeped in history and ever-evolving as one of the greatest tests of links that the country has to offer.