Give me a links course any day. Even in the wind and rain they are a joy but given a sunny day, they are like golfing manna to those of us who dream of making up fourballs with Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones and Old Tom Morris. And playing Littlestone, tucked away in the south-eastern corner of Kent, delivers that kind of unbridled purist joy.
The course is laid out on classic golfing terrain, next door to the famous Romney Marshes. Dating from 1888, the list of architectural influences reads like a veritable Who’s Who of golf course design. The original design was the handiwork of William Laidlaw Purves, before being revised by James Braid, modernised by Alister MacKenzie, and subsequently modified by Frank Pennink, Donald Steel and Peter Alliss. It’s a course for the ages, a classic British golf links in every respect.
Out on the course, the ebb and flow of this very natural links is determined by the gently undulating dunes which influence rather than interfere with the run of play. It’s a pleasure to play and I’d venture to say that if it were located a few miles along the coast, less distanced from the cluster of Kent’s championship links around Sandwich, it would enjoy greater celebrity than it already does. Not that it has poor credentials, having hosted plenty of championships in its time, including Final Qualifying for The Open in 2011.
Off the course, the clubhouse is a large Victorian building full of character, with views extending across the links from the very sociable Clubroom. This is a proper golf club in every sense, and a golf course for the purist that should be on the ‘must play’ list for anyone considering a tour of Kent’s links courses or just a day trip to the seaside. The M20 is within striking distance, so travel times from the London area and M25 are very manageable.
A true old fashioned links hole early in the round, the par 4 third hole will baffle the first-time visitor thanks to the blind tee shot played across a long sand dune that obscures your view of the fairway. Putting your faith in the marker post is the only option from the tee, but there is plenty of trouble further on as this pretty par four ever-so-gently wanders to the left.
The first par 3 at Littlestone is an absolute cracker. Short in length but not in character, it sports an expansive pot bunker on the right hand side and dramatic slopes that fall off to the left which combine to exaggerate the narrowness of the green as you look at it from the tee. I suspect it’s not unusual to have a considerable pitch back up to this raised green for your second – or to be left cursing your troubles from the sand. Escape with a three and you’ll be very happy, it’s a great hole.
The final four holes are regularly celebrated at Littlestone, but I’d pick out the 16th and 17th for particular mention. Walking off the 15th green, you immediately start to see the drama of the par 4 ahead unfold, as the hole clearly extends up the dunes towards a green perched in the distance with the iconic water tower as a backdrop. A dog-leg left that demands a strong drive to have any chance of getting home in two, it’s a wonderful hole that rewards even a good drive with a second played from the rolling humps and hollows in the fairway.
A brilliant par 3 follows at the 17th. Played from a raised tee across wispy grasses to an attractively situated green protected well by surrounding bunkers, mounds, and run offs; only the best struck shots will find the putting surface. And the elevated teeing position allows wind to wreak havoc with club selection to add to the difficulty. One day it’s a driver, the next day a short iron!
A visit to Littlestone is an experience to be savoured. The sizeable leather chairs in the wood panelled clubhouse, complete with its treasure trove of photographs, paintings, and records on the walls, beckon for a pre or post game drink. And you can’t forsake the opportunity to enjoy lunch and the fine views up the first hole. You may be itching to get out on the course, but the clubhouse is as much a part of the tradition and character of this wonderful old club.
Once you make it out on to the links, you’ll soon appreciate that the course lives up to expectations and provides one of the most stylish links challenges in the country. It’s well worth a visit at any time of the year – holding up superbly in the winter when links golf is often at its best, or indeed throughout the summer when the wispy grasses and fast running fairways tighten the challenge.
My very simple verdict – play it! Littlestone is a joy. For current green fee prices and offers, click here.