Matt Nicholson pays a visit to Prince’s Golf Club in Kent, where he enjoys an exclusive round on the new-look Himalayas Course, which has undergone an impressive redesign and raised the bar for links golf by several notches

 

I’ve always loved driving to the Kent coast to play golf. There’s something quite other-worldly about it, as you leave behind the M25, and the stresses of modern day living, and head to the very edge of existence, where the only worry is whether you’ll make it for your tee time.

And I’ve always loved going to Prince’s. It’s a special place – it’s hosted the Open Championship, for goodness sake – but it has none of the pretentions that are often associated with such venues, and, as such, feels like a club where everyone is given the same warm welcome, whether a member or guest. 

Despite its impressive history (and there’s a great museum in the clubhouse which records it) the owners – the McGuirk family – do a great job of making sure everyone feels welcome, and I’ve always felt like I’ve been a member for the day whenever I’ve visited here over the last 20-odd years. You’ll certainly find no hushed whispering in the clubhouse or draconian regulations to adhere to. 

Although I’ve never needed much of an excuse for a day out at Prince’s, my mission on this occasion was to attend the official unveiling of the redesigned Himalayas course, which makes up nine of the 27 holes of top-class links golf on offer here. 

The view from the tee and the all-new 5th hole on the Himalayas Course

The view from the tee and the all-new 5th hole on the Himalayas Course

With the Shore/Dunes combination being the composite championship layout, the Himalayas nine, although popular with members because of its shorter yardage, has often been regarded, rightly or wrongly, as the third string: the nine you might play at the beginning or end of a 27-hole day ticket. But having had the chance to play the Himalayas off both the white and yellow tees, I can categorically say that it has immediately become my favourite nine of the three, and has set the new benchmark for links golf on the south coast.

Redesigned by course architect Martin Ebert of Mackenzie & Ebert Ltd – whose recent work includes the stunning re-imagining of Turnberry’s Ailsa course – the transformation of the Himalayas is nothing short of spectacular.

Vast waste bunkers are a new feature of the course

Vast waste bunkers are a new feature of the course

Officially opened on May 1, the new nine, which now plays to a par of 36, features two completely new holes – the par-three fifth, which plays between 120 and 160 yards from a raised tee over a waste area towards Pegwell Bay, and the par-five second, which combines the second and third holes of the old layout, and can be stretched to a whopping 615 yards. 

The fifth, which has been named ‘Bloody Point’ in reference to the great naval battle that took place in Sandwich in AD851 on the land where Prince’s now sits, is the only hole on the nine that plays directly towards the English Channel, while the others play north-south, or south-north.

Pot bunkers guard the entrances to the greens

Pot bunkers guard the entrances to the greens

Elsewhere, there have been extensive changes made to the bunkering, which now combines two basic styles: natural and ragged edge when placed on the edge of fairways, and revetted pots when surrounded by tightly mowed grass and near greens. Both are visually impressive and really help to focus the mind off the tee and when playing into greens.

The designers have also introduced a series of exposed sand areas and extensive wetlands, both of which provide significant habitat for wildlife – indeed, Prince’s staff already report sightings of bird species previously unknown to the site – as well as enhancing the golfing challenge. The wetlands are perhaps most notable at the eighth, which has become a short, drivable par four, with water laid out either side of the fairway keeping you honest off the tee. At the moment, these areas are somewhat bare, creating the look of traditional parkland water hazards, following the recent heavy rains, but the architects are confident that, as the water table lowers, and the plant-life grows in, those areas will settle into the environment and play the natural part for which they were intended.

IMG_2917All in all, it’s like a breath of fresh seaside air has blown through the course, with smart new raised teeing areas offering superb views of the holes, while the greens and fairways are in superb condition, despite the appalling winter that all of the UK has suffered. With no blind holes to contend with, the trouble is all in front of you, hiding in plain sight. There’s more than a hint of the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island about the overall feel and look of the course, which can be no higher compliment given that is one of my all-time favourite tracks. 

No-one is more proud of the finished product than Rob McGuirk, Prince’s general manager, who told Golf News: “We’re committed to continuous improvement at Prince’s, and this is certainly the most ambitious phase of development the club has seen for decades. We are thrilled with the new-look Himalayas nine, and would like to thank Mackenzie & Ebert for their hard work, skill and expertise in turning the vision into a reality.”

IMG_2915The lengths to which Ebert and his colleague, Mike Howard, have gone to ensure the design fits into Prince’s heritage are equally impressive. Before starting on the project, both men visited the links on numerous occasions to assess the land.They subsequently produced a report that analysed historic, pre-war and wartime RAF photography, and unveiled a variety of interesting features which helped to frame the narrative of the new nine and restore some of the traditional elements of the course.

To recognise the historical significance of the site, a replica Spitfire propeller has been installed by the third tee, paying tribute to the heroics of fighter pilot PB ‘Laddie’ Lucas. A former Walker Cup captain and son of one of the founders of Prince’s, Lucas made a forced landing on the site in July 1943, after his aircraft was badly damaged by enemy fire as he returned to RAF Manston from a mission over northern France.

IMG_2913The club has already drawn up plans to renovate the Dunes and Shore nines, and, if the finished product is anywhere near as good as the Himalayas, then golfers are in for a real treat. In the meantime, I can’t urge you strongly enough to beat a path to Prince’s this summer and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed.

For tee time reservations and golf package details, visit www.princesgolfclub.co.uk or call 01304 611118.

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Source: Golf News Course Reviews

While The Belfry’s iconic Brabazon Course – scene of four historic Ryder Cups – is without doubt the jewel in the Warwickshire-based resort’s crown, there is an abundance of world-class facilities on and off the three golf courses that make it the ultimate luxury leisure break venue

Set against the backdrop of 550 acres of North Warwickshire countryside, The Belfry has developed into one of Europe’s leading golf destinations, having been voted England’s Leading Resort, England’s Best Golf Hotel, and England’s Best Golf Course at the recent World Golf Travel Awards. In addition to 319 luxury bedrooms and suites in the hotel, there’s something for everyone, with a wide range of quality bars, restaurants, spa facilities, and – of course – three brilliant golf courses.

And getting there couldn’t be easier, whether by road or – as we did – by rail. I took the train with my wife and kids from London Euston to Birmingham International, a journey of just 70 minutes, followed by a 15-minute taxi ride to the world-famous resort. However, if you’re travelling with more luggage, you may prefer to drive, which you can do in under three hours from virtually all corners of England.

As our taxi drove through the Belfry’s entrance, we could almost sense the history. On entering the main hotel lobby, it was clear why the resort has won so many awards, and recently became one of just nine in Europe to be given the Gold Flag status for customer service by industry benchmarker, 59club. The welcome from the staff was warm and welcoming, while the vibrant atmosphere was instantly noticeable as we walked past the classy Brabazon Bar and surrounding areas.

Belfry Hotel Lobby

The Belfry Hotel’s lobby

After checking into our spacious family room, I took a spin around the Belfry’s well-kept Derby course, which sits alongside the world-famous Brabazon layout and the inland links that is the PGA National, the Derby is a stunning parkland course with far-reaching views across the Warwickshire countryside. 

But don’t be fooled in thinking this is a course that lives in the shadows of the other two. Strategically-placed bunkers, water hazards, and challenging risk-and-reward holes make the Derby a decent test for players of all levels. Designed by Peter Alliss and Dave Thomas, the course demands accuracy right from the first tee – not to mention good club selection and intelligent course management.

The Ryder Cup GrillFollowing an afternoon on the course, we spent the evening enjoying an amazing meal at the Belfry’s Ryder Grill. This is a treat for all taste buds, with an impressive a-la-carte menu providing a refreshing take on modern dining. From the comfort of your table, you can enjoy stunning views across the Brabazon course and, in the summer, savour a drink on the outdoor terrace. And – as we found out the next day – The Belfry also plays host to Rocca’s Pizza Pasta restaurant, which is suitable for all the family. Both were fantastic and highly recommended.

After a hearty full English breakfast the next morning, I hit a few balls at the PGA National Golf Academy. This is no ordinary driving range. Fully equipped with five custom-fitting suites, housing the latest brands and Trackman technology, the academy is the perfect venue to fine-tune your game. There are 34 driving bays, while the beautifully kept short game and putting areas offer a great chance to get your game into shape before hitting the course.

The Brabazon's par-4 10thShortly after a thorough warm up, I took to the renowned Brabazon course. The green staff are challenged to provide Ryder Cup-standard course conditions every day – and that’s noticeable as soon as you set foot on the course. When I spoke with the greenkeeping team after the round, it became clear that they have embraced that challenge, ensuring the course could host any major golf event at drop of a hat.

The conditioning of the Brabazon is certainly impressive – the tees and fairways are beautifully manicured, every bunker pristinely presented, and all 18 greens run around 11 on the stimpmeter – just as they did during the last Ryder Cup held on the course in 2002. Added to that are the iconic memories ordinary golfers can embrace when they tee it up on the Brabazon. It all combines for a magical experience.

The ‘Brab’ – as it is affectionately known – allows golfers to follow in the footsteps of legends like Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods, who have all graced the par-72 course. Of course, you remember the famous 10th and 18th holes, but I was also impressed with a host of other holes, including the par-four 6th around water, and the challenging 16th, another excellent par four, and the scene of Philip Price’s shock Ryder Cup singles victory over Phil Mickelson in 2002.

Step off the course, or the driving range, and you’re greeted by a wide choice of dining and drinking options, including the aptly-named Sam’s Club House – celebrating Ryder Cup legend Sam Torrance – which boasts a superb range of traditional golfing fare, while large TV screens beam in sport from across the world. After dinner, the party can move to the Brabazon Bar and, if you’re really in a celebratory mood, the on-site Bel Air nightclub, which always has a lively atmosphere.

Manor House Suite Bedroom

Manor House Suite Bedroom

For those looking for a touch of pampering, the resort boasts a luxury spa, with treatment rooms, finishing studio and ESPA products, providing ample choice for relaxation. After my round, my partner and I sampled a Fire & Ice treatment – a 90-minute journey through 12 different hot and cold rooms. This invigorating blend of steam rooms, saunas and aroma caves is designed to ‘help clear the mind and purify the body’, before easing those tense muscles in the soothing hydrotherapy pool.

We followed this with a 55-minute full-body Swedish massage. Offered with a choice of two different aromatic oils, this deep tissue massage works on all the major muscle groups, stimulates circulation, and restores range of motion – making it an ideal post-golf therapy. Once we had every knot worked out of our bodies, we moved onto the relaxation room, where guests are invited to unwind on comfortable sofas, sipping chilled lemon water, and flick, through magazines or simply close their eyes and listen to calming music. 

Sams Club House BarFor more family-friendly activities, in addition to Rocca’s Pizza Pasta restaurant, kids can enjoy an interactive woodland walk, an outdoor playground, and, for aspiring young golfers, the Ryder Legends’ mini golf course. The latter is modelled on famous Ryder Cup holes from across the world, and is a must for any family visiting the resort.

Our brief trip to the Belfry certainly opened our eyes to what the resort has grown into over the last 40 years. While you never lose sight of the venue’s unrivalled Ryder Cup history – images and memorabilia from contests gone by are prominent in certain areas, and meeting rooms used by the respective teams are shown off with golden plaques – it’s very easy to forget you’re in a golf resort. 

Yes, there is much for us golf geeks to get excited about – attempting that famous shot by Seve on the tenth tee, Christie O’Connor’s two-iron over the water at the 18th, or Paul McGinley’s match-winning putt at the same hole – but there is as much excitement off the course for the non-golfers. It all adds up to the perfect weekend away – whether that’s for a group of golfers, couples, or for family breaks with kids of all ages.  

BOOK YOUR BELFRY BREAK

1 night, 1 round – Includes an overnight stay, 18 holes of golf, and a full English breakfast. From £79 per person.

1 night, 2 rounds – Includes an overnight stay, two rounds of golf and a full English breakfast. From £109 per person.

2 nights, 2 rounds – Includes a two-night stay, two rounds of golf and a full English breakfast. From £159 per person.

For more information on The Belfry Hotel & Resort, visit www.thebelfry.co.uk or call the hotel direct on 01675 238600. 

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Source: Golf News Course Reviews