In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies. Sir Winston Churchill
And lie Churchill et al did about what was happening in southeast England in late 1943 and early 1944. As part of Operation Fortitude, the Allies created the First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) under the command of Lt. General George S. Patton. The general, who the Germans saw as the Allies’ best field commander, presided over a collection of rubber tanks & trucks, wooden planes, empty encampments and false radio traffic. It was all a ruse to convince Herr Hitler that the invasion of Fortress Europe would come at the Pas de Calais. This bodyguard of lies worked so well the German high command waited several days after the Normandy invasion until finally accepting the truth that Patton was not going to land a force at Calais.
Here’s another truth about southeast England that seems mostly shielded not by lies but rather by what an English friend of mine describes as a national trait towards understatement and mumbling inaudibly about their country’s great assets. The area contains four examples of links golf at its finest which Patton, with little else to do absent a real army, would have enjoyed playing were it not for the fact most of the golfing ground was temporarily occupied by coastal defenses.
Yet we in North America hear little about these four gems beyond the once in a decade occasion when the Open Championship is contested at Royal St. George’s. Consider this my meager contribution towards filling in the yawning promotional gap for golf on the Channel Coast.
Royal St. George’s Golf Club
Royal St. George’s is a fixture on the British Open Championship rota and an English club with considerable history. It was the first English venue for the Open and the home club of James Bond author, Ian Fleming (who was elected captain shortly before his death). Whilst the Bond/Goldfinger match was filmed at a parkland venue elsewhere, in the book it takes place-with vivid descriptions-on the links of St. George’s.
Rye Golf Club
Rye Golf Club is vastly under-rated as it is indeed a special place. The membership is exclusive, the links are most difficult and the annual President’s Putter competition of the Oxford and Cambridge Golfing Society is bizarre. With several long and difficult par fours, one’s only chance at a respectable score is to birdie the five shorter ones or the opening par five, the only one on the course. The Putter takes place each January in positively beastly conditions. When asked why they chose to play at Rye in January, a former Society captain remarked, “After the holidays, our chaps had nothing else to do, actually.”
Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club
Royal Cinque Ports is situated on a narrow strip of land between the English Channel and farm grazing land, it is a classic early links course, running out along the seashore, and returning inland. Two British Opens were held here in 1909 & 1920 and a third one would have occurred in 1949 except for a disastrous flood.
Princes Golf Club
Princes Golf Club with its 27 holes of championship links golf hosted the 1932 British Open Championship won by the Little Squire, Gene Sarazen and currently serves as the final qualifying site whenever the British Open is contested at adjacent Royal St. Georges. Owing to its location on the English Channel astride the primary invasion route from the Continent to Britain, the course was destroyed by coastal defenses in both World Wars of the 20th century. After WWII, Sir Guy Campbell managed to utilize 17 of the original greens in his re-make and re-design
My two favorite places to stay in the area are Eastwell Manor, an estate near Ashford which dates from William the Conqueror, and The Bell, a small hotel in Sandwich which has been greeting guests since the days of Henry VIII. After playing Rye, I always save time for a meal in town at the George Grill which has been serving the finest local fare to travelers since 1575.