The Open at Royal St. Georges
From the moment Dr Laidlaw Purves spied an ideal piece of linksland from the top of a Sandwich church tower golf was destined to play an important role on the east Kent coast. The club was founded in 1887 and named for St George, England's answer to Scotland's home of golf at St Andrews.
At last London's golfers had the opportunity to test themselves on a mighty links course that was the equal of anything north of the border. And not just one – neighbours Prince's to the north and Royal Cinque Ports just to the south at Deal would also become hosts of the Open Championship.
Approach to the 12th hole
But Royal St George's, as the club became in 1902 by decree of King Edward VII, has hosted the Open on 13 occasions and become the south of England's only regular venue for the most important championship in golf. Indeed, in 1894 Sandwich hosted the first ever Open to be played outside of Scotland. One of the game's great players, JH Taylor, was the victor and said of the course that "the possibility of disaster was only too apparent on almost every shot." Harry Vardon won two of his record six Open titles here and the flamboyant American Walter Hagen also triumphed twice.
Laid over the sand dunes, with the odd blind shot and many awkward bounces, the course has both inspired and vexed the game's best players. In 1934 Henry Cotton set a new record of 65 in the second round – the inspiration for the famous Dunlop 65 ball – but struggled to victory with a 79 in the final round.
Another popular home winner was Sandy Lyle in 1985, despite fluffing a chip in Duncan's Hollow to the left of the 18th green, a heart-stopping moment for the Scot and his many supporters. In 1993 St George's provided one of the most exciting climaxes to any Open as Greg Norman scored a superb 64 to take the title ahead of Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Ernie Els, Corey Pavin and Payne Stewart.
Royal St. Georges Clubhouse
There was another strong leaderboard in 2003, with Tiger Woods, Vijay Singh, Sergio Garcia, Davis Love and Nick Faldo all in contention. Thomas Bjorn almost won before taking three shots to extract himself from a bunker at the short 16th. In the end the unheralded Ben Curtis took the title, a huge surprise although the American from Kent, Ohio, has gone on to be a multiple winner on the US PGA Tour and a Ryder Cup player.
Curtis, on his debut in the Open, was the first player to register at the club and sought the advice of the club professional, Andrew Brookes, before his practice rounds on how to navigate the links. Once again the course had proved that any player with hopes of mastering it should possess a well-thought-out strategy rather than simply rely on power, brain rather than brawn.
Royal St George's has hosted many other great golfing moments, including the first hole-in-one seen on British television by Tony Jacklin at the 16th in 1967 and Arnold Palmer's memorable victory in the 1975 PGA Championship.
But the course's finest testimonial was provided by the great golf writer Bernard Darwin, who wrote: "Sandwich has a charm that belongs to itself… the long strip of turf on the way to the seventh hole, that stretches between the sand-hills and the sea; a fine Spring day, with the larks singing as they seem to sing nowhere else; the sun shining on the waters of Pegwell Bay and lighting the white cliffs in the distance; this is as nearly my idea of heaven as is to be attained on any earthly links."
This article is by Andy Farrell and originally appeared on SandwichOpen.co.uk. It may be reproduced without permission as long as this footer is left intact.