By Graylyn Loomis
When the revolutionary rubber-core Haskell Golf Ball arrived in Britain around 1900, it rendered old—and even contemporary—courses obsolete. To combat the problem, a developer decided to build Prince’s Golf Club. It was considered very long at 7,000 yards when it opened in 1906 and was heralded as a course for the future.
Since those days Prince’s Golf Club, located in the southeast England county of Kent, has been reborn and transformed. Ironically, since opening as a wunderkind, it’s now considered by many to be a hidden gem, surrounded by some of the best golf in the England. I recently spent three nights at The Lodge at Prince’s Golf Club as the base for a golf trip to England’s southeast coast. The Lodge is bordered by the beach on one side and the golf course on the other. A sand wedge to the south lands at Royal St. George’s Golf Club and a couple of par fives further in that direction reaches Royal Cinque Ports Golf Club. All three courses are past Open Championship venues—a trio whose proximity is unmatched nearly anywhere else.
The World Wars and England’s South Coast
In 1914 the southern coast of England was heavily militarized for World War I, and Prince’s Golf Club—where France is visible on the horizon—was no exception. The links was used as a training ground and could have been destroyed if not for a sympathetic commander and group of Scottish soldiers who roped off the greens and ensured the grass was cut. Following the war, the course was quickly reestablished and, in 1932, it hosted its only Open Championship, won by Gene Sarazen. Prince’s future looked bright, but World War II quickly descended on Europe.
The second conflict took a much greater toll on the course when it was requisitioned and used as a battle training ground. The links was all but obliterated and one prominent member referred to the treatment as, “Throwing darts at a Rembrandt.” When the Royal Marines left the property in 1947, the land was redeveloped into a 27-hole links with three nines named the Dunes, Shore, and Himalayas courses which remain today.
The Himalayas Course
The main purpose of my visit to Prince’s was to see the Himalayas nine which was recently redesigned by Mackenzie & Ebert, a burgeoning design duo taking the UK by storm. Martin Ebert was particularly involved in the Himalayas and he turned the nine into a modern links that is a perfect complement to its two brother courses. Hundreds of trees were removed and topsoil was scraped back to expose sandy blowout areas with fewer of the revetted bunkers found on the Dunes and Shore courses. Unlike many links, the Himalayas also has water on multiple holes that was created where the design team dug out low areas to improve drainage and create firm, fast playing conditions. The most dramatic part of the round comes at the new par-three 5th hole, which plays straight out to sea. Fog blocked the view during my rounds, but English white cliffs are visible to the left of the green in one direction and the shores of France are visible in the other.
Reminders of the club’s history also dot the Himalayas, most noticeably after the 2nd hole where a replica spitfire plane’s propeller marks the landing spot of Laddie Lucas. Lucas was a World War II pilot whose plane was shot and disabled during an attack over northern France. The pilot turned north and flew to the Kent coast where he emergency landed his plane on the Himalayas nine, a place he happened to be familiar with. Lucas’s father was the first secretary at Prince’s Golf Club and his son, having grown up on the course, used his local knowledge to find a flat landing strip. Lucas went on to play in two Walker Cups and eventually became a member of the British parliament.
The Himalayas course reopened following the renovation in mid-2018 and will continue to improve as it settles and the grass continues to grow in. The modern links feels bigger and bolder than its two older classic links brothers.
The Shore and Dunes Courses
The Shore and Dunes courses share an older links style with sandy rumpled land, rolling dunes, and fescue-bordered fairways. Both courses reminded me of classic Scottish links like the St. Andrews Old Course, where bunkers, small dunes, and interesting greens define the course rather than dramatic terrain. The two nines are subtle and both require strategy that isn’t immediately obvious in order to play well. Looking back at my photos a month after my round, I now see mistakes I made and better ways to play each hole—it makes me want to go back and play at Prince’s again.
In 2018 the Shore and Dunes nines served as one of four Final Qualifying Venues for the Open Championship. Only three players broke par in difficult windy conditions and those three punched their tickets to Carnoustie. The two nines embrace their subtlety and offer a seriously good and understated test of golf. I played my rounds at Prince’s with the owner and an American member who frequently travels to England for work. The member told me that he’d joined Prince’s as an international member for less than the green fees at some resorts. The value of golf in the UK never fails to amaze me.
To play any two of the nines at Prince’s and leave without seeing the third would be a mistake. In fact, if you visit southeast England and don’t play all three of these neighboring courses—Prince’s, Royal St. George’s, and Royal Cinque Ports—you’d be leaving something special on the table.
Have you played golf at Prince’s Golf Club or in England before? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!