Royal St. George’s
Designers: Dr. Laidlaw Purves, Frank Pennick, Donald Steele
Frustrated by the lackluster and overcrowded course at Royal Wimbledon, in 1885 noted surgeon Dr. Laidlaw Purves scoured the unspoiled land along England’s Channel Coast in search of the perfect piece of property for a new links. He found it in the seaside town of Sandwich and quickly set to task laying out a proper course to be known as Royal St. George’s. The new links debuted to near universal praise, and just seven years after its completion played host to the first Open Championship outside of Scotland.
Although Dr. Purves was an amateur architect by any standard of measure, to this day his beloved course plays mostly through his original routing. Royal St. George’s eschews the out-and-back approach in favor of a figure eight of sorts, reminding the keen eye of the Honourable Company’s fine links at Muirfield. The result is an ever-changing test from the prevailing winds off the English Channel, which taxes the player from a variety of directions.
While the links plays over much of its initial layout, that’s not to say St. George’s has been without its share of changes. In fact, no course on The Open rota – save the recent transformation of Turnberry – has evolved more through the decades than Royal St. George’s. When blind shots fell out of favor with many golfers, so too did St. George’s with the powers that be. Over 30 years passed between visits from the Claret Jug, and in that time the club fought its way back into the good graces of the R&A with a series of tweaks to eliminate the “unfairness” presented by its host of blind shots. Farbeit for us to point out that a shot is only blind the first time you play it.
And yet both before and after these changes, one could make a strong case for Royal St. George’s as the finest links in all of England. Of course, those finding the Big Bertha bunker on the 4th hole – the deepest in all of England – may tend to disagree. Someone who wouldn’t have found fault with the notion, however, was author Ian Fleming. He based the venue for James Bond’s famous match with Goldfinger on Sandwich, though he changed the name to “Royal St. Mark’s” in an attempt to deter fans from flocking to his cherished links.
On the whole, Royal St. George’s presents as pure and natural of a links golf experience as you’re likely to find. The intriguing green complexes and sweeping fairways – where rarely a level stance is found – paired with the previously mentioned wind, make for a stern but enjoyable test of golf. It’s difficult to imagine what Dr. Purves would think of his dream course today, but a 15th turn hosting The Open in 2020 would surely make him proud.