“Why are you late?” my friend asked as, slightly flustered, I climbed out of my battered Ford Mondeo at Prince’s Golf Club. Sensing he was looking for a proper explanation, I gave him one. “Well, the upheavals in the Middle East, particularly in Syria and Iraq, combined with the troubles in Iraq, Ethiopia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere in Africa, have encouraged waves of economic migrants and political refugees to flee north across the Mediterranean and through continental Europe. Desperate to reach this country, these same desperate individuals are presently entering the Eurotunnel at Calais. The consequent disruption to freight services through the tunnel has obliged the authorities to put what is called ‘Operation Stack’ into effect, whereby the waiting lorries on this side of the Channel are parked on the motorway obliging innocent golfers and others to find alternative routes to their various destinations. Okay?”
Leaving for another time, perhaps, an examination of the evident clash between Third World misery and First World concerns about missing tee-off times, I composed myself sufficiently to hit an indifferent drive down the first. I sliced my second, fluffed my chip and took three more to get down to open with a ghastly double bogey.
Evidently unsettled by the fraught journey, I three-putted the second but then parred the next three. Surprisingly after such a torrid morning, I had recovered my equilibrium remarkably rapidly. The explanation is simple. With the sea providing such a tranquil backdrop, the humps and hollows of an authentic links so pleasing on the eye, larks singing up above, tall grasses swaying in the briny breeze, all the senses had been reawakened and the journey’s stress rapidly soothed away.
Wethered and Sarazen
Less evident than the appealing aesthetics is Prince’s rich history. Opened in 1907 by the former Prime Minister Balfour, it was originally designed to accommodate the then revolutionary Haskell rubber-core ball. It evidently was no pushover as Balfour, a decent enough seven handicapper, only just broke 100.
Prince’s rapidly established an enviable reputation and became a popular tournament venue with the Ladies’ Open Championship held there in 1922 followed by The Open in 1932. Both were won by legends of the game; the former by Joyce Wethered and the latter by Gene Sarazen. A big bunker guarding the final green on the Himalayas nine carries a plaque commemorating Sarazen’s visit. The American found this bunker in three of his four rounds and the apparent ease with which he escaped boosted sales of his revolutionary sand iron. Concerned that it might be deemed unfair and disallowed, Sarazen carried it upside down in his bag.
That big bunker has survived as have 14 of the original greens but much else has been altered by time and circumstance. The Second World War was responsible for the greatest changes. Requisitioned by the army as a training ground, the course was ravaged by minefields, barbed wire, tank traps and the general paraphernalia of war. When the famous greens were used for target practice, Lord Brabazon, who was Captain of the R&A and President of the PGA, remarked: “It’s like throwing darts at a Rembrandt.”
One extraordinary wartime incident that is commemorated with a plaque on the fourth tee on the Himalayas concerns one of the famous Lucas family, four generations of which have been heavily involved in Prince’s. ‘Laddie’ Lucas was flying back to Britain in his Spitfire when it was damaged in a dogfight with a Messerschmitt. He barely made it over the Channel and crash-landed by what had been the ninth green prompting his old friend and future broadcaster Henry Longhurst to send him a telegram which read, “Out of bounds again, Lucas!”
By the end of the War the clubhouse was a roofless wreck, the course had been practically obliterated and the Royal Marines were contemplating staying on in what they hoped would become a permanent rifle range. Mercifully, thanks in large part to the efforts of several powerful and influential members, Prince’s was saved for the nation and golfers everywhere.
Ironically, back in 1951, the thoroughness of the destruction facilitated the creation of a ‘modern’ course and, by incorporating a strip of land close to the sea, nine additional holes. Opened in 1952, the new course soon began to regain Prince’s former popularity. Disastrous floods the following year were a significant setback but Prince’s battled on and soon re-established itself as a n outstanding championship venue.
Although it has changed hands a couple of times since, Prince’s remains one of the greatest courses in the country in a corner of Kent renowned for outstanding golf. Royal St George’s is right next door and Royal Cinque Ports is just a little way along the beach.
The present owners have invested huge sums both in the course and the facilities, a fact much appreciated by those lucky enough to be members of this prestigious club. But in contrast to some others which shall remain nameless, Prince’s makes everyone – societies as well as green fees – feel welcome and makes a genuine effort to ensure they enjoy everything the club has to offer. First and foremost of which is, naturally, the course.
There are three nines – Himalayas, Shore and Dunes – which provide flexibility, interesting options and agonising choices. Despite my determined efforts, I couldn’t discover any significant preferences other than the Himalayas is the most popular with the members while the pros prefer Dunes and Shore. All three nines have in abundance the essential linksy qualities so beloved by those with a feel for the games’ origins and traditions.
And those more concerned about modern comforts than they are rivetted bunkers, will appreciate the very recent addition of The Lodge. With 38 magnificent bedrooms, outstanding views and a superb restaurant, it provides the perfect place to recover after a gruelling day on the links.
Why We Like It
With its springy turf, sea breezes and almost sensuous contouring, links golf is in a class of its own. Add flawless greens, 27 tremendous holes, remarkably modest green fees and a warm and welcoming atmosphere and you can understand why we fell in love with Princes. Its proximity to the charming seaside towns of Sandwich and Deal further enhance its appeal. To complete the experience we strongly recommend you stay in the lovely Lodge and enjoy all that this glorious place has to offer.
Golf writer Clive Agran, 65 and a journalist for more than 40 years, Clive Agran still wonders what he’ll do when he grows up. Nicknamed ‘Silky Swing’, he travels the globe looking for the world’s best golf courses.