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  • Neil White

Royal St. George's

Is there any other sport in which you can play on the same turf as champions and even play a better shot?

Thankfully, there were no off-putting ‘farting noises’ when I struck my six-iron to within ten feet of the 18th hole at wonderful Royal St George’s.

Well, not that I was aware of… we had partaken in arguably the finest lunch in golf and my playing partners were on the opposite side of the fairway.

Three months previously, sounds akin to breaking wind had startled Collin Morikawa on his way to winning the Claret Jug. It transpired a small speaker had been left in the rough by a prankster on the final hole.

This prompted tut-tutting from the establishment but the schoolboy humour somehow fits the impish fun of a round at one of golf’s greatest links.

In July, tens of thousands of people enjoyed the Open but only one welcome sign and a few clubhouse photos give a clue that the golfing circus was in town.

Otherwise, RSG has returned to the unassuming members’ club that has an unmistakable sense of place but refrains from shouting about it.

I had driven more than four hours for a game of foursomes but, boy, it was worth it.

Tradition and established standards are important at RSG - thus, the lunch matches the quality of the course and kummel (a sweet, but refreshing liqueur flavoured with caraway seed, cumin and fennel) with ice must be imbibed before play can begin (anyway, this is what our opponents insisted).

This was literally an aperitif before the main event.

Royal St George’s is carved as if nature has been uninterrupted - it is tough but does yield reward for accuracy and bravery on its greens.

Fortunately, my driver was behaving itself so carried the daunting rough every time. But, while precise tee shots are important, the need for course management trumps them.

Overly ambitious second shots could mean the loss of a hole or even a ball and approaches to the green need to be pinpoint to avoid roll-offs or putts across tiers or undulations.

My favourite holes?

As a devotee of the quirky, I must select the fourth – partially because of the Himalayan bunker (I reckon St Enodoc’s is taller?) but also the rolling fairway, sloping green and even the little summerhouse which has been built on an adjoining property to overlook one of golf’s great holes.

The fifth is also stunning. I just about made safety off the tee and appealed to my partner to follow it with a lay-up.

Perhaps he thought he was James Bond whose favourite shot, according to Ian Fleming, was the approach over bunkers and dune. Inevitably, I found myself playing an impossible third from a tuft of grass halfway up a sandy gradient.

The views across the sea from that section of the course add to the wow factor - distant Ramsgate looks good enough to paint.

The quirkiness of RSG is less present in the second nine and the bunkers are more strategically placed.

I found this to my cost when I thought I had struck what I thought had been a bob-on blind approach to the beautiful 12th only to find the trap which guards it front left.

The 14th is a wonderful hole with its perilous out-of-bounds on the right and a canal bisecting the fairway, lying in wait for overly ambitious drives.

I witnessed that both can be avoided but disaster may still strike in the shape of the bunkers lurking to the left of the green.

The 16th is a gorgeous short hole where I had the ‘opportunity’ to play a ball at chin height while standing in a sand trap. I was thrilled to find the heart of the green.

That encapsulated one of the many take-homes from Royal St George’s – bad shots will be played (a thinned chip to the 8th gives me nightmares) but will be redeemed by unexpected moments of great satisfaction.

These snapshots and so much more justified my eight-hour round trip. Indeed, I would happily do it all over again.

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