- Neil White
The words of The Phantom Of The Open sprang to mind as I stood in the sand where Maurice Flitcroft’s bunker horror was replicated for the hilarious movie.
Fortunately, it took only one thinned recovery rather than Flitcroft’s infamous 12 to extricate myself and Mrs W followed suit with a rather more impressive splash.
Oscar-winner Mark Rylance traipsed around Littlestone as one of Flitcroft’s aliases Gerard Hoppy in one of his several abortive attempts to qualify for the Open.
In reality, Littlestone didn’t play a part in the actual Flitcroft story but it certainly has the quality to be an Open qualifier.
The 17th is part of a three-hole homeward stretch which our host warned would be a potential score-wrecker.
He was right – I was four-under my handicap as I teed up on the 16th and level par when I meekly putted in on the 18th.
Our genial host was understandably proud to show off his course, giving us great insights and tips to help us enjoy our day.
The first was in the clubhouse when he recommended the Littlestone Muffin. This transpired to be one of the finest breakfast sandwiches I’ve ever encountered.
Nourished, we headed for the driving range, honing a game which was clearly inspired by our company and surroundings.
To be honest, the first hole is a very gentle introduction. A straight, flat par-four which requires navigation around bunkers before a chip into a large green.
The hallmark of my early round was sand avoidance. From the opening hole onwards, my ball seemed to have a guidance system which helped it skirt bunkers.
This was the case off the second tee when I was left with a second shot over water and dunes to a largely obscured green.
I was prompted to attack when another of our playing partners scoffed at my initial plan to lay up. Thanks to his reaction, I cracked a five-iron over all obstacles and onto the putting surface.
This gave me the confidence to attack Littlestone and this rare cavalier approach certainly brought rewards.
Curiously, there are fewer dunes than one would expect for a Kent course but they are present again on the third, the only blind tee shot.
“This feels like a hole-in-one day,” proclaimed our one-handicap host as we looked down the sixth, an attractive par-three bordered by bunkers.
Knowing the ball would bounce to the right, he brought it in from the left but its brakes were fierce and it held up 25 feet short.
I held out no such hope for glory and was incredulous as mine followed the same route but inched nearer and nearer to the flag, resting four feet away. For a split second, it seemed his prediction could come true.
After completing my birdie, I made the mistake of being emboldened, so after a positive drive on the par-five seventh, decided to try to fly a stream which crosses the fairway with my second shot.
Inevitably, the ball sank among the reeds. Golf does that to you, doesn’t it?
The ninth is a long par-three towards the sea. We played Littlestone in the gentlest breeze but I was nonetheless thrilled to skip past bunkers to find the triangular green.
“That’s the end of the fun,” joked our leader as he attempted to manage my expectations after a scorching first half.
He was right. The back nine is a much tougher proposition and the tempo is set by the 10th, a curving par-four with a pond on the right and a mound obscuring the target.
Holes 11 to 15 are an appetiser for that final run-in. Three long par-fours, where scoring is at a premium, a very tricky par-three, well protected by bunkers and a short par-four which demands accuracy to avoid bogey.
And then we stood on the 16th tee and the course changed dramatically.
This is one of the hardest holes I have ever played – a 464-yard par-four off the whites with renovated bunkers aplenty (Littlestone have undertaken an impressive restoration of its sand traps and some are huge!).
Any player who can reach this in two against the wind deserves much praise.
The 17th is the aforementioned Flitcroft hole – a par-three with an elevated green past the huge trap on one side and thick rough on the other.
My mind was well and truly scrambled before the par-five 18th, a hole which demands concentration and strategy. Sadly, I could offer neither and my luck avoiding bunkers completely deserted me as I found two.
We found Littlestone a joy. The greens were a little slow because of maintenance but, overall, it was in cracking condition.
My hopes of a great score eluded me thanks to a late cave-in but who cares when you have a day like this?