There is something alluring about the Open championship wherever it takes place each summer. This week for the playing of the 149th championship, which dates back to 1860, the Royal St. Georges Golf Club in Sandwich, England, does not get the high marks of other Open courses. Certainly not the venerable Scottish venues.
It was, however, the first club to host the Open championship outside Scotland which came about in 1894. Gary Player says that St. Georges is, perhaps, the easiest of the Open courses to play but offers a disclaimer with regard to the wind. When the winds are quiet, the course is relatively tame, but when they rush in from the English Channel, it can be a different story.
The course drew signature praise from the esteemed golf writer, Bernard Darwin, who wrote: “The long strip of turf on the way to the seventh hole, that stretches between the sand hills and the sea, a fine spring day with the larks singing as they seem to sing nowhere else, the sun shining on the waters of Pegwell Bay and lighting up the white cliffs in the distance, this is as nearly my idea of heaven as to be attained on any earthly links.”
Another esteemed writer had an affinity for Royal St. Georges—Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond. Fleming was on deck to become captain of the club when he died of a heart attack in 1964. He owned a house in nearby St. Margaret’s Bay but joined St. Georges and began playing there before the start of World War II.
If you saw the movie, Goldfinger, you may recall the golf match between Bond and Goldfinger. Many of the scenes appear to have taken place at Sandwich and St. Georges.
To enjoy an Open championship demands that you arrive early in the week and spend time searching out the environs of the community. There is much than the golf to cause a visitor to swoon. With Sandwich, one of the smallest towns where the Open is played, there is abundant congestion, owing to the fact that there is but one road leading from the quaint town—where fans this week may visit the Sandwich Town Museum and find an original copy of the Magna Carter—to the golf course.
Sandwich, historians say, gave its name to that staple of food by way of John Montagu, the fourth Earl of Sandwich. You now can find the word sandwich in several languages.
On all previous trips to Sandwich, there always were multiple stops at the Red Cow pub at 12 Moat Sole, one of the main thoroughfares in the charming village on the Stour River. The fish and chips at the Red Cow are among the best you can find in an English pub.
As this is being composed, in my mind’s eye, I see an attractive young waitress, with a generous smile, bringing to my table a pint of lager. At the bar, an English gentleman has ordered a Guinness stout. He is smoking a pipe and his Jack Russell terrier is cuddled up at his feet, snoozing away. Such scenes are as elevating as those you find with the competition at the golf course.
Dating back to 1978, I began a connection with the Open at St. Andrews and have missed only three of the championships since that time. This week brings about the fourth. (Dastardly COVID.) It was always a highlight of the summer to take a couple of weeks exploring several of Europe’s classic destinations before finding my way to the Open.
The first trip over, I took winter clothes, but the weather patterns seemed to have changed dramatically. There is no longer a need for thermal underwear, even when the tournament is played in Scotland. A summer sport coat and short sleeve shirts are all you need today.
I once took golf clubs, but soon learned that rental equipment was good enough to enjoy links golf. The remarkable caddies made up for the lack of equipment familiarity.
St. Georges now allows women to join its club. For the longest time that was an issue with all the clubs which hosted the Open championship. Until recently, there were three clubs on the Open Rota—St. Georges, Troon and St. Andrews—which refused to allow women members.
The club that got the most grief about that was St. Georges, owing to a blatant sign in the car park: “No dogs, no women.”