Prince's Golf Club (Himalayas)
Location: Sandwich, Kent
Designer: Mackenzie & Ebert
Prince’s Golf Club (Himalayas) ranks as #49 in our Golf World top 100 England courses. Find the full listing here
Previously the weak link in Prince’s Golf Club collection of three nine-hole courses, The Himalayas now delivers a much sterner challenge after the esteemed Martin Ebert was drafted to rework its holes. Peter Masters assesses the results of the changes made to one of the best golf courses in Kent.
A pot bunker lies 255 yards out in the centre of the fairway on the very first hole at Prince’s Golf Club. It’s an evil little blighter because to go there is to resign yourself to a dropped shot on the Championship Links. But that’s what can happen when you invite a man like Martin Ebert to your course with the remit, amongst other things, to ‘make it a bit more testing’.
Even if you avoid this trap, you realise that you’ve been warned. This though is the Himalayas at Prince’s Golf Club and it seems only right that a loop of nine holes named after the most fearsome mountain range on the planet should be a tad more ugly monster than it has been cuddly teddy bear.
Those familiar with the territory down here in Kent will know that Prince’s Golf Club lies in Sandwich Bay, on the edge of Royal St George’s, and has three nines (27 holes), of which the Shore and the Dunes have generally been regarded as the premier pair. The Himalayas was the lesser nine – a bit shorter than the other two and a favourite of the members, probably because it was slightly easier and less likely to ask you too many taxing questions.
Sedate might have been a good word for it then, but it certainly isn’t now. Two of the three ‘key’ changes have added a bit of spice and a touch of backbone with the original 2nd and 3rd holes being gelled into a 622-yard par 5 and the previously uninspiring 8th turned into an exciting risk and reward, drivable par 4 over a lake. Fear not, I’ll come onto that and why such an apparent anachronism really works.
The Himalayas at Prince’s Golf Club is no longer a gentle ramble and nor should it be. The 1st hole with its nasty pot bunker, reminiscent perhaps of the famous ‘Devil’s Asshole’ by the 10th green at Pine Valley, has out of bounds along the left near the green and if the long 2nd is downwind, then quake in your boots because the equally long 6th will be into it.
Ebert, a partner in the design team of Mackenzie & Ebert, is no stranger to teasing the best from an established links having worked on many of the leading Open venues. His clever changing of teeing angles and repositioning of bunkers has made the Himalayas rather hard to recognise from the character it previously was.
Natural wetlands lie along this end of the Kent coastline and have now been exposed to the golfer with reedy embankments and sandy promontories protecting the boundaries to a number of holes. You have them left on the 2nd, right on the 3rd and right again on the 6th. The water has always been here, just ask the birds that flock to the Sandwich & Pegwell Bay National Nature Reserve next door.
The character of bunkers has also changed from the more traditional revetted turf to a rough style that is more in keeping with the raw links look. Prince’s Golf Club is not the first to do this, there’s a fashionable move away from revetments going on right now, especially on the fairways. The New Himalayas, as we should call it, now has 35 sand traps and, while the revetted style still exists around greens, there are only three left in fairway positions.
Mixing the two works nicely and the torn edging of the new bunkering means the whole layout is visually more distinctive. This aesthetic is very apparent on the excellent 4th where two fairway bunkers bar your route to an elevated green. More usually played downwind, this was into the breeze when we played and proved to be an absolute brute at 429 yards from the white tees.
What this course might be like off the back pegs (Blue) we weren’t brave enough to find out, but the pros might have to give it a go if the R&A decide to swap Open Final Qualifying onto this course as one of the nines. Prince’s has The Open hopefuls visiting for another three years after this.
Much has already been said in the media about the 140-yard 5th because it is the only completely new hole (and as such, key change number three). Incredibly, it’s the only one on the entire estate that plays towards the sea. It’s etched seamlessly into the landscape and gets a massive thumbs up from all those who believe great holes don’t have to be long.
When you have two par 5s weighing in at more than 600 yards, you can afford to be cute with some of the other holes and the 8th is a case in point. A natural lake sits between all the tees and a mammoth green that is nicely shared with the 4th. The greatest carry is 293 yards from the back so the fairway along the left is an attractive option. But you remember that warning on the 1st?
Well, there’s another one here, right in the middle of the bail out zone. We liked the idea of it before seeing it, but now I’m not so sure. The final hole curls to the left and plays up an avenue of dunes, the ones on the right replacing what used to be trees.
It’s a cracking finishing hole, tough like the 4th, and with Sarazen’s bunker on higher ground protecting the green. It was a hole that featured when Gene Sarazen won The Open on it’s only visit to Prince’s in 1932.
A bizarre teeing ground set at a right angle to the fairway exists on the 9th and is audacious. It may get rarely used because the tee shot is totally blind, but I liked the club’s perspective on it. And making golf fun should be on everyone’s agenda.
The Himalayas has been delightfully reshaped, renovated, renewed and rejuvenated. Prince’s Golf Club have their own word for it on a sign on the 1st tee. ‘Reimagined’, and I rather like that too.
Martin Ebert explains the inspiration and perspiration involved in creating the Himalayas – including its all-new 5th hole.
“The team at Prince’s were great to work with because they had very clear ideas about the redesign. One of the key priorities was to raise the teeing areas so that you could get more extensive views across the dunes and the sea beyond.
“We studied the history of the course, looking at old photos and using aerial maps to get a feel for the way it was originally conceived. So the 1st fairway’s been restored to its original, wider form.
“The 5th is built on land that was predominantly flat before we started to shape the hole. The tee complex was raised by three metres. There are a lot of terrific greens at Prince’s, with excellent use of run off areas, so we wanted to produce something similar in that respect.
The shapers did a great job blending it all into the general look and with rough vegetation around the edge. It’s worked really well.
“People don’t realise that the Postage Stamp at Troon is rarely used in the winter. It has a small green, so the traffic over the hole could easily damage the surface. This is why we’ve made the green on the 5th quite large with plenty of pin placements so footfall can be spread. Troon’s iconic short hole was an inspiration and there was always an intention to have it as the only hole played towards the ocean.
“People talk about the wetlands, but they were already there so all we’ve done is make them more of a feature. Enhancing some of the original hazards was one of the objectives. We’ve reinstated three bunkers that run along the dunes to the left side of the 9th hole and slightly increased the size of the double green that is now the 3rd and 8th. This is a feature that was clearly inspired by St Andrews.”
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